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Each year, one distinguished speaker is invited to address the largest gathering of Unitarian Universalists in the world at our annual General Assembly. The Ware Lecturer speaking about the values so important in our faith movement: compassion, justice, personal growth, and shared responsibility. Previous Ware Lecturers have included the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Kurt Vonnegut, and poet Mary Oliver. In 2014, Sister Simone Campbell, the Executive Director of NETWORK and founder of 'Nuns on the Bus', spoke before General Assembly on “walking towards trouble” as an act of faith.
General Assembly 2014 Event 435
PETER MORALES: Good evening.
And welcome to the 2014 Ware Lecture.
We're honored to have as our Ware lecturer this year, Sister Simone Campbell.
Sister Simone is one of America's most articulate and effective advocates for compassionate public policy. Sister Simone is a religious leader, an attorney, and a poet who was been a passionate spokesperson for immigration reform, economic justice, and health care for all. Two years ago she was instrumental in organizing the Nuns on the Bus tour as a way of drawing attention—You've got to hold back or you'll never get you Ware Lecture here, folks.—as a way of drawing attention to the effects of the Ryan budget on people in need.
Last year she led a cross-country Nuns on the Bus tour focused on comprehensive immigration reform. I'm proud and happy to say that we Unitarian Universalists have been partners in her efforts. In fact I recall picking her up at Logan Airport in Boston last year, as she arrived to speak at a UU mass action event. In fact I was so excited that I took the wrong turn, got on the wrong tunnel, and gave her an unexpected tour of downtown Boston.
Her involvement in social justice work goes back to the 1970s. In her long career, she's been a leader in her religious order, Sisters of Social Service. And this year marks her jubilee celebration, 50 years of inspired and spiritual justice work.
Her efforts have received much media attention, including appearances on 60 Minutes, the Colbert Report, and the Daily Show with John Stewart. I'm so envious, I can't stand it. She was invited to speak at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. But now, Sister Simone, you've finally hit the big time.
Now you join the distinguished list that you've all seen of Ware Lectures at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly. It's an honor and a joy to have you with us. Please join me in welcoming Sister Simone Campbell as our Ware lecturer for 2014.
SIMONE CAMPBELL: Oh, thank you.
All right, all right, all right. Thank you so much. But I have to say, it's just me. So it's us together that needs that applause. And I know that you are applauding the miracle of community, and being one in a spirit that is beyond each individual. And in that way, we do build a future together, don't we? Yes.
Well, I am really honored and humbled to join that amazing list of lecturers. I am a bit stunned to do that. And it is true that I celebrated 50 years in my community, it's actually in September, is the date. Thank you. Some of my sisters applaud, too. They can't quite believe it.
But what I have been stunned by is that this journey of faith in my religious community has led to these surprising places. And what I have come to know is some of them work that you've been doing this week, like breaking out of buildings and boxes, is all about what this journey of faith is. The daring to try and reach for something new. That is living our faith in this 21st century. And quite frankly I'd much rather give the Ware Lecture than repel down the building. So I'm grateful. I am grateful.
But this afternoon, I'd like to reflect with you on the journey of faith as walking towards trouble. Hmm. Because, well, when I was on the bus, the first bus trip, Bill Moyers program—actually it was Judith Moyers, Bill's wife, who saw that it was going to be something. So she insisted that Bill send a full-time photographer, videographer, on the bus. And Andy Fredricks was our videographer, and he was interviewing me and we were almost done with the trip, and he asked me this question. He said, well Sister Simone, it seems like whenever there's trouble, you walk towards it. Most people run away.
And I got thinking about it. And I realized that all of our spiritual leaders, when there are broken hearts or pain in our world, they have walked towards it. They walk towards the pain in order to embrace, touch, heal. Now, that means if the high-level leaders do that, isn't that the witness that we all try to follow? Now, I realize—Thank you. That's really nice. I'm not used to having applause in the middle. That's really nice.
But there's a part of me that has always believed we can make a difference. I'm not sure why.
When I was in third grade, we had a really bad teacher. And he was just impossible. He just called on a few students, and I thought that was wrong. I thought he ought to take turns calling on everybody. Everybody should be included. And so I, in my third grade idea, thought, well I'm going to try to show him what he ought to be doing. I've always felt sort of responsible. I'm the oldest in my family, I guess. So what I did was I wrote two plays during the year. And our class put on the plays for the rest of the grammar school. But my thing that was so important was everyone had a part. Everyone was a part of the story.
Now I don't know if that if Mr. Seymour got the message, but I do know what it did for our class, was to bring us together. To make us a part, to make us one with each other. In fifth grade, I probably did my first radical feminist action.
Only I didn't know it at the time. But I was in a combined class with fifth and sixth graders, and the fifth grade girls had to play in the same location as the bossy sixth graders. It was awful. And so my friend, Lizzie, and I organized all of the fifth grade girls into a club that, ironically, was called the Copycat Club. But what we did was, we lobbied to get our own place on the playground. So that the fifth grade girls no longer had to be subjected to the bossiness of the sixth grade girls. And I'm pleased to report, we were successful.
Harmony prevailed. But the lesson that I learned early on was that it is all about inclusion. That there's room for everyone. And that if someone is left out of our care and our concern, we're missing a key voice in our community. And I learned you can organize to make a difference. Those two lessons are really key lessons for me.
And over the years, I have come to know that those lessons have led me deeper into a life lived in a faith journey. Not a theological journey, not a journey of theories and ideas of head—you know, thoughts. Which in seminary you got do, so seminarians in here don't worry about it. It's an important step. But what you have to do is you have to let it sink down from the head into the heart. And if you are going to walk towards trouble, one of the first troubles that you have to walk towards is what I refer to as holy doubt.
Holy doubt is an essential element of holy faith. If we do not reverence our doubt, then we become the measure of control. Of God, of living in our world, trying to hold on and control everything that's happening. When you walk towards trouble, you open—my experience is, that I often myself to two questions, to uncertainty, to risk, to knowing that I am not the measure or in control of the situation.
It is critical in our world at this time that we have the courage to walk into doubt, as much as we walk into faith. Because quite frankly, if we don't have doubt, we don't have faith if the only thing we have is certitude, I mean the absence of doubt with faith is certitude. And that leaves us in a very righteous position. Walking towards trouble means we're willing to open ourselves to the surprise. To the 100% who has a different story. To different perspectives.
So the importance of being uncertain means that I live a life that is slightly disturbed, if you want to know the truth. And a bit puzzling. It has led me to surprising places like here and now. But—which is a good thing.
But being uncertain I really describe as part of my spirituality. I describe my spirituality as walking willing. Walking willing to wherever we are led. Walking willing towards trouble. Walking willing towards Congress. Now that takes some doing, some days. But walking willing in a way that means, I am willing to risk and be present with you, and hear your story.
Now, I do know that our beloved Pope Francis, who I'm calling Pope Frank, because I feel really affection towards him. He's pretty cool.
He says two really critical things for this talk. One is, that inequality is the source of all evil. Now—
Absolutely. And where he's talking about that, he's talking about it in terms of economics. But I would also like to posit that in this walking towards trouble, if we come with certitude, with folks who are puzzled and struggling, we bring an inequality of position, of view, that is the source of evil in that setting. Finances is one thing, our attitudes of righteousness and certitude are another.
And the second thing he says, that I treasure deeply, is that reality is more important than theories. Reality is more important than theories. Now, let me give you a couple of examples. In 2008 I went on at Catholic relief service trip to Syria and Lebanon, to see the situation of Iraqi refugees. And I went knowing that I oppose trafficking. I think most people here would oppose trafficking of people, right? You all have committed to making sure that people are not trafficked in this new slavery in our society.
But you know what happened there? In Syria I met a mom whose husband had been killed in Iraq. She fled to Damascus with her six children. In the Arab world, when you don't have a male in the household, you don't have a bread earner. And she had sent her boys, her younger boys, out on the street to try to clean shoes or do something, so that they could make a little money. But then, what she ended up doing, she told me, was she sold her oldest daughter so that the rest of her family could live. She wept when she told me that story. And I wept with her. Because I had been so judgmental about anyone who would sell a member of their family.
If you walk towards trouble, you have to walk with an open heart and learn deeper truths. Learn that some of my simple-minded assessments weren't accurate. To learn that there's a deeper story to trafficking of desperation, and of people who are so hungry that they will do anything to save their family.
Another story from that trip is that, I had known that immigration—I've been fighting for immigration reform in our country for the 10 years I've been at Network, and I talked to some of you at the immigration session this morning. But we went to the Lebanese detention center. I had not known the global perspective of immigration. We went to the Lebanese detention center because some Iraqis were there who were choosing to remain there as undocumented in Lebanon, rather than be deported back to Iraq.
But let me tell you, this detention center was—Oh, first of all I have to tell, General Hariki who stands about this tall, she just came barely up to my shoulders, was about the size of a pencil. She was very thin, very wiry, but she made us promise, if we told this story, we would let you know she didn't like the situation that the detainees are held in. OK, everybody got that? She wanted something better for her people, but they didn't have any money. OK, now I told her—I've been faithful to my promise.
But what we saw was this detention center in downtown Beirut that is built under the freeway. Now it's built under the freeway as in underground. It has no windows. And the fresh air intake valve comes up in the median strip of the freeway. Yeah, oh. And the Iraqis that we saw there, had been there are over a year without seeing the sunshine. That's why we went.
But you know what? I was open to that. I thought I was walking towards that trouble. But what I was walking towards were these six cages of women, we figured about 35 feet by 35 feet. They were built for 20 people. And they each had one bathroom, each of these cages. But what had happened was there were 50 or 60 in there. The women were held by nationality. The men were held alphabetically, we were told, by this big, burly guard, who sad, if we do it any other way, we have trouble. Now I have no idea what kind of trouble it was, I wasn't going to ask.
But what we saw with the women were women from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, a bunch of the Stans, Bangladesh. And then running down in Africa we saw folks from Chad, and Sudan, and Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Niger, and then across the top, Algeria. We saw women from the whole world who had come to Lebanon in the hope of a better economic reality for their families. These were undocumented people in a war-torn country, with the hope of being able to get a job to send money home. We found out that the undocumented in Lebanon principally run gasoline stations, because the Lebanese don't like to do that.
I had never known the global reality of migration. And we have this experience in our nation, but it is global truth. And so I wanted to share with you one of my poems that I wrote in response to that. And it's called Small Change. Because when you walk towards trouble, you have to notice uncomfortable truths. Here's a piece of the truth. It goes like this.
Dropped from the counter of globalization, in the midst of economic transactions. These human coins, illegal tender, get swept up into the dust pan of national identity and border security. These small coins of labor fall through the cracks of caring, ending up in dank, dark pens, smaller than pennies in the global wealth. Taken as too small to matter. Mere annoyances, or possible threat to the sovereign nation. These small coins are tossed into cages of 50, 60, jumbled together, on the floor, in corners, along barred walls. They do not fit into ATM's. They will not be received for deposit in the world economy. They are spare change, tossed on the counter of globalization and forgotten.
Oh, thank you.
It is these experiences that open us to the deeper truth, if we are bold enough to walk towards trouble.
But I told you stories about international realities, and you think, oh that was pretty dramatic. Well, it was pretty dramatic. But do you know what? These very same stories exist in this room. Exist in our nation. What we have to do is open ourselves to listening and curiosity as a virtue of faith. Let me tell you a couple of more that are local stories, that have affected me deeply.
The first is about Robin. Robin is a young woman, probably mid 20s, and I got—can you believe that I can say this—I got to meet her at the White House. I was at the White House to—it was just a quiet morning, so I had nothing to do. But what happened was, I had been invited to be there for when President Obama signed the executive order to raise the minimum wage for the federal contract workers.
And Robin was there. And she grew up in Virginia. And she had walked by the White House, and this young woman in her mid 20s could not believe she was inside the White House. It was so exciting. And she had her cell phone, and so she took a picture of the chair she was sitting in. And we were going to be two rows back from where the president was going to sign the executive order. So having taken the picture of her chair, she said, would you take a picture of me? Sure. So I take a picture of her sitting in her chair. And then we take a selfie about us being together. And we're doing all this, she is so excited, she could not sit still for anything. And so I asked her, was she going to benefit from this executive order? She goes, oh no. But a good friend of hes was. And so she was really excited for her.
She works for minimum wage at a national clothing store chain, and she said she gets to work full-time, she's really excited about it. And I commented on this sapphire blue dress she had, and she said, I got it at my store. I got it with my employee discount, and it was on sale. I paid $20.43 for it. And it was like, oh, what a treasure. What a treasure. We talked a little while longer, and then she said to me, kind of quietly, you know, by looking at me, you would never know I have to live in a homeless shelter because I can't afford rent in this DC area. It's just way too expensive.
She makes $15,000 a year, gross. About $12,000, net. And has not enough money for rent, though she works full time. Quite frankly that broke my heart. And here she was celebrating the fact that her friend was going to get a raise. And she said, well you know, if it happens for some of us, it'll eventually happen for all of us. We have to celebrate the progress. And I thought, wow. What wisdom. When you walk towards trouble, there you find hope. Because it's in the relationship, it's in the connection, it's in hearing the stories that hope, the communal virtue, is nourished.
A few weeks later, I was in San Diego at a fundraiser. All of you faith folks are familiar with fundraisers, you know how that goes. But I sat next to Jason, who was a 35-year old entrepreneur. And he's one of those magic guys, that just sort of—He says, I wasn't smart in school, I got through college, I wasn't the brightest kid around. But I really have a head for business. Well it was great for him to know that. So he's grown three businesses.
And at 35, he was about ready to sell his third business for some gabillion dollars, and what he said was that he had found, as a businessman, that paying a living wage to all of his workers was really a value for his business. That he invested in all of his people and had lower turnover, and had better productivity, and more employee loyalty. It was good for business, it was good for his people.
But he told me something I had never thought of. It was making him upset. I forget exactly what, I think he said angry, that he came to realize that his tax dollars were going to fund his competitors. And I go, what? Jason realized that his competitors were not paying a living wage. His competitors were paying low wages to their low-skilled people. And telling them to go get Medicaid, go get food stamps, go get public benefits. And Jason realized that his competitors had lower costs because of that. Because they were hiding some of their business costs by making sure their people ate with food stamps.
Jason was upset that his tax dollars were going to fund his competitors, who could then undercut him when he bid for projects. You got it? Make sense? And I realized, because I walked towards trouble and listened long enough to hear a perspective that I didn't know, as opposed to just saying, back, back, 1%, I'm not talking to you. Right?
Being open to every one means we hear perspectives that we would not know otherwise. We need to know those perspectives if we are going to make a difference. So Jason taught me that.
Now Margaret. Some of you are from states where I'm still worried. I hope you can see this, if I hold her up. I think you'll be able to see her. This is a picture of Margaret Kessler, who died in 2012, because when she lost her job, she lost her health care. When she lost her job in the recession, she couldn't afford COBRA coverage, which is the way you can privately pay for your insurance. She knew she was at risk for colon cancer, and her sister tells me she was a really stubborn woman. So she never let her family know how bad things were.
But Margaret ended up getting colon cancer. And Jeannie, her sister, and her sister's partner, Lynn, brought me Margaret's picture when we were on the bus in Cincinnati. And they came directly from Margaret's memorial service, and they knew that Margaret would have wanted to be there. Because she was a shop steward and a troublemaker all her life. So they brought me her picture, and I wept, because this is the whole point of the Affordable Care Act. That everyone should have access to health care eventually in our nation.
But here's the deal. The only way Margaret would've gotten coverage, is if Medicaid is fully expanded in every state.
I am a fiend for the expansion of Medicaid, because no more Margarets should die. It is the right thing to do.
The problem is, it's politics that is stopping this. It's politics. It's a theory about the political game. And remember, reality is more important than theories. Margaret's story will triumph, but it's up to us to be fueled by her story. And work in these 24 states that have not expanded Medicaid, to ensure that no more Margarets die. We have work to be done.
But by walking towards trouble, by letting my heart be broken by Margaret, you know what happened? Well I've talked about her, I've been fueled by my commitment to make sure no more Margarets die. But then I had the opportunity to see Jeannie and Lynn last year, and I found out that my talking about Margaret had been healing for their family. They had been so guilty that she died without their knowing it, without helping. But my talking about her made some sense for them.
So the other piece about walking towards trouble, is walking towards community. And you have no clue, when you embrace trouble, what are the consequences out there. What's the nourishment for others. What is the whole that gets generated beyond yourself. I had no idea about that. And it is the truth. Hope is generated in community. f Margaret gives me hope, and I give Kessler family hope. And we are joined in one passionate caring, that no more Margarets die. That's where we go together, into the future.
Oh I can go on and on. Do you have room for one more story? OK. You're very sweet.
And I wanted to tell a story from the bus trip last year, the immigration bus trip. Because, quite frankly, we all need to act for immigration reform this month, this week.
We were in San Antonio. Do we have any San Antonio folks? Yeah, San Antonio. Well, we were in San Antonio, and somebody had the bright idea about having an outdoor press conference at 3:00 PM in June. They had gotten tents to put over the 300 people that had come to our event. But those of us speaking at this press conference, rally, whatever it was, we were standing in the sunshine. So they very thoughtfully decided that we ought to sit down. So they brought chairs that had been leaning against the wall in the sunshine, and they were metal chairs. I will never forget San Antonio.
Oh, yeah. It's beautiful. But Congressman Pete Gallego was going to give a talk. And he's this really tall congressman from the area. And he came straight from the airport. And his wife and son were meeting him at the rally, and his eight-year old son, Nicholas, hadn't seen him yet. And so Pete comes up with his papers, and he's all ready to talk. He puts them on the podium, he takes that pregnant pause. And Nicholas see dad, totally oblivious his dad's about to give a talk. And Nicholas goes, Papi! And runs up and throws his arms around him. And everybody goes, ahh.
Well that sort of took the solemnity out of the event. But Pete said, ruffles Nicholas's hair, and says, I can't give you my talk. I have to tell you when my attitude towards immigration changed forever. When I was in the delivery room when this young boy was born, and I first held them in my arms, I knew that I, as a dad, would protect him from anything, anything. I would give my life for this little boy. And I knew then, I was like every other parent who would protect their child.
A few days later, we were at the Pascua Yaqui reservation in south of Tucson, and I was talking to the chairman there. And Chairman Pete told us about the problems for the indigenous peoples. And probably some of you know this, but I hadn't realized it, that for those on reservations at the border, it is horrible. Because Chairman Pete told us that he has 20,000 tribal members on the Mexico side, 40,000 on the US side, and he said we are one people divided by two countries. Because every time they want to hold a meeting, then they have to deal with visas and travel and restrictions, and all of this.
It's also true that we've built this ridiculous fence up to the reservation, and the impact on the reservation is that it has channeled the criminal activity through the reservation. For the first time, the indigenous people are having to put locks on their doors. To worry about kidnapping and robbery. Chairman Pete said that the growth industry on the reservation for the first time is the locksmith. It was shocking.
But then he told me, not knowing the story of Pete Gallego, he told me that he, himself, had found the body of a woman who had been apparently trying to cross, curled up under one of the big bushes. And when they rolled her body over, she was holding the body of her small child. And I knew that woman had the same commitment, the same hunger, to care for her child that Pete had. One happens to be in Congress, and the other happens to be dead in the desert.
It is a common story of parents caring for their children. And right now we have a wave of young children coming across without parents because of violence and fear. And some in our nation want us to believe that they're aliens, they're evil, send them back. But much of it is fueled by our refusal to fix our broken immigration system. Our refusal to deal with the consequence of our trade policy. Our refusal to deal with the truth of our life in this world. That this global issue impacts us and we need to fix that reality.
So I do this because of faith. I do this because I am challenged to radically accept everyone, because every time I let my heart be broken open, and hear a new story, I hear something new. I hear something new from Pete Gallego, I heard something new from Jason the entrepreneur, or Robin the clothing-store worker. I hear something new from Margaret's family. Radically accepting also means that I hear something new from Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, all the people I have on my mistake of God list.
As people of faith walking towards trouble, we need to embrace them too. Because what I have discovered, unless I hold them in my care, unless I, in my way of expressing it, acknowledge and love the God in them, and at odds with the God in me, the challenge is to be open.
But then once you're open—Some people get nervous. It's too much like the '60s. A bunch of us remember the '60s. And you know, do whatever you want, just don't hurt anybody. But what I've realized though, is if we're going to walk towards trouble, if we're going to let our hearts be broken open, the reality is, is that we have to radically accept and fight—and fight. But too often our fighting becomes fighting against, where we get stuck pushing back and talking over and over about, (GRUNTING). Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It's more like a tug of war. That's not the kind of fighting I'm talking about.
If we're going to walk towards trouble, then what we have to do is find a way to stand side by side, where we look at the problem together. Where we try to define the problem with everyone's story. And if everyone's story is in the mix, we're halfway to solving that problem. Because then we can see where the commonalities are. Then we can see who's left out. Then we can invite more people in. But we have to fight for the vision, for the possibility, for the new way forward. Because right now there is no vision. And in the Hebrew scriptures, it says without a vision, the people perish. We, the people, need to create that vision through radical acceptance and fighting.
So I challenge all of you to do this. And you could say, well isn't that nice for a Catholic to say that. They're always so certain. Not really, but—But you know what? While radical acceptance and fighting requires action—and let me put this little plea in here. Please call your representatives frequently, often in the next month until August recess, to get Speaker Boehner to bring immigration to the floor of the House. Because we have the votes.
Put them on speed dial. Put them on speed dial. Call them every day. But tell your member of Congress to be a missionary, go tell Speaker Boehner to do it.
Now I said earlier that my analysis gets to be—I get kind of exercised about this. So I'm getting to the point where I'm getting to my, do it, dammit, phase.
But I do this because of faith, even though I may swear occasionally. It is faith based. It is, for me, my path has led deeply into the contemplative reality of God that is just beyond understand. It is such a rich and fabulous gift to me. This radical acceptance and fighting. Knowing that God is alive in our world. But you know what? We're a pluralistic society, as you all know really well. But we are also, in our nation, a pluralistic society. So I cannot expect anyone to hold my faith.
But you know what? Where we meet is in the Constitution. Where we meet is in community. Where we meet is in the first three words of the Constitution, which is, we the people. It is an unpatriotic lie that we're based in individualism. And we have got to cut it out.
It's we, the people. It is we, the people who are going to lead us out of this wilderness. It is we, the people that are going to give a backbone to Speaker Boehner and the rest of the House. It's we, the people that are going to make something happen, because it's we, the people that can create the vision.
It is true that without a vision the people perish. But my friends, you are a vision. You are people committed to the 100%. You are committed to opening your hearts, to walking towards trouble, to making a difference. So I urge you to do a few specific actions. In the Constitution, where we meet, I'd like to encourage you to grocer-store missionary work.
I talked a little bit about this earlier, but what you need to do is this. It's very simple. Talk to folks you don't know about stuff that matters. Not just about the World Cup or about baseball or football. We have to begin talking again about important issues. So what I do is, standing in line at the grocery store, because I don't stand in line many places very often, is I'll say to the person behind me or in front of me, hey, have you thought about this effort to raise the minimum wage? What do you think? Have you thought about immigration reform? Just pick one. What do you think?
And what I have discovered is people have thought about it. But nobody ever asks them. And they're quite surprised, but they have something important to say. If we are serious about walking towards trouble, and opening our hearts to hearing the deeper story, we've got to have these conversations about serious stuff. We have to have conversations about our values, about what really matters to us as a nation. We have to walk towards community, and away from the unpatriotic lie of individualism.
And what I have discovered is that when you walk towards community, we become deeply aware of the truth that we're in this together. That we are not separate. That there is no real discernible difference, when you get right down to it, everyone is like Pete Gallego, and the woman who died in the desert. Everyone's like Margaret. Everyone's like Robin. Everyone's like Jason. We may have different stories to tell, but it's the same hunger, the same desire, the same passion to make a difference in our world. To care for family. To be who we are called to be.
And so I have come to know, in my little, limited experience, that it is the divine that hums us all the time. Hums each one of us. I think of God as the hum of the universe that's holding us together in a loving embrace. That's how I experience it. But when I'm separated by myself, I lose touch with that deeper reality. Where we are called to make this vision is community. Hope is a communal virtue that we only know together. And it's in that light, it is in that quest for hope together, that we get surprised.
If you walk towards trouble, you'll have a lot of people walking with you, if you do it together. And that is the way it can be done.
As I know, we will not be left orphaned. If you walk towards trouble, it's a vibrant life of faith and treasured doubt. If you walk towards trouble, all you have to do is do your best. It's enough. Because in community, in community, it all gets covered. And so to conclude, I want to end with one of my poems because this says it for me. And I wrote it on the last night in Baghdad in 2002. Don't you love just being able to say that. Yes, it was our last night in Baghdad. Before we invaded, I went on a small peace delegation. And on our last night in Baghdad we went to an Italian restaurant, and when we came back there was a wedding party on the sidewalk in the light from the plate-glass window.
And in that light, there was a violin and this accordion and people were dancing. It was wonderful. And we stood around, there were 11 of us, and we stood around, and then they drew us into dance. And this man next to me who was trying to show me how to do this folk dance, leans over and says to me, how long do my niece and her new husband have to live in peace? How long until you start bombing us?
It is this poem that was given that night. And this is all about why we have to walk towards trouble. And it's called Incarnation, and it goes like this.
Let gratitude be the beat of your heart. Pounding Baghdad rhythms, circulating memories, meaning of this journey. Let resolve flow in our veins, fueled by bosphorus destitution, risking reflective action in a 15-second world. Let compassion be our hands, reaching to be with each other, all others, to touch, hold, heal this fractured world. Let wisdom be our feat, bringing us to the crying need to friends or foe, to share this body's blood. Let love be our eyes, that we might see the beauty, see the dream lurking in the shadows of despair and dread. And let community be our body warmth, radiating Arab energy, to welcome in the foreign stranger, even the ones who waged this war. And let us remember on drear, distant days, we are a promised Christmas joy. We live as one, this fragile, gifted life. For we are the body of God. Thank you so much
PETER MORALES: You know, this year's public witness event is about walking toward trouble at WaterFire. What a perfect message for us tonight. So later on, we get to do it, to quote you, dammit. And before that, Sister Simone will be signing copies of her book, A Nun on the Bus. But that will only occur if we allow her to get out into the entry area of the Dunk. So once again, thank you so very much for that message.
Sister Simone Campbell is the National Coordinator of NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. She is a religious leader, attorney and poet with extensive experience in public policy and advocacy for systemic change. In Washington, she lobbies on issues of peace-building, immigration reform, healthcare and economic justice. Around the country, she is a noted speaker and educator on these public policy issues.
During the 2010 congressional debate about healthcare reform, she wrote the famous “nuns’ letter” supporting the reform bill and got 59 leaders of Catholic Sisters, including LCWR, to sign on. This action was cited by many as critically important in passing the Affordable Care Act. She was thanked by President Obama and invited to the ceremony celebrating its being signed into law.
In 2012, she was also instrumental in organizing the “Nuns on the Bus” tour of nine states to oppose the “Ryan Budget” approved by the House of Representatives. This budget would decimate programs meant to help people in need. “Nuns on the Bus” received an avalanche of attention across the nation from religious communities, elected officials and the media.
She recently led a new cross-country Nuns on the Bus trip (May 28 through June 18, 2013), focused on comprehensive immigration reform.
Sr. Simone has often been featured in the national and international media, including recent appearances on 60 Minutes, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
She has received numerous awards, including the "Defender of Democracy Award" from the international Parliamentarians for Global Action and "Health Care Heroes Award" from Families USA. In addition, she has been the keynote or featured speaker at numerous large gatherings, including the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Sr. Simone has also served as the Executive Director of JERICHO, the California interfaith public policy organization that works to protect the interests of people living in poverty. Simone also participated in a delegation of religious leaders to Iraq in December 2002, just prior to the war, and was later part of a Catholic Relief Services delegation to Lebanon and Syria to study the Iraqi refugee situation there.
Before JERICHO, she served as the general director of her religious community, the Sisters of Social Service. She was the leader of her Sisters in the United States, Mexico, Taiwan and the Philippines. In this capacity, she negotiated with government and religious leaders in each of these countries.
In 1978, Sr. Simone founded and served for 18 years as the lead attorney for the Community Law Center in Oakland, California. She served the family law and probate needs of the working poor of her county.
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Last updated on Wednesday, October 29, 2014.
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