Recent Address

Letting peace into my heart. by Rev. Julio Torres.

Sunday 6th March 2022

I joined the U.S. Army at 17 for a multitude of reasons. Some of which still make sense to me, others of which I deeply regret. I had simple reasons unique to the U.S. like needing to pay for college, wanting free medical care, and yet also there were some desires for vengeance and anger built up in my heart. The army certainly provided housing, food and employment but does that mean that joining the military, even with a desire to protect the world from terrorism- 9/11 certainly was a key factor- does that justify my reactions? Even more so, did it justify going to war? Even more importantly, today I ask the question- when do we let peace into our hearts? Where do we draw our lines in justifying the use of force in our lives, of state violence, or war? How do we widen our whole selves to peace?
Unitarians need to reflect on these questions. We need to consider the wisdom of prophets who call for peace. We need to explore the traumas in our lives and ask ourselves how they impact our reactions, we need to see the trauma in other lives and see how it impacts them. I find peace is difficult to measure in my life, and in society. What is peace in our personal lives? I imagine it as a life where I have opportunities to live, where everything I do is pleasant, where I am living my best life and prospering, when I am liberated. The beloved community is about a liberation from oppression.

What is peace in society and the world? Is it more than just an absence of violence- do we really have peace? Not at all. Oppression is bountiful. My life has, as I assume all of ours can be measured in wars. I’m almost 35, so I can measure by the wars America have been involved with from the gulf war to the War on Terror and who knows, we may be on the brink of a third world war.
Few of my pass-times discuss lives and societies of a peaceful nature, where oppression is a thing of the past, where people are liberated to live their best lives. It doesn’t make for good story-telling. Even Greek and Shakespearean comedies- known for their uplifting nature have moments of conflict, but always people are shackled by some circumstance or another, they’re never in liberated settings.
How far back do we look to see when an aggression is an aggression that is worthy of a response of violence. What do we see as aggression? Even when we think of Competition it’s something where one wins and loses. It’s not war but it’s not peace, it’s not harmony. Why don’t more video games, board games etc, deal with creating abundance, equality and peace. Instead its games like Monopoly, Battleship, Chess. Where one is defeated in imaginary violence.

These are fun games, let it be said, but these things are ingrained in us as children and I would question people who say- “societal peace is impossible, we must always have an option for violence, for the greater good.” Violence, both being bullied and going to war traumatised me. When I went through PTSD related work, there was a lovely tool used with vibrational tool not quite paddles, not quite remote control. The theory is – trauma lives in the nerves and the vibration on each side of the body helps to shake it out. You visualise the trauma, and then visualise some grounding comforting image, maybe of the divine but something of safety and peace. Have we reflected on what traumas live in the nervous system inside each other? What traumas are in the nervous system of society?

It also had some talking components to it. I found it all quite helpful. I was originally dubious of the science behind it as I used to be a bit macho. It sounded like meditation, it sounded like therapy, and what the hell was up with these little vibrational things and yet I had profound moments. I widened my mind and heart to the trauma therapists. When do societies take time to discuss their traumas and visualise a better world, in a safe environment where another side won’t take advantage of them?

As a child, and as a teenager I had issues with being bullied. Most of the time it was from Uzbek immigrants. Maybe they had families which suffered for whatever reason in fear in the USSR, maybe from the policies of the government, maybe from islamic fundamentalism, Maybe they were raised to be hyper masculine and violent? I don’t know, as I didn’t ask them. For a long time I only saw them as bullies, because there was a group of ten of them who were in my opinion quite dangerous. It wasn’t until I let peace in my heart that I started to think how and why they may have been the way they were. Do I hold the actions of these ten against the rest of their ethnic group, national origin etc.? I widened the circle because of the wisdom of my trauma therapist. I reflected on why people are driven to violence, and seem to think peace could be only a vision or dream. I widened the circle using empathy.

It helped when, a year after I worked on processing my PTSD, I let peace into my heart by way of the anti war and peace movements. I joined Iraq Veterans Against the War. and when I moved to the UK I joined Veterans for Peace. I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for Martin Luther King’s sermons on poverty, racism and militarism. And while I was resistant to the arguments against militarism, I knew their truth. My respect and trust in him as a teacher allowed me to widen my heart.
One of the things we discussed in the UK Veterans for Peace was a neutrality campaign, and that NATO may be less of a deterrent and more of an anxiety causing organisation. Whether it’s true or not , we didn’t know but we had a conversation. After all it was military allegiances which led the world into the 1st world war and the maltreatment of Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Ottoman Empire which set the scene to World War 2, as well as later conflicts down the line to include in my opinion the Global war on terror. If we think back to world war 1 and the colonial norms, arguments and reasoning for just wars start to become a bit more complex.

My heart goes out to the Russians who protested and were arrested; and my blessings of safety to all Ukrainians.The world is full of bullies on a personal level, and on a state level. I certainly speak out against the Russians invading the Ukraine as wrong, as much as I view U.S. bombs around the world as wrong. If I think of a global democracy and what it would look like- those who we villainize this week- the Russians, along with their allies China and India- make up a third of the world. Sure that’s not a super majority but if we learned anything as Unitarians we must listen to minorities. Whatever we say about the war, and I pray for peace instead of a third world war, I recommend we think about all sides. I am biased as this is what I did to let peace in my heart, to build empathy. When I think of how I have been violated, I must also think of how others have been violated. I can’t say what America, what the nations of the world should do to make themselves happy, and what to do as right or wrong as I am one person, I can only speak my opinion and hope others share it and are convinced by it.

I do hope we become the beloved community, that global community of peace, abundance and equality and counteract the evils of poverty, racism, militarism and all forms of discrimination under the sun. I want states to operate on love, for businesses to operate on love. When humanity operates on love, When safety is assured- I know peace will be in our hearts. The question of how safety is assured without the threat of violence is a paradox I don’t have an answer to.

I do hope we become one global government so that all these matters of nationalism go away. So that territories are not disputed. So that the whole of humanity is united and wars become horrors of legend and not a reality. To me peace is love in action. Widening the circle to let peace in our hearts- is a radical act, a spiritual act, a political, an emotional, a physical and a social action. Maybe you all have peace in your hearts and I’m the one who didn’t- but I ask- what will it take to have not only peace in your hearts, but to have peace in the hearts of all those in the world?