Her name was Julia Ward Howe. She was born in 1819, in New York City. Her parents died when she was very young. She barely even knew her own mother. She was raised by her aunt and uncle. Her uncle was known as a bit of a radical. He saw to it that his niece received a good liberal arts education; something very rare for a young woman of Julia’s day.When she was 21 years old, Julia married Samuel Gridley Howe.Howe had made a name for himself as a reformer who took quite a strong stand against slavery.Samuel often told people that he admired Julia’s ideas, her quick mind, her wit and above all her commitment to causes he supported.But Samuel, like many men of his day, believed that women should not take an active part in the causes of the day, nor should they speak in public.For her part, Julia did her best to respect her husband’s wishes. Julia had six children.Two of her children died when they were very young. In her diaries, Julia describes her life during the early part of her marriage as one of isolation.
In deference to her husband she had no life outside of her home except for Sundays when she attended church.Julia wrote of her husband’s violent outbursts as he attempted to control his wife’s activities. Julia’s only out-let was her writing. She began to gain quite a name for poetry. It is not clear just how she managed to get her poems published, but the success of her poetry led to invitations for Julia to speak at various gatherings. Apparently, Julia had quite a mouth on her. A friend of hers wrote that, “Bright things always came readily to Julia’s lips, and second thoughts often came too late to prevent her words from stinging.”
Samuel resented his wife’s success and after he managed to lose most of Julia’s inheritance from her father, he became more and more violent. Julia raised the issue of divorce, but Samuel threatened to take the children from her, so instead Julia decided to try to fill her days of confinement to her home by educating herself. Julia began to study philosophy. In time she even managed to teach herself several languges.Her diaries speak of her husband’s concern that Julia’s attempts at self-education were outrageous for a woman in her position in society.It was not until Julia discovered that Samuel had been unfaithful to her that she was able to negotiate a more active public life for herself.
Julia began publishing books, essays, and plays. Both Julia and her husband became more and more active in the anti-slavery movement.Julia’s abolitionist work, led to invitations to the White House. Abraham Lincoln appointed Julia to the U.S. Sanitary Commission. More men died in the U.S. Civil War from disease caused by poor sanitary conditions in prisoner of war camps and in their own army camps than actually died in battle. The Sanitary Commission was the chief institution of reform for conditions in the camps and the Julia’s work saved many lives.
In 1862, at the request of the President Julia traveled to Washington.On route, she visited a Union Army camp in Virginia across the Potomac. There, Julia could hear men from both the North and the South singing. The Northern camp sang a song in admiration of John Brown’s fight against slavery, while the Southern Camp sang a song in celebration of John Brown’s death. “John Brown’s body lies a’mouldering in his grave.” A fellow traveler asked Julia to write a few lines to counter the words of the popular southern tune.
This is how Julia described the event: “I had often wished to write such a poem and in spite of the excitement of the day I went to bed and slept as usual, but awoke the next morning in the gray of the early dawn, and to my astonishment found that the wished-for lines were arranging themselves in my brain. I lay quite still until the last verse had completed itself in my thoughts, then hastily arose, saying to myself, I shall lose this if I don’t write it down immediately.
I searched for an old sheet of paper and an old stub of a pen which I had had the night befoe, and began to scrawl the lines almost without looking, as I learned to do so often scratching down verses in the darkened room when my little children were sleeping. Having completed this, I lay down again and fell asleep, but not before feeling that something of importance had happened to me.” The poem which Julia wrote that night was set to the tune of “John Brown’s Body” and became the best known Civil War song of the North. The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Today the Battle Hymn of the Republic is what most people who remember Julia Ward Howe at all, remember her for. But her accomplishments did not end with the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Julia became even more famous, and she was asked to speak publicly more often.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Julia, like many before her, began to see parallels between the struggles for legal rights for blacks and the need for the legal equality for women. She became active in the movement to gain the vote for women. Julia discovered that she was not so alone in her long held beliefs that women should be able to speak their minds and influence the direction of society.
In 1868, Julia helped to found the New England Suffrage Association, and three years later she co-founded the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1870 she became one of the founders of the Woman’s Journal, which she continued to edit for twenty years. Julia saw some of the worst effects of the Civil war. She knew that the ravages of war went far beyond the death and disease that killed and maimed the soldiers. She worked with the widows and orphans of soldiers on both sides of the war. She also saw the economic devastation of the Civil war.
And so, in 1870, Julia Ward Howe took on a new issue and a new cause. Distressed by her experience of the realities of war, determined that peace was one of the two most important causes of the world (the other being equality) and seeing war begin again in Europe, Julia called upon women to rise up and oppose war in all its forms. She wanted women to come together across national lines, to recognize what we hold in common above what divides us, and make a commitment to find peaceful resolutions to conflicts. Julia declared a Mothers’ Day for Peace. She failed in her attempt to get formal recognition of a Mothers’ Day for Peace. But by issuing her Mothers’ Day Proclamation in the Woman’s Journal, Julia managed to reach women all over the world. And each year more in more and more places women struggling for equality and peace began to celebrate Mothers’ Day. Official recognition of Mothers’ day would have to wait until 1914 when Woodrow Wilson, finally declared the first national Mothers’ Day.
“Abba, holy God, protect those whom you have given me- that they may be one, even as we are one.”
This weekend, we were blessed by a visit from the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald. Bishop MacDonald shared some precious wisdom with us. I was particularly touched by his claim that we are family. Bishop MacDonald claimed us as his sisters and brothers and reminded us that the indigenous peoples of this land are also our family. Our Brother Bishop Mark went on to remind us that relatives care for one another in special ways. As sisters and brothers of one family we he called us to remember the responsibilities we have one to another.
We learned from our Brother Bishop Mark the need we have to repent – which is a Christian word that means to turn away from the systemic evils in which we are enmeshed. He was referring to the systemic racism that pervades our society as a systemic evil in which we have benefited while our indigenous sisters and brothers have suffered. Our Brother Bishop Mark spoke of our need to turn away from the systemic evil of racism and turn toward the hope filled possibilities of systemic goodness.
Reflecting upon the power of our Brother Bishop Mark’s wisdom, I can’t help but see the ways in which it applies to the systemic evil of the industrial military complex in which we are enmeshed that has enslaved much of the world in cycles of violence. It occurs to me that our enslavement to violence is not the result of the accidents of history. Our enslavement to violence is a direct result of our unrelenting fears for our individual survival. Every human on the planet is born with an innate desire to survive. This is a very good instinct that has contributed to the survival of our species. It is also an instinct that threatens to destroy our species. When fear for our survival causes us to put our individual survival over and above the survival of others, we tend to create systems that amass power to into the hands of a few while victimizing so very many.
As Bishop Mark reminded us, this is what the New Testament calls the powers and principalities. You and I my friends, middle and upper-class citizens of a wealthy western nation, we are indeed beneficiaries of the powers and principalities. We are enmeshed in the systemic evils of the military industrial complex.
The peace that our sister, Julia Ward Howe longed for, the peace that her Mothers’ Day Proclamation called for can only happen if people like us repent, turn away from the systemic evils of the military industrial complex, and turn toward the hope-filled possibilities of systemic goodness. That will mean putting our individual survival at risk for the sake of our family’s survival. For we are one, one human family, one creation.
I am convinced dear sisters and brothers, that Jesus’ life was all about his desire that we might see the reality of our oneness. Jesus’ constant encouragement to his followers was that they turn away from the industrial military complex of his day, the Roman Empire, the most powerful military force the world knew in the first century. Jesus’ teachings continue to encourage his followers to turn our backs upon the forces of violence in our day. Even if those forces keep us safe and warm and guarantee our individual survival, they threaten the survival of our relatives in other lands. Our Syrian sisters and brothers, our Iranian sisters and brothers, our North Korean Sisters and brothers.
Lest you are inclined to let your focus drift toward the Empire to the south, let me remind you that even though the military industrial complex seems to be headquarter in the united states, we hear in Canada benefit from the care and feeding of that Empire. Repentance – turning away from the systemic evil of our warring madness is risky business that will involve sacrifice. If we learn anything from Jesus’ life and death, we ought to have learned that non-violent resistance of the powers and principalities can indeed threaten your individual survival.
But we also need to learn that in turning away from systemic evil Jesus turned toward a vision of system goodness – a goodness that he called the basileia of God. Which is often translated as the Kingdom of God – but kingdom is not a word that captures the essence of baselia – household is better, but I like kin-dom of God. For we are kin, family, sisters and brothers. Jesus vision of the kin-dom of God is of a household where everyone has enough, enough food, enough wealth, enough security, to be all that they are created to be.
Now I know that you will say, but we can’t get there from here. Well, tell that to Jesus. Tell that to Martin Luther King Jr. Tell that to Mahatma Gandhi. Tell that to Nelson Mandela. Tell that to the refugees fleeing persecution and risking their lives on the Mediterranean. Tell that to the Syrian children who are begin gassed by the latest weapons in the military arsenals of the powers and principalities. We must get there from here! For the sake of the collective survival of our species, for the good of our one human family we must be prepared put our individual survival at risk. If we are to repent, to turn away from the system evils of violence we will need to remember that we are one. For in solidarity with our sisters and brothers we will find the courage to turn toward the hope filled possibilities of peace. With our eyes focused upon the needs of our one human family we can set off one step at a time. Each encounter with a relative, we shall be consumed not by our individual survival, but rather by the needs of our relatives.
How might we co-operate for the benefit of all? This is the dream of the basileia of God, that we may be one. In all our many diversities joined together in peace, shalom, pax, salam, shaanti, an an, irene, peace.
The road to the kin-dom of God begins with one step, followed by another, and another. This is the dream, the dream of enough for all; the dream of peace. May we have the courage to walk the path of peace for the sake of our one human family.