She wrote 30 years later in a speech she gave called “The development of the peace ideal”:
“I bethought me of the sacred right vested in the women of civilized communities to keep the bond of Peace and to protect the lives bought by their bitter pain, and fashioned by their endless labor.”[iv]In her time, of course, it was common to conflate women and mothers, but let’s set aside the gender binary, and focus on her conviction that those who had labored to bring each child into the world, and those who labored to raise them, would have a special motivation to keep them safe, to protect them from the violence of war.
In Boston, where she lived, she initiated a Mothers' Peace Day observance on the second Sunday in June and held a Mother’s Day meeting for a number of years. For the rest of her long life she lectured widely, particularly for the Unitarian Church, founding clubs wherever she went.”[v]
The Peace Alliance tells us that “As the call for a Mother’s Day carried on, it gained new momentum and finally became a national holiday in the early 1900’s with the lead of Anna Jarvis, who had been inspired by her mother, also named Anna Jarvis, who had worked with Julia Ward Howe in earlier efforts for a Mother’s Day.”[vi]
Activism for peace is deep in the roots of Unitarian Universalism, like abolition, like women’s suffrage. Not every Unitarian of Julia Ward Howe’s time was convinced -- her ideas were often considered ahead of her time, and her calls for peace were often dismissed, just as such calls are often dismissed in modern times.
This year at Mother’s day, I invite us to take up the challenge she issued back in 1870, and see how we feel called today. Her challenge that "The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.” In 2021 I see her challenge in our militarized police system.
Howe stood up against the use of violence and bloodshed to resolve conflict, creates neither justice nor peace. I would argue that what we are protecting with all our military, and police forces should be peace. But the way we use our military, our police force seems to be in service of defending territory, defending property, rather than peace. Violence creates violence, Violence creates trauma not peace. And when folks return from war, we see that the ripples of that trauma take generations to be healed. We see those same ripples of violence and trauma in the policing of communities of color. Protecting peace is not the same as defending territory.
Howe calls us to turn our attention to the “means Whereby the great human family can live in peace.” Peace is not merely the absence of war, but a proactive way of being that holds space for healing and growing and creativity. Peace must be cultivated, nurtured so that it can to spread and establish peaceful spaces. Not spaces that avoid conflict, but “braver spaces” where we have the courage to speak truthfully and compassionately to one another about those things which concern us most. Cultivating peace is not about avoiding conflict. It requires that we teach and practice non-violent conflict resolution. It is about finding ways to hold the forces which deny and oppress life accountable in a way that avoids adding to the harm being done.
I think Su’s thoughtful reflection today "Being True to UU Ideals" is a challenge to practice peace, particularly at this time when our country is so divided. Lao Tzu, (Chinese Philosopher, author of the Toa Te Ching wrote:
If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.
Cultivating peace, embodying peace is not easy. It requires intention and practice and courage. We become angry, we are imperfect. We may never live up to the example of great peace activists we admire, but we can challenge ourselves by asking: how can we cultivate a more peaceful response as we move through our days, enjoying with appreciation the life giving things we encounter, and naming with clarity, and working to change the things that diminish or oppress life? How can we restore peace where it has been interrupted with violence?
There is an important critique of those who call for peace; peace is easy to confuse with quietism, it is easy to mistake with conflict avoidance. It is not true peace when we endure injustice, or encourage others who bear the brunt of injustice or violence to endure it peacefully without resistance, to avoid upsetting the status quo. Consider Colin Kaepernick, the first to take a knee on the football field to protest police violence. His quiet peaceful action disturbed many people. Calling for justice is by its nature disturbing, because we must first see the injustice, and that should disturb us. The chant we hear in many protests is “no justice no peace” – and this is important. Our work for justice is part of our work for peace.
|Photo from NBC News|
"We have to go further, as mothers, as families, we have to go further. And that's the only way that we are going to push them to do the right thing."
At the same time Carr is also reaching out to other mothers who lost their children to police violence to support them in their grief. Gwen Carr embodies those words spoken by Julia Ward Howe 150 years ago:
“Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace,”
This Mother’s Day I propose that what those who mother really want, is to know that their children will live in peace, will be safe from violence. That they will see their children grow to be adults. This year at Mother’s Day we recommit ourselves, each in our own way, to work for peace, whether that means an end to foreign wars, or a demilitarizing of our police here at home, calling for accountability when sons and daughters are killed by police, working towards nonviolent resolution in the everyday conflicts and disagreements, or cultivating peace in our own hearts.
[i] Later she wrote, "I studied my way out of all the mental agonies which Calvinism can engender and became a Unitarian." https://uudb.org/articles/juliawardhowe.html