I am a fifth-generation Kansan from Quaker abolitionist stock. After 30 years as an Episcopal/Anglican priest and seminary professor, my wife and I converted to the Catholic Church and made our way back to Kansas to serve the Benedictine Community of Atchison, KS. Our pathway into Catholicism arose from a decades-long existential journey that has led us home. I recently have begun my work as the Director of the Benedictine Family Life Center in Atchison. Atchison is one of the poorest towns in the Midwest, suffering for decades, with a quarter of its population living in poverty. Intergenerational poverty, marital breakdown, addictions, and other maladies have a grip on the community. The religious community is largely Protestant, but the Benedictine Abbey and College are working closely with the rest of the religious and civic community to bring healing and hope to this part of “alienated America.” Systemic and seemingly intractable problems need community-wide solutions. Peacebuilding is essential to finding and living those solutions.
At the outset, as I understand peacemaking, we resolutely refuse to let difference become destructive. However, peacemaking is more than simply navigating and managing difference. Peacemaking is not simply cohabiting with difference. But we must learn to navigate it so we can do the deeper work of peacemaking, which is the more radical resolve to give life to your adversary. Giving life to them transforms adversaries into friends. And when enemies become friends the rules change!
In our blue state/red state national consciousness, it is all too easy to further alienate Americans from one another. It seems division and alienation is our national pastime. But this is unsustainable for communities, just as it is for families. Our communities are families of families, and it is the work of peacebuilding to equip and foster the bounds of our solidarity within these familial networks. We need to foster the stable relations out of which peace grows and communities flourish. This is a special charism of Benedictine monks and the unique charism out of which our Family Life Center consciously seeks to do its work. As Benedictines, we believe marriage and family life should be a privileged pathway to peace in the world, and that is because we believe that marriage and family is the primary crucible for learning peacemaking.
So we proceed in the hope that solutions found in Mid-America might have relevance to those parts of America that suffer similarly. Being part of the Carter School at George Mason is an invaluable resource for those who work with under-resourced populations and communities, such as Atchison. We believe that what we learn in Atchison will be useful to those who suffer similarly.
The Benedictine Family Life Center aims to do its part in creating new paths and communal solutions for the beautiful people of this community. The Carter School and CRDC, especially with the mentorship of Rabbi Dr. Marc Gopin, are unfailingly inspirational resources and guides in this work.