When Brayton’s newly minted book arrived with its shiny flame-design cover and inspiring endorsements on the back, it was a “break open the champagne” moment. For years, Brayton and I weighed the costs in time and energy of writing a book, while leading a full community life with the accompanying dilemma of self-publishing versus seeking a publisher. We are not professional writers, but we did see the value of a chronicle of the Agape story and had been encouraged to write the narrative by many valued friends. Inevitably, we pondered questions: dual authorship, alternating co-authored chapters with distinct, yet overlapping themes; finally, the compelling direction was—write! We decided on Brayton editing some of his “greatest hits” from Servant Song and organizing them thematically.
Starting the process was daunting. We put off the task for years, simply writing our Servant Song journal pieces and not tackling “the book”. Eventually our procrastination turned into serious discernment: What is God’s will in such an undertaking?
Personally, around the issue of writing, I am haunted by demons of doubt. “Why would anyone want to read about our ‘little’ Agape experiment?” Or, ”We aren’t really writers.” “Do we want to write because everyone else is doing it?” Seeking guidance, I returned to Merton’s words on writing: “I am here to learn humility and how to do God’s will and to serve God the best way I can and writing has something to do with these things. …” (Echoing Silence, p. 10). Merton’s words resonated: “If you write for God you will reach many people and bring them joy.” Still, I knew that Agape’s story, and that of the hundreds who comprised it, would not be an overnight sensation. I didn’t think I was writing for self-aggrandizement, certainly not fame. Merton again: “If you write only for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted you will wish that you were dead.” (Ibid. p.198) Disgust and self-loathing were not appealing motivations. Writing for God was!
After much hand-wringing and delay, we devised a plan for “the book”. Brayton would compile his Servant Song essays, and I would edit, bringing, we hoped, some joy and encouragement to others. We were focused on lineage, our shared nonviolent history, and the communal experiences unique to Agape. I tuned in again to the Wisdom voice of Merton. Writing was not meant to be evasive or easy: “Make up your mind to write things that some people will condemn.” Although not intentionally seeking condemnation, we knew that our two year project would not speak to everyone.
Once begun, the revisions were endless. We lost documents we didn’t know how to retrieve, one manuscript still out there in cyberspace. With those draining times behind us, after opening the box from Oregon and our Wipf andStock publishers, we massaged our egos a bit, sighing with gratification and relief. We weren’t kidding ourselves though. We knew what lay ahead of us: “You have to promote. You have to go on tour. You have to sell it.” Sell. Ugh. Promote. Ugh. But here it was, “our” book. It was a living reality. It spoke volumes.
We decided, with some enthusiasm, to launch, with the assistance of interns and volunteers, a book tour which would facilitate both discussion of the book, and also be a platform for doing what we had done for the past 35 years— dialogue with others in community and academic settings on gospel-based nonviolence, sustainable lifestyle, prayer and hospitality.
With the help of steadfast assistants, we crafted fliers, calling on old friends in our peace community network to schedule talks, (Stephen Kobasa from early resistance days in the 80’s hosted us at Yale Divinity School), soliciting and receiving book reviews from stellar peacemakers and seeking invitations to speak with the “the book” as a backdrop for preaching nonviolence, or perhaps the main focus. The Many Sides of Peace became a vehicle for evangelizing its message, but not the exclusive one.
Most people seemed interested in the fact that we were writing about “lives lived”, so the book was secondary, though certainly a plus. The notion of The Many Sides of Peace and its accompanying praxis motifs of sustainability, nonviolence and contemplation seemed to energize a base, especially among college age students and faculty. After some publicity, requests for speaking began arriving and we brought out the calendar.
East Coast: MA to Maryland, Sojourners DC, Georgetown University, Yale, Hartford Pax Christi and more…
The tour began its extended life, shortly after the book arrived in March 2013, and will resume again this fall. One of the culminating moments of a year’s worth of travel, after our return from three weeks on the West Coast, was our invitation to deliver the annual Daniel Berrigan Lecture at Le Moyne College (entitled “How Are We to Live in this World?”). We were moved by time spent with Jerry Berrigan, the 96 year old brother of Daniel Berrigan, and Jerry’s wife Carol, both of whom are revered veteran activists. This last station of the year’s trips taking us singly or as a couple from one end of the country to the other, resonated with previous ventures—renewal of old friendships, making new ones, lots of seed planting with college grads and undergrads.
That night, as we spoke at the Daniel Berrigan Lecture, we shared with the audience, many of them old resisters, memories of our friendship with Dan and Phil. We were swept into a force field of reminiscence (Pentagon arrests and witnesses, Dan and Phil’s visits to Agape), reinforcing our conviction to “tell the story”, to leave with young people, who might otherwise not know or remember, the names and lives of a generation of peacemakers.
Christina Michaelson and Ludger Viefheus-Bailey of LeMoyne, like so many other professors, close friends from resistance days past and current, (Dan and Linda Findlay in Ithaca had us speak at a Quaker gathering attended by Syracuse drone activists.) diligently planned speaking engagements in classes on gender and war, community and sustainability. Student participation was lively, with many questions and disagreements precipitated by an Agape PowerPoint. Over and over we heard this student lament: “This is great, but I can’t do it. I have to pay off my loans.” Most students from 18-30, have never heard of intentional community. Some find it alluring (especially oddities, like Agape’s grease car); others, we could tell, were nonplussed. Many confided that they needed a “real” job, and that it was hard to think “outside of the box” of fear-laden concerns about a life in debt. Most could not imagine a group of people living together as an antidote to all of this anxiety— combining resources and talent, to lessen the burden of the individualistic culture stresses.
Le Moyne students were a questioning, approachable group, down-to-earth and real in their interests querying us, for example, about raising our daughter in community, especially without cell phone access. In another context, themes of gender and war in small classes, as was the case at Le Moyne, could elicit emotional and tense exchanges, especially true when ROTC students or veterans are present. Our task is to be open, non-judgmental, to get students to think critically, without blaming, to access the truth in 45 minutes. Impossible, but worth the try. From St. Jude’s church in Manhattan with friends from Dominican Republic, to the lively exchange at the Catholic Worker, NY, clarification of thought where we renewed our ties with Jane Sammon, Martha Hennessey and Cathy Breen, I felt refreshed by my sisters’ presence, representing “Wisdom, who is brilliant” and “never fades” (Wis:6:21).
Such Wisdom could be “readily seen,” in the hospitality and openness of our numerous hosts throughout the tour, who, in Her spirit, struggled as we did to be faithful in “prayer and the service of the Word”. Such were the currents running in both Brayton and me in every stop along the way which reminded us of the Acts of the Apostles “a whole group of believers were united heart and soul”(Acts 4:32).
Whether at Holy Cross Parish in Longmeadow, MA with the Just Faith Community and Bill Toller, or old friends from the Springfield, MA Peace and Justice communities, (Nehemiah Community and Patrick Murray) and our hometown setting of the Hardwick/ Barre area at The Listening Center, when we left Agape, we accessed our early church history. As with the Apostle Paul, we were committed to “detailed instruction about the Way” (Acts 18:1).
St. Benedict’s Feast Day 60th Anniversary at Weston Priory, VT On St.
Benedict’s Feast Day on July 13th at Weston Priory in Vermont, in the presence of our dedicated brothers who have nourished and fed us over the years with their hospitality, music and intimate sharing, we told our story with a gathered group of about 100. Merton again: “There is no revolution without a voice. …There is no revolution without prophetic songs.” The nonviolent song, the voice of our lineage, was not however, always as harmonious in other venues as it was at The Priory where the teachings of the nonviolent Jesus seemed to find a home.
In October, 2013, Michael Boover invited us to The Adin Ballou Lecture at the Hopedale Unitarian Church, where we joined hands to give praise to nonviolence, to Ballou and to sell a few books.
Thomas Berry Forum Iona College
Iona College students, under the guidance of Carl Procario-Foley, have, for the past four years, come to Agape for Rural Immersions. Kathleen Deignan,a friend over 30 years, convener of the Forum at Iona, invited us to Iona’s impressive week, entitled: “Swords into Plowshares: Seeking Peace in a Violent World.” Mark Barden, a Sandy Point, CT parent and active gun control lobbyist was a keynoter. As presenters at the Forum, Agape was listed as doing Berry’s “Great Work of living in nonviolent harmony with the Earth and all living beings.”
Rochester, NY: Gandhi Institute and Spiritus Christi
Rochester, NY for nearly a week meant seeing Arun Gandhi again and meeting hosts from the Gandhi Institute, Kit Miller and George Payne (George recently visited Agape to nourish our new ties) who sponsored my talk on “Women and War” (while the “author” Brayton sat quietly on the sidelines). We met with Harry Murray’s class at Nazareth College, presenting Agape’s work against the Death Penalty. A stimulating clarification of thought followed in a circle at St. Joseph’s Catholic Worker which included formerly homeless men who shared with great pride their new roles as guest supervisors in a house they managed. No one was too enamored of our “quiet” life on 34 acres of land. The city is where these folks were rooted and are destined to stay.
We were impressed with the passion and outreach to the poor and marginalized at Spiritus Christi Church, the breakaway Catholic parish, self-described as a “Christ-centered Catholic Church reaching beyond the institutional” one. Old friend Michael Boucher, on staff at Spiritus, and Jim Callan, the “banished” Catholic priest who co-founded the church with ordained woman priest Mary Ramerman, invited us to share the homily. We spoke of the need to resist the powerful forces of conformity and silence in the church around issues like women’s ordination. Music flowed; Pentecost flames erupted in many hearts throughout our time at Spiritus.
Loyola College, MD
During our time at Loyola College, Maryland, with classroom and large group seminar presentations on “Living the Integrated Life” brilliantly orchestrated by a Kate Figiel, friend from Boston on staff there, we stressed the theme of the hands-on praxis at Agape, with a power-point presentation created by a summer-long intern from France, Cedric Iggiotti. About one hundred students attended a luncheon program, many seeming genuinely interested in Agape’s organic vegetable growing, building from the ground up, nurturing relations at yearly events, and, most especially, getting away from the frantic pace of their lives, their worries about loans and making money. They asked deeply and with great concern, especially in relationship to environmental degradation and climate change: How do I live my life in these times? Will I have a life to live?
West Coast – Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, CA
In California, we were welcomed for speaking engagements by old friends, Tom Massaro SJ and David Gill SJ (Agape’s non-resident chaplain for 12 years, beloved by all) at Berkeley, who, along with Dean of Students Paul Kircher, arranged a talk at JSTB.
With the Jesuit School of Theology as a springboard, we met many visiting priests and women religious there, particularly Jesuits from India with whom we had intense and memorable discussions on Gandhian nonviolence.
Jim McGarry welcomed us to Notre Dame de Namur College where, the Martyr of the Amazon, Dorothy Stang, lived and worked. Dorothy’s spirit was everywhere. Later that evening, we were delighted to meet Tom Webb and a group of people from the Oakland Catholic Worker.
Writing and talking about things, as Merton says “people will condemn,” like forgiveness for the Marathon Bomber, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, created some push back from students at Holy Names College in CA. At Holy Names, we re-established old friendship with Bob Lassalle-Klein, (professor of theology and philosophy, and co-founder of the Oakland Catholic Worker). Similarly, around the death penalty and Tsarnaev, at our major presentation at the University of Portland, one student walked out when we elaborated on the evils of the Death Penalty. Still, several ROTC students at Portland University, who had never heard of The Just War theory, expressed eagerness to pursue more of the nonviolent teachings of Jesus and to check out conscientious objection, having not heard of either.
Laura Truxler and Carrie Rehak, professors at Holy Names, arranged talks for over 100 students on the lifestyle of nonviolence and sustainable living. An evening program with the Oakland Catholic Worker and a visit to Canticle Farm, both nourished connections over direct service and Agape’s Catholic Worker links back in MA and with Tommy Cornell ( and Tom and Monica Cornell) at The Peter Maurin Farm, NY. Jamie Powell and Karen Eifler of the Garaventa Center at University of Portland, a CSC College, provided comfort and refuge for we two travel-weary pilgrims, as well as a venue for the talk on The Many Sides of Peace in the Holy Cross Lounge.
Portland, OR—University of Portland /St. Andre Bessette Parish, JVC Northwest
Kyle Eilenfeldt, former intern from the grad school Praxis program at Boston College, met us at the Portland airport. Kyle had arranged for us to speak to guests and workers at St. Andre Bessette Parish, a remarkable setting with homeless people clustered around the door when we arrived, with every kind of service available to them at St. Andre’s, from foot care to lunches and clothes room. Kyle navigated his numerous responsibilities as the front office person, under the generous tutelage of Fr. John Patrick Riley. With a group of 50 volunteers and guests, our talk there on “Peace of Mind,” surfaced a need among attendees for a more regular contemplative and prayer practice.
Anthony Paz, summer intern and regular at Agape when he was an undergrad at Amherst College, was the catalyst for our sojourn to University of Portland. Both Kyle and Anthony were visible reminders of the work and history of Agape, characters in the book, their story too, to which they testified when they introduced us. Anthony described his time at Agape as one of the most faith-filled experiences of his life.
Our time with Jesuit Volunteer Corp (JVC) Northwest, facilitated by Jean Haster and Laurie Laird captured the excitement of fellow travelers on the nonviolent road, people testifying to the familiar slogan of being “ruined for life,” by JVC. We encouraged step two in their ruination, by checking out Agape. The unity and passion for nonviolence and sustainability ran deep.
Last Stop, Bend OR
A bus from Portland to Bend, OR, brought us to Pam Didenti and Tom Comerford, JVC organizers from the 1960’s, whose son, Bennett Comerford, a graduate of BC was one of the organizers of the protest around Condoleezza Rice’s receiving an honorary degree at Boston College. Pam and Tom are members of the beleaguered parish St. Francis of Assisi, where their pastor, Fr. Radloff, was dismissed in a cloud of controversy, making headlines in NCR. Brayton and I co-facilitated a gathering where disaffected parishioners shared their pain and shed tears of despair and frustration. Also in Bend, Barbara Veale-Smith opened her home to an assembled group for a day retreat on silence and nourishing the peace within, attended by some from St. Francis.
We boarded a bus from Bend back to Oakland to make our return trip home, overwhelmed by the generosity and love we had experienced everywhere.