Tuesday, February 21, 2017

And Let it Begin With Me

I am busy trying to figure out what to take and what not to take in these days before I embark for my journey to Albania. In some ways, it feels premature to take everything, mainly because I do not know where I will be assigned. Albania is a coastal and mountainous nation, which means there is a broad possibility of weather conditions. Packing a large down parka seems odd to do when I will be arriving in Spring.

Last Sunday, I started saying goodbye to my different communities. At the Church where I grew up, my father asked for prayers for my service. What he found that was interesting was the anthem that day was "Make me an Instrument of your Peace'" Followed by the congregation singing "Let There be Peace on Earth" Since I was a child in the 60's, one of the main memories I had was of the Peace Movement. Tie dyed hippies with headbands, peace signs and slogans, but the song Let There be Peace on Earth" was quite popular in those days. It is rarely sung these days, at least in my circles. The words are quite profound, and follow the Peace Prayer of St Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy. 

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive, 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

If you have ever had the chance to see Brother Son, Sister Moon, it is a 70's era film about St Francis and even though they tried to be in line with the 13th century era, it really does look like a bunch of hippies dressed up for a medieval play. The sentiments of the movie and the 70's are very similar; counter culture, placing importance on relationships not material things. Even the generational arguments reminded me of my childhood watching the "peaceniks" versus the establishment argue about what is real.

To say I am a bit anxious about embarking on this journey during the current global political and emotional climate is an understatement. The US administration is essentially dismantling decades long structures. The Peace Corps was conceived in the aftermath of World War II as a service oriented mission to developing nations, a gesture of good will and sharing on behalf of the American people. Humanity seems to be quite adept at making war, but how does one wage peace? As I see the constant international mocking of my president (for whom I did not vote, precisely because I believed every word he said and knew he would be a disaster both for the American people as well as internationally) I wonder, how is it I can represent my nation through the Peace Corps? 

There is much to be proud of and to convey to the world about the USA. My personal favorites are; our national parks, our museums, the hopefulness and ingenuity of the people, and our ideals of freedom, equality and community. The assaults to these values and what I enjoy about living here are now coming from within. How do I represent this? As I counseled with my pastor as a final spiritual and emotional preparation for leaving, we talked at length about how to convey what it means to be an American. At our core, Americans are a very helpful people. The basic mission of the Peace Corps is to be of assistance to others. In Albania as with other nations emerging from the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Peace Corps was one of the first citizen diplomatic missions to help these nations emerge from the damage of autocratic governments. The mission was to help formerly communist nations adjust to modernization and American ideals in the vacuum created by the lack of infrastructure. If nations can develop themselves, the people are less likely to want to leave, more likely to be future trade and cultural partners. On a human level, missions like the Peace Corps were to show kind and helpful faces behind the media of Americanism often portrayed through the news, TV and movies. Friendships have been made all over the world and have lasted for decades.

John F. Kennedy greets volunteers on August 28, 1961

In my belief system, when a human being is on their way to being born on earth, the spirits of the about to be born interact with the spirits of those who have just died. For those of us born in the years after World War II, we were witnessing from above the carnage of that horror, but also encountering the recently departed who were communicating to us about their experiences. It is interesting that so many people that shaped the counter culture movements of the 60's were born in the years right after the war. What ever you think about the 60's, it was the first time in the history of humanity that war was questioned in a significant way, and the causes of peace were considered important. The Peace Corps was born in these years, I think as an attempt to try on prevent further conflicts.

So, I am trying to stay focused on being a positive representative of my nation, to go back to the values I so dearly love, the ingenuity and warmth of my people and how to carry this abroad during a time when the face of the highest leaders in our government do not convey these ideals to the world. My pastor said for me to simply embody love, and through love we can generate peace. So as usual, the angels were busy at work, reminding me through song my task, that I am an instrument of peace and it does belong with me.