Dedication of the Norman Miller Center

On October 2, the St. Norbert College Peace and Justice Center became the Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice & Public Understanding. The plaque inside our center reads:

Shirlyn Miller with the portrait of her late husband Norman in the Norman Miller Center

Norman Miller dedicated his life to bringing people together in peace. As a student at Northwestern University in the early 1940s, Norman traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with Supreme Court justices Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter to seek their support for Better Understanding Week, a symposium on discrimination. Two decades later, inspired by a conversation with Vince Lombardi, Norman helped to organize a volunteer commission that played a critical role in passing open housing legislation in Wisconsin. In 1993, the Miller family established the Norman and Louis Miller Lecture in Public Understanding at St. Norbert College to educate future leaders and promote unity and communication among different cultures and religions. In 2012, Shirlyn Miller honored her husband’s enduring legacy by endowing the Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice & Public Understanding.

Fr. James Herring, Sr. Sally Ann Brickner, Shirlyn Miller, and Susan Nuetzel

The dedication of the Norman Miller Center included words of blessing from two former directors of the Peace and Justice Center, Fr. James Herring and Sr. Sally Ann Brickner.

Amy-Jill Levine, Shirlyn Miller, and Robert Pyne

It was then followed by the fall 2012 Norman and Louis Miller Lecture in Public Understanding, featuring Amy-Jill Levine, University Professor of Jewish Studies and New Testament at Vanderbilt University.

Catherine Kasten and Shirlyn Miller


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A Video Comment on the Invisible Children Controversy

When I saw Invisible Children’s “Kony2012″ video, I was as surprised as anyone at the speed with which it went viral on social media. I was not surprised, however, at the response from those who are skeptical of Invisible Children’s strategies. And I was not surprised that many people who were initially so eager to help would just as easily feel foolish and disillusioned. It was for their sake that I made a short video at my desk, which I then posted on Facebook.

This is not a time for discouragement, but a time to marry the energy of Kony2012 with the experience of other organizations and persons on the ground—especially Ugandans themselves. So much good can come of this, provided we do not let disillusionment or frustration turn us aside.

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Healing the Heart of Democracy

Susan Allen, editor at St. Norbert College and a good friend of the Peace and Justice Center, recently heard Parker Palmer talk about what makes democracy possible. She shares her thoughts in this guest post:

Still thinking about Parker Palmer, who was in the area a couple weeks ago. The educator and author of “Let Your Life Speak” spoke about his new book, “Healing the Heart of Democracy” and our need to develop – in ourselves and in our students – supple hearts.

Palmer was lecturing on conditions that make democracy possible, and in particular on five habits we need to adopt – and, as educators, to develop in our students. I’ll get to the five habits in a moment, but what particularly seized my attention was an image Palmer took some care to develop – an image comprising two hearts.

Palmer feels that it is the fate of the human heart, if truly open to the world’s need, to inevitably break. He spoke first about the heart that, though suffering and discord, has become brittle. When it breaks, it becomes a fragmentation grenade hurled at the enemy, inflicting damage and pain.

The supple heart, though, when it breaks, breaks open– Palmer opened his own cupped hands in front of us – and, in this condition, it is fit to accept love.

The supple heart gives us an ability to hold tension in life-giving ways, says Palmer: “Our lives are filled with contradictions – from the gap between our aspirations and our behaviour to observations and insights we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. If we fail to hold them creatively, these contradictions will shut us down and take us out of the action. But when we allow their tensions to expand our hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world. … The genius of the human heart lies in its capacity to use these tensions to generate insight, energy and new life.”

This capacity to hold conflicting views is the third of Palmer’s “Five Habits of the Heart That Make Democracy Possible,” and here’s the complete list:

  • An understanding that we are all in this together.
  • An appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
  • An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
  • A sense of personal voice and agency.
  • A capacity to create community.


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Choosing Pluralism Over Privilege

Last semester we hosted a speaker, Gustav Niebuhr, who argued that we should strive for something greater than religious tolerance. Tolerance is far better than intolerance, of course, but it implies little more than the begrudging acceptance of someone else’s existence. In the words of Niebuhr’s title, we must go “beyond tolerance” to genuine understanding and mutual support in a pluralistic society.

In reaction to the lecture, some audience members questioned Niebuhr’s starting point. Assuming religious tolerance as a recognized virtue, he was trying to extend it in the direction of greater mutuality. For some in the audience, however, it seemed that even the language of tolerance was asking too much. Based on the perceived threat of another religion or the perceived superiority of their own, they were not convinced they should even be trying to coexist. One audience member worried that a growing non-Christian population would threaten American democracy. Another argued that one could love people of other faiths while being intolerant of their ideas and rejecting their influence in the public sphere.

Fundamentalist fear is almost always linked to misinformation and propaganda. In this case, some of that misinformation came from an alarmist article, forwarded to me after the event, warning about the encroachment of sharia law in American courts. This unfounded fear has also shown up in Republican presidential debates, so it is worth addressing.

The article’s author cites two court cases, distorting both. For a more complete assessment of the first, Hosain v. Malik, see The second, a New Jersey ruling that received extensive press, was seen as wrongly decided, and then overturned, ultimately demonstrates the success of our legal system and the supremacy of U.S. constitutional law, not the encroachment of sharia. Further, by arguing for a ban on the influence of all foreign laws, this author and others misunderstand the nature of international law and American jurisprudence. For more on this topic, see: ; ; I particularly like this assessment by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League:, and this one from the ACLU:

Remarkably, some people who argue against reference to sharia law are the same ones who argued for the explicit influence of the Ten Commandments in American courtrooms. They do not see the inconsistency, because they do not understand the roles of religious institutions and government in a pluralistic society. They have not learned the repeated lessons of history, that marriages between religion and government leave no widows. We do not want to repeat the Constantinian mistake of accepting or encouraging government favors toward one faith, coupled with the suppression of others. When the Roman empire fell, together with its established Christian religion, Augustine wrote City of God to defend the continuing viability of the church. When the liberal churches aligned with national political powers in WWI, with leading theologians defending their respective country’s decisions, the churches in Europe barely survived the devastation. We who hope to preserve the integrity of our faith should argue for the kind of structural pluralism Stephen Monsma describes in Positive Neutrality. It recognizes the legitimate, but limited authority of multiple spheres of authority (government, family, church, business, etc.). It encourages the government to be positive toward people of faith, but neutral, not favoring any. We should favor such a pluralistic system because it better honors the dignity of all people, but also because it is better for our own survival.

People of faith need to understand: a political system that favors your group over another will one day favor another group over you. You really don’t want that.

Beyond all that, we need to do what Niebuhr advocated in his lecture. We need to know people of other faiths personally. We need to know them well enough to ask questions about what they believe, about what they do. We need to listen to them—really listen—and we need to be open to the possibility that we have misunderstood some things. We need to filter our concerns through the grid of real people. We need to not be afraid.

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Lots of Good News

Yesterday I was preparing for my Intro to Peace and Justice class when I came across some very encouraging news. The topic was Social Entrepreneurship—the use of for-profit business to address issues of global poverty and contribute to the common good. I find the work of creative, socially minded entrepreneurs to be incredibly inspiring, but the good news of the day did not come from their success stories. It came from statistics about global health and global poverty, which are showing marked improvement.

When preparing for this class a year ago, I pulled a number of statistics from the number of people dying from AIDS and malaria, the millions lacking clean water, the number of children dying under the age of five, or mothers dying in childbirth. When updating the statistics for this year’s class, pulled from the same source, I had to revise them all DOWN.

According to the numbers on One’s website, each of these dire statistics showed improvement in the last year.

There are fewer people dying of AIDS and malaria. Fewer communities lack clean water. Fewer children are dying under the age of five. Fewer mothers are dying in childbirth. My eyes welled up as I sat at my desk and changed the numbers on my slides. Across the board, however slightly, they were improving.

The numbers are still too high, especially when so many of these problems are preventable. But, as Bill and Melinda Gates continue to remind us, investments in global health are working. Something to celebrate!

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Work That is Real

To Be of Use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy

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2011 Ambassador of Peace, George Lopez

George Lopez, Theodore Hesburgh Professor of Peace Studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for Global Peace Studies (i.e., not the comic), spent three days on the St. Norbert College campus this week. Recognized as the 2011 St. Norbert Ambassador of Peace, Lopez also spoke in classes, led a faculty workshop on interdisciplinary programs, and met with students and faculty. Anyone who doubts the serious nature of peace scholarship should spend some time with George Lopez. He produces policy relevant research, especially on economic sanctions. Just back from a stint with the U.N. Security Council Panel of Experts on sanctions against North Korea, Lopez understands global realities and supports his arguments with hard data.

George Lopez visits with PJC interns Morgan Johnson and Katlyn Cashman before his Ambassador of Peace lecture

For a copy of the powerpoint slides used in his Ambassador of Peace lecture, click HERE.

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Arbor Day

After a very long winter — it was only last week that we had 10 inches of snow — members of the Mission and Heritage Division celebrated a beautiful Arbor Day by planting a small spruce by Todd Wehr Hall.

In an unusual twist, Jordan Mayer, a junior in his second year as an intern with the Peace and Justice Center and an environmental science major, wrote a number of limericks to mark the occasion. Joined by senior PJC intern Kristin Demet, Jordan read them to the assembled staff and students:

The maple in Autumn brings cheer,
Its colorful leaves so sincere,
Its sap is so sweet
A Canadian Treat
that Americans hold so dear.

The black Ash in summer brings shade
only in fall to degrade
in spring a rebirth
flows up from the earth
as a new set of leaves are displayed.

Today apples have gone aback
eating them will keep your health on track
the trees are small
bear fruit in fall
and provides a tasty snack.

Many things do come from trees
like nectar for the honey bees
Their wood is strong
it lasts so long
we need to save them please.

There once was a bearded oak
That wore a great emerald cloak
as it rustled its leaves
with the murmuring breeze
of summers long passing it spoke

“I remember a time long ago
when forests were felled by a blow
They payed no heed
to their growing greed
soon they’d have nothing to show”

Yet the oak stood there to observe
their philosophy started to curve
He said with a smile
“It’s been a long while
these people begin to conserve”

And now he looks at us today
with joy because we lead the way
by planting this tree
we are showing that we
are preventing the earth from decay

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Temporary Relocation

Construction has begun to transform SNC’s Sensenbrenner Memorial Union into the new Michels Commons ( We are moving the Peace and Justice Center to temporary quarters in Todd Wehr Hall during the renovation. We expect to be back in our familiar, but completely redesigned, location in January. The new space will have a much different look and feel, with polished concrete floors, no ceiling, and projection equipment for group presentations. It will remain highly visible, and we hope it will be even more inviting to students. In the meantime, come find us in Todd Wehr. My office is on the mezzanine in M38.

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Lectures from the Kroc Institute

In a previous post, I tried to summarize a lesson I had learned from John Paul Lederach at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Here is a link to Lederach’s lecture, with a wonderful presentation from George Lopez on the same site. Well worth watching!!

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