Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why I agree with the Nobel Peace Prize committee this year.

After much reflection, I have concluded that the Nobel committee was right in awarding the Peace prize to President Barak Obama.

This is something distinct from saying he deserved it, though he surely does, along with anyone who has sought to bring people together. There is no doubt in my mind that I walked past a number of people on the way to work this morning in Manhattan who just as richly deserve it. Anyone who acts to join two in brotherhood deserves it, for this is how peace is achieved.

The nobel committee website declares that Alfred Nobel wanted the annual award to go to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." Notice how quaint and naive that language sounds to our modern ear. Reduce or abolish standing armies? What? How can one have peace without protection from those given to violent conquest?

Of course, Martin Luther King didn't do a lot to abolish or reduce standing armies either, but please point to who among the previous laureates did. Perhaps the 1910 award to something called the Permanent International Peace Bureau was so directed, but I don't know enough of the history to do any more than speculate from the name. Of course, there was righteous outrage in 1964 when MLK was named, just as there is now.

That's because peace is not an absence of conflict. If it were so, you could argue that there's moment of peace between the rounds of a fully-automatic Uzi firing, or in every murder. That's not peace, that's a momentary absence of conflict.

The peace that I see comes when our common humanity is directly experienced. It is not a consequence of victory, it is the consequence of seeing directly to the futility of conflict. It is seeing that there is no distinction between harming another and harming one's self. It is seeing the violence as the problem, not who is promoting it. Peace comes in an embrace, or in the celebration of the Christian Eucharist when congregants are asked to turn to each other and physically embrace or shake hands in Christian love and fellowship. Peace is seeing things as the really are. Peace is a mother breastfeeding. Peace is love-making.

In this way, I think Barak Obama is an emblematic honoree, but no more-so than any of the previous award recipients, nor more-so than any of the nameless peacemakers I passed on Wall Street this morning. President Obama ran a campaign that sought to end conflict. He asked his rival in the primaries to join his administration, to her credit she accepted. I'm certain he asked McCain in as well but he was unable to answer the call.

President Obama went Cairo and called-out the US on it's mistakes in the region, as he called-out the Muslim world on their mistreatment of Israel. He shirked his pastor for most of his adult life when he revealed himself to be a man who shrunk to conflict and hatred. Again and again he has reached across the aisle to encourage his opponent to join together in common cause, I do not hold his responsible for their choice to not join him.

The part of Martin Luther King's legacy that is most important to me is his pursuit of what he called the "beloved community." His vision was of an integrated society, not a desegregated society. He sought a community where brotherhood and love would be manifest in all of social discourse. He saw this as the true actualization of Christian Faith. This is not a society where everyone is Christian, but a society where everyone is loved. As far as I can tell, this is also what Jesus sought.

Similarly, President Obama has not sought a country in which everyone is a Democrat, but rather where we all work together to make the promise of our individual abilities collectively manifest. In many senses, this is why his current agenda is seen to be failing. He's not interested in victory as much as he is interested in progress.

But, he can't do it alone. If the President was that powerful we'd be in a world of trouble. He can't make you decide to end your pursuit of harm in the name of righteousness, only you can. One example, Afghanistan, seems particularly vivid to me. There can only be peace in Afghanistan if the US "loses" there. The community there needs to reach it's potential under it's own power, according to it's own agenda. There are peacemakers in Afghanistan as well, just as there are peacemakers anywhere you find human beings, but the cause of peace can't be promoted with violence, no matter how well-intentioned.

President Obama will be wholly unable to simply walk out of Afghanistan unless the predominant attitude in this country is to seek peace instead of victory there. That's not up to him, it is up to us. And as long as we believe that it is more important to protect ourselves than to love others we will continue to be caught, as humanity has always been, in this cycle of destruction. There's no end to this game of the pursuit of conquest that can be achieved by conquest.

Similarly, we can't reform health care in this country by somehow bringing the resources that I currently have available to me as a well-insured upper middle-class white-color worker to everyone. It's not possible. I will have to give up my unfettered access to doctors and diagnostic resources, my "right" to insist on every remotely possibly life-sustaining treatment until I draw my last breath. I will have to accept, as everyone eventually does, that this body is temporary and prone to failure.

I will have to stand in line behind Jose and Maria and their twelve undocumented kids from Mexico for my share of our resources until we grow up and expand those resources to a level that is adequate for all. Until you and I are willing to accept the state of things as really are right now, we will be that far from the beloved community. The power to make this happens lies not with Congress, or with the sacrifice of health insurance company profits, it lies with us. It is contained in the kiss of peace during the Christian Eucharist, the simple acknowledgment of gassho (bowing with palms together) between Buddhists, the "Assalamu 'alaykum" between Muslims, a hearty "have a great day" between atheists/agnostics.

That's where peace is. It is my view that President Barak Obama has been the most public expression of that promise in 2009. That has nothing to do with what he has or hasn't accomplished, it is not an extention of a reward for good deeds, it is an acknowledgement, in my mind, of who the man aspires to be.

Congratulations, my good friend. Keep the Faith.