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Whatever your politics, everyone agrees that war is a horrible thing. The topic is so emotionally and psychologically loaded that many people find they need or want to talk about it. If listening to talk shows on your public radio station isn't giving you an adequate forum, consider forming or participating in a prayer circle or discussion group. There are dialogues, religious and secular, going on all across the country and on the Internet, in which citizens are airing concerns and attempting to deal with issues. At the heart of it all is the desire to find a better way to solve human political crises. Here are some ideas.
Prayer is common to almost every religious belief system as a primary way to focus energy on and communicate human concerns to a higher power. If you attend religious services, chances are your congregation already has a prayer chain or discussion group that goes into action whenever there's a need in your spiritual community. There might also be a regular prayer meeting on a certain night of the week. Ask your congregation's secretary or spiritual leader about it. If a prayer group exists, talk to the person in charge about forming a prayer circle specifically devoted to praying about the threat of war, or about adding war concerns to the items your prayer community is already praying about. Publicize the prayer circle in your congregational bulletin and announce your meetings; get permission to post an informative flyer on a bulletin board in your congregational building. If your congregation has a Web site, suggest adding a prayer-circle page, or a bulletin board where site visitors can post specific prayers.
You can also pray with a virtual community. Choosing an online prayer circle is as personal as choosing a congregational home that speaks to your sense of the sacred. Your best bet here is to go to a search engine and do different keyword searches based on your own spiritual or political preferences. Depending on your bent, search by your religion, your denomination, your city, your desired prayer community, or the specific subject matter of your prayer. For instance, if you would like to pray with fellow Methodists, try searching for "Methodist prayer circle" -- likewise for other Christian denominations and every world religion. If you're in, say, Chicago, and want to pray with people in your area, search for "Chicago prayer circle."
Try searches with different phrases like "peace prayer circle," or "Iraq war prayer circle" and see what appears. If you're looking for something ecumenical, search for "ecumenical prayer circle." Perhaps you'd like to find out what comes up under "global prayer circle" or "all faith prayer circle." Enter the term "prayer chain" or "pray for peace" and see what you come up with. Keep trying until you find a spiritual e-home that suits your prayer needs.
General searches for "prayer circle" will turn up all sorts of results, from New Age and Wicca to mainstream Christian denominations and all the world religions. For a site where you can both learn about other spiritual orientations and be involved in a prayer circle, check out Beliefnet.com. The site bills itself as a multifaith e-community designed to help people meet their own religious and spiritual needs. It offers prayer circles to "provide a place where people can express their prayers, thoughts, or advice to someone in need." You can create a new prayer circle, find a prayer circle, and check out the site's prayer-circle directory. They also have a wide array of discussion and dialogue groups.
To inform yourself about the Iraq situation, check out the National Council of Churches' page of links "to statements and other resources for education and advocacy on Iraq."
To get a Presbyterian group's invitation to a circle of prayer for the Middle East and read a prayer for peace in the Middle East, explore the Witherspoon Society online.
Find out how the Free Methodist Church has adapted Internet chat technology to power a prayer circle. You can enter their prayer room and use your keyboard to join in the prayers.
You may want to explore EcuNet, billed as the online world's oldest interactive Christian community. Join the Member Network of your denomination and enter into electronic discussions with thousands of Christians around the globe about wide-ranging subjects, many of which are sure to deal with the problem of war.
Through an effort supported by the coalition of military chaplains and leaders, including a former Army Chief of Staff, you can go online with the Presidential Prayer Team to pray for our troops. Register to pray for a military person you know or sign up to "adopt" a military person (one will be assigned to you).
If you want to meet with others to discuss the myriad issues surrounding the threat or reality of war, think about the groups and organizations to which you already belong. If you are a member of a book club, professional or service organization, parents association, or civic group, there may be others who share your desire to get together to talk. Or these organizations may already have formed discussion groups. Ask around, and you might fight a groundswell of interest and a consensus on a time and place -- it could be as easy as meeting up at a local coffee shop -- to start the discussion.
Pore over the paper and listen to public-service announcements on the radio to find out about civic-group meetings, town meetings, and general announcements about discussions on the war. Go, listen and be heard! If you don't find any listings and want to begin a grass-roots effort to get a dialogue going, contact your local paper and local radio stations to find out how to list a calendar item. Explore possibilities for meeting spaces: city recreation buildings, the YMCA, church and synagogue fellowship halls, apartment common areas, universities, and even banquet rooms at restaurants.
If you anticipate a small, casual group, you can gather informally at a local coffee shop by word of mouth, flyer or e-mail reminder. If the discussion is on a large scale in a public forum, contact a local newspaper about printing a calendar item and check with local radio stations about making a public-service announcement. With permission, you can also post flyers at your public library and on other public bulletin boards. Once you have your first meeting, momentum will help you decide if you'll have more.
If you're after true political discussion with the idea of eventually passing a resolution for your city or town or just making sure your elected representatives hear your views and are accurately representing their constituency, get politically active. Call your town hall to see if there's a town meeting on the agenda to discuss the war; if there isn't, ask the public-affairs office how to schedule one. Call the mayor's office and your congressional representatives and do the same. Go on record with your views over the phone, by e-mail, or by regular letter. Contacting your elected representative is an important part of the dialogue of democracy, even if the political ears on the other end of the conversation don't seem to be hearing you. Your experiences trying to get officials to respond to your request for public discussions will inform your conversations with others and are the grass roots that get thought and action growing.
BHG.com hosts discussion groups on a range of topics. Family Issues and Mind, Body, and Spirit are well-traversed areas with an active community posting messages ranging from raising children in these tough time to seeking spirituality.
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If you know your way around talk channels on the Internet, you know how to find rooms where folks are discussing the threat of war. If you're not familiar with this new virtual world, you can start with computer programs that will ramp you onto the chat superhighway. For Mac users, one program is Ircle; for PC users, try Mirc. IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat. IRC enables you to talk with typed messages, in real time, to other Internet users around the world. IRC is organized in channels on a specific topic. You can also talk privately with someone. Typically, you can download the programs for a free trial period, then purchase them for continued use. These chatting programs get you into areas where you'll find channel after channel after channel of people talking about everything under the sun. Some of the subject matter is shocking, so search carefully to find channels that are clearly germane to the war issues you are interested in.
Dana Joseph is a freelance writer based in Fort Worth/Dallas, Texas.