This is the second installment in a series called “The Quest for Peace in a World of Violence,” by Charles deGravelles, an Episcopal deacon, chaplain and teacher at Episcopal High School of Baton Rouge where he teaches a course in peace and conflict studies. In the first installment, deGravelles wrote about his inspiration for the class and its inception. The series will follow the progress of the class.

By Charles deGravelles

“It’s a standard procedure of problem-solving, tried and true,” I told them during an early lecture. “You break it down into its component parts, note the connections, how they fit, how they affect each other, then when you put it back together, you will hopefully know how it runs. So I’m going to throw onto the floor of our classroom, 2,000 pieces of an intricate machine, some unwieldy and impossibly heavy, some tiny and delicate, and our job will be to put it all back together to see what makes it go.

Charles deGravelles

Charles deGravelles

“Unfortunately,” I continued, “we have no instructions, and we don’t even have a picture of what it looks like finished. All we have are these scattered parts (and we’re not even sure if we have all the parts). But we do have the name of the machine: ‘Human Violence and the Promise of Peace.’ Don’t worry,” I laughed, “we’ve got a whole semester to put it together.”

After some discussion, we decided to use a wire mobile as our idealized model, our frame on which to connect the myriad pieces of a problem so enormous and complex it has never been solved. We started with a single crossbar hanging from the ceiling. We labeled it “power,” and from that we hung four arms: “personal violence,” “interpersonal violence,” “community violence” and “societal violence.” As we read, researched, discussed, traveled, interviewed, the scant frame of the mobile began to expand, to fill out.

An early trip we made was to the Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center, where trained volunteers field phone calls from desperate people. Director Norma Rutledge and her staff taught us about the many forces that can nudge someone down the long and ever-narrowing corridor towards a door marked “oblivion.” We learned about the most vulnerable populations, ways to detect suicidal tendencies in family or friends, and ways to intervene. Read More…

By Charles deGravelles

Charles deGravelles

Charles deGravelles

On Monday, yet another mass shooting, this time in Washington, D.C., claimed the lives of 13 people and sent a now common shock through the spine of our battered country. Recently, the President tried to convince us to lob missiles into Syria, even as we continue to struggle, like Br’er Rabbit, to disengage from the tar babies of Afghanistan and Iraq. And now that we have passed yet another anniversary of 9/11, the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the “war on terror” seem no closer.

I live in an area saturated with violence. Two cities in Louisiana, New Orleans and my own hometown of Baton Rouge, are among the most crime-ridden in the nation. Murders and other violent crimes are commonplace; there is a steady flow through the court systems into the state’s overcrowded prisons, already the most populated, per capita, in the country.

I grew up in a more peaceful town and time, but I have certainly witnessed my share of the pain and grief that comes from violence. I have been a minister at Angola prison for 23 years, and I know that for every one of the more than 5,000 men who are incarcerated there, a tsunami-like wave of trauma, heartbreak and loss has radiated outward, engulfing the lives of loved ones of victims and perpetrators alike.

For three years I was spiritual advisor for a death row inmate, Feltus Taylor, a man who robbed and shot, execution style, people he had worked with at a fried chicken restaurant on Florida Boulevard. I was with Feltus on June 6, 2000 when he himself was put to death, execution style, by lethal injection in the death chamber at Angola. One of his victims, the only one to survive the shooting, forgave Feltus and reconciled with him, and these words of forgiveness and reconciliation were the last words Feltus ever heard as he died on the execution gurney. Read More…

By Deacon Charlie deGravelles

BATON ROGUE — Scholars in the still young but expanding field of peace and conflict studies distinguish between two kinds of peace. “Negative peace” is the term  for those relatively rare periods when there is no declared war but during which all sides are planning and preparing what will inevitably be the next armed conflict. In his book, War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, American journalist and war correspondent Chris Hedges notes an astounding fact — discovered through the calculations of the historian, Will Durant: In 3,300 years of recorded human history, only 29 of those years have been without a war somewhere on the planet.

Charles deGravelles

Charlie deGravelles

To reduce the scale to my own lifetime, in all of my 63 years, there has been one or more wars raging somewhere on the planet. Even in my own country, there have been only a few scant years — mainly between the end of the Korean War and the beginning of our involvement in Vietnam — when we haven’t been engaged in open armed conflict somewhere.

I’ve heard this kind of peace, negative peace, described as “perpetual pre-hostility,” and Jesus alludes to such a peace in the Gospel of Luke. “What king,” Jesus asks, “going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.”

The point of Jesus’ illustration is not necessarily about war (though military tacticians should certainly take note); it’s about the importance of careful consideration, of “counting the cost,” of understanding possible consequences before you make an important decision. And wouldn’t you know it, we, as a country, are in just such a period of “pre-hostility” as I write this, carefully calculating how to react to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. (May God help us in those calculations.)

Jesus is always a realist, as his illustration suggests: Don’t be stupid and get your soldiers slaughtered if you know you can’t win. Make the best deal you can, buy some time, and when you can muster thirty or forty thousand to their twenty thousand, then you can think about war or at least better terms of peace. Read More…

By Amy McCreath for The Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission

Of course, there has always been violence, always been bad news. But my sense as a parent, and as a priest with more than two decades of experience working with young adults in pastoral and educational settings, is that we are in a formational crisis. Few young people grow up with much stability, with any religious formation, with any models for sustained engagement in a community or healthy conflict. Read the full article here.

The Rev. Amy McCreath is Priest-in-Charge of Church of the Good Shepherd, Watertown, MA, and a Council Member of APLM.