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The Lessons I Learned from Father Daniel Berrigan

Posted by Ryan Hall

By Liz Paul// A Campaign Nonviolence Action organizer in Idaho

While I never met the legendary nonviolent activist Father Daniel Berrigan, listening to the remembrances following his death on April 30, 2016 I was surprised to realize he had a profound influence on me. Upon reflection, I understood that my mentors Scott Kennedy, John Dear, Ken Butigan, Kathy Kelly and others, learned from Father Berrigan and passed the lessons on to me. While I’m not a Catholic or a poet like Berrigan was, I’m part of the incredible nonviolent community he nourished.

Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman describes Father Berrigan as a, “poet, pacifist, educator, social activist, playwright and lifelong resister to what he called ‘American military imperialism.’ Along with his late brother Phil, Dan Berrigan played an instrumental role in inspiring the antiwar and antidraft movement during the late 1960s, as well as the movement against nuclear weapons.”

What he did, and the list is seemingly endless, is only part of his legacy. He profoundly influenced me, via my teachers, by demonstrating how to live a rewarding life.  These lessons are timeless and relevant to all of us.

Colman McCarthy shares a Father Berrigan lesson with this quote from Father Berrigan in the Washington Post,

“The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere,” he said. I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. . . . I have never been seriously interested in the outcome. I was interested in trying to do it humanely and carefully and nonviolently and let it go.”

On Democracy Now, Father Berrigan’s niece Frida Berrigan spoke of his “spirit of joy,”

“And we go in a spirit of joy. We go in a spirit of surrender. We go holding the hands of those closest to us. So he taught me that.”

As Frida spoke about what her uncle taught her, I realized that he taught me too; Father Dan Berrigan taught me to believe we can accomplish extraordinary things.

Frida said, “if we act in conscience, if we act together, if we are moved, we can accomplish extraordinary things and speak with power and conviction against the powers that be, and that half of it is about showing up, – being in the streets, being with one another – it’s about showing up. And Dan Berrigan showed up. He was there. You know, all of the pictures that you’re showing, so many of them are in the streets. They’re holding signs. They’re in the bitter cold. They’re in extraordinary heat. And it’s about standing up and showing up. And so, so he taught us that.”

liz at rally

Liz Paul at a rally

I believe in standing up, in doing good because its good, at standing up and doing good together.

I was reminded this week that entrepreneurs are part of Father Berrigan’s incredible community – they “stand up” by running good businesses that do good. In honor of Father Berrigan, I’d like to recognize three local businesses and the visionary people behind them.

Shaun Wheeler, founder and owner of Wheeler Homes LLC. After graduating from Boise State University with a BA in Environmental Studies and a Minor in Sustainability, Shaun put his belief in living simply together with his education and his professional carpentry skills to build “tiny” homes. He’s dedicated to helping others downsize and live simply and sustainably.

Lindsay Schramm and Elisa Clark, co-founders of North End Organic Nursery. Lindsay and Elisa have a passion for plants and sustainability they love to share with the community.  Everything they sell is safe for the environment, people and pets. They carry organic gardening supplies and products for those who wish to live a simpler, more self-reliant life. Their store bursts with positive energy and helpful advice.

Josie and Clay Erskine, founders and owners of Peaceful Belly organic farm. Clay and Josie are committed to enriching the community by growing wholesome food including hand-raised vegetables, herbs, flowers and berries. They believe in creating a healthy and sustainable agricultural system. To them, Peaceful Belly is not just a farm, it’s a way of thinking and a community.

In the spirit of community, in honor of all of us who chose to act in conscience together, I’ll close with this remembrance from Bill Quigley who asked Father Berrigan who his heroes are. “Bill,” Father Berrigan said, “I don’t believe in heroes. I believe in community. And it is in community, it is in movements, it is in people gathering together, that courage is displayed, that inspiration happens, that sacrifice happens and the like.”

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