Brother Christian de Cherge’s second pillar of peace is deeply counterintuitive.

Brother Christian curriously extols the virtue of:

Poverty “The future belongs to God, not to us. Man does not have the imagination of God, so when we think of the future, we think of it as being like the past… The future is like a tunnel. You can’t see anything inside, and only a fool would expect it to look the same upon exiting as upon entering it. When it comes to recruiting for our monastery today, we have no one to approach in Algeria. And among the people, whom are we going to ask? We must simply let the Spirit do its work and fish for souls. That is what I call poverty – to have need only for that which you have always given me.” (Kiser, John W. The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria. NY: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002.)

Brother Christian did not have a romanticized view of noble poverty. He had witnessed first hand the grinding reality of poverty in the lives of the Algerians among whom he and his fellow Cistercians lived and worked. He understood the devastation material poverty can wreck in the lives of those it afflicts.

And yet Brother Christian understood that the way of peace lies along the path of poverty. He had learned well from his teacher who said to his disciples,

Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.(Luke 6:20)

To be poor is to know that alone we do not understand the mystery of being human. We are powerless to solve the tragic dilemmas of the human community; we lack the ability to fix the brokenness that afflicts the world.

The situations that give rise to violence are extremely complex. There is never one cause that can be isolated and addressed effectively to solve the problem. There are few effective quick-fixes in any complex situation.

Despite the explosion of information available to the world and the incredible accomplishments of human ingenuity and creativity of which we are the beneficiaries, we remain unable to adequately feed millions of people. We cannot prevent thousands of people every year from dying in violence. We cannot solve poverty, slavery, child abuse, rape, or the marginalization of so many members of the human community. (see below for a disturbing litany of world problems we remain unable to resolve)

We need to look more deeply and listen more carefully to address the human dilemmas we confront. We need to start by acknowledging the limitations of our ability and the poverty of our wisdom. We need to look in different places for a way forward.

How many more centuries of violence must we suffer before we learn that the one who appears the most powerful may not have all the right answers?  How long before we finally realize that we are not nearly as smart, enlightened or resourceful as we think?

We are all poor in our own way.

It is time to stop believing in the illusion of our power and wisdom. It is time to admit our poverty and seek out the wisdom of the weak and the proposals of the powerless. We need to listen to those who are unable to wield weapons of mass destruction.  We need to hear the voices of the outcast, the refugee, and those without access to the machinery of the world’s power.

The human community needs more listening and less shouting. We need to move away from our determination to control those with whom we disagree. We need to find ways to honour our differences and benefit from the insights of all part of rich diversity that is the human community.


a litany of some of the world’s woes from

| November 16, 2015:

I also mourn for those killed mere hours before Paris crumbled into chaos, in strikingly similar attacks in Beirut.

I mourn the hundreds of thousands displaced or killed in Syria, no matter their pledged allegiance. No matter their professed religion. No matter.

I mourn for the millions killed in ongoing and renewed, illegal United States’ aggression in Iraq — and those facing a torturous demise from exposure to depleted uranium employed in violation of international and humanitarian law — for reasons far closer to ‘American’ and corporate hegemony than compassionate principle.

I mourn the untold number killed in the United States’ insidious — and seemingly permanent — war in Afghanistan. And the countless children there who know nothing of peace, much less the feeling of safety it brings. And patients and staff recently targeted, bombed, and then shot while fleeing the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz — and the irony of that humanitarian organization’s French roots.

I mourn those forced into human slavery or sex trafficking in Malaysia; and curse the scant hope they escape, now that the massive TPP has garnered U.S. government’s tacit approval of the abhorrence that is human trade.

I mourn for Palestinians, whose land was usurped — and whose lives and infrastructure and families and sense of security and homes are under siege and occupation by an illegal and actively terrorist State.

I mourn the patients and staff at the over 100 health-care facilities in Yemen that have been bombed since March. And the apparently soulless who found an acceptable target in hospitals.

I mourn for Yemen.

I mourn for the victims of complicit government violence in Mexico, and 43 students and their families who lack answers.

I mourn for Chinese men, women, and children working, quite literally, as slaves, so the West can be rude at dinner and take endless pictures — of its narcissistically apathetic self.

I mourn rampant genocide — past and present — for the sake of manifest destiny. And empire. And imperialism. And inexplicable and unstated reasons.

In fact, I mourn for all victims of terror, whether State or group sponsored, without conditions attached to my grief — no matter location, nor loyalty, nor arbitrary geopolitical happenstance of location of a victim’s birth. And I’m already grieving those soon to be terror’s next victims; since, as French President François Hollande jarringly warned, avenging Paris’ victims just birthed (yet another) “pitiless” war.