Peace Award to Honor Terry Tempest Williams

18 06 2011

by BRAD MARTELL, Peace and Justice Ministries and LORI MARTELL, Independence, Missouri USA

Terry Tempest Williams’ intimate relationship with her religious family culture and the Southwestern landscape provided the bedrock of her life. But it was the pain of loss that propelled her along a journey that has made her one of today’s most-influential writers and environmentalists.

Williams, a visionary author, naturalist, and activist, will receive the 18th Community of Christ International Peace Award on October 21. The event will be open to the public and webcast live at http://www.CoChrist.org from the Temple in Independence, Missouri.

The theme, “Creating Hope, Healing Earth,” honors her work to promote peace with an ethical stance toward life. Through her eloquent writings, Williams teaches that environmental topics are social-spiritual issues that ultimately become matters of justice. She displays the power of peacefully taking a stand on behalf of life, land, and people.

A Time of Grief

Williams’ faith roots hold fast to her family’s six-generation Mormon heritage and the land of her childhood, Salt Lake Valley in Utah. Her family spent much time together in wild places. From a young age, she was captivated by the landscape, abundance of life, and God’s Spirit within the mountains, wetlands, red-rock desert, and Great Salt Lake.

Then the pain began.

From 1951 to 1962 the USA detonated bombs at the Nevada Test Site. A memory from 1957 has plagued Williams since age 2. The blinding flash of a nuclear bomb lit up the nighttime desert sky as her family was riding in a car. She believes the radioactive fallout from such tests might have led to cancers that claimed the lives of many family members.

In 1983, while she was losing her mother to cancer, one of her favorite sacred spaces, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge near the Great Salt Lake, was drowning. The cause was the unforeseen impact of a poorly planned railroad causeway combined with years of record rainfall. The lake’s salty waters spilled into the freshwater wetlands, killing or driving out birds that Williams had grown to love as extended family.

It was a time of grief. She found the words to express it in the 1991 book, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. It has become an icon of environmental literature and a testament to the importance of engaging life fully, even when it hurts. This work saw the development of Williams’ rare abilities to take a compassionate stand in the face of injustice and connect seemingly disparate issues.

Compassionate Engagement

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.—Doctrine and Covenants 163:3b

Williams gives us an example of what it can mean to live this scripture. Her message of peaceful civic engagement led to the book, Testimony: Writers of the West Speak on Behalf of Utah Wilderness, which she edited with Stephen Trimble. This collection of stories was instrumental in protecting 1.9 million acres of Utah wilderness under threat from fossil-fuel interests.

At the 1996 dedication of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, USA President Bill Clinton, held up a copy of Testimony and said, “This made a difference.”

In her 2004 book, The Open Space of Democracy, Williams’ essays share her views on the ethics and politics of place, spiritual democracy, and the responsibilities of citizen engagement.

“For a democracy to be truly alive, vital, and revolutionary, for it to rise beyond abstraction…for it to become a throbbing head-and-heartfelt presence in our lives, we need to make it personal…,” said Laurie Lane-Zucker, then-executive director of the Orion Society. “Follow the words of Terry Tempest Williams and you will find yourself in the company of as important a thinker as we have in these times of terror.…”

Finding Beauty in a Broken World, published in 2008, constructs a narrative of hopeful acts by taking the broken and creating something whole. Using mosaic as a metaphor, Williams explores the injustices and brokenness of two types of genocide: countless prairie dogs killed because people don’t like holes in their pastures, and the 1994 slaughter in Rwanda of one million Tutsi by Hutu extremists because of ethnic tensions.

Through these heartbreaking journeys, she finds the beauty, peace, and hope of restoration that can come only through a Spirit-filled soul.

Indispensible Witness

This limited space is insufficient to capture the artistic breadth of Williams’ work as writer, poet, editor, teacher, speaker, advocate, and peacemaker. She speaks for those who have no voice or are not often heeded by corrupt systems: wild places, reviled creatures, indigenous peoples, women, and children. Her keen insights challenge injustices on local, national, and global levels in a humble and gracious manner.

Community of Christ honors her life and work and invites all to attend and to absorb Williams’ message. It’s an indispensible witness for our journey as a church in pursuit of peace for all of creation.

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3 responses

20 06 2011
William RAISER

I appreciate people like Ms Williams who, I gather from the above, have a sense of history and place. I also appreciate that we are open enough as a church to make such an award to a Mormon.

I am concerned about the Peace Award, however. If I understand correctly, the recipient must be a non-member of the Community of Christ. I do not understand the Church developing such an award. We need to encourage and recognize our own members. Our record as peace activists is VERY limited (despite our logo). We need to do everything we can to energize our members in such endeavors. This award does that to a very limited degree.

20 06 2011
Brad Martell

William, thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding this year’s Community of Christ International Peace Award. This award was created to honor and support financially both individuals and communities in their work as peacemakers throughout the world. The award is open to everyone, members and nonmembers. Also, everyone, member or not, is free to submit at anytime a nomination for a person(s) or community to be considered for receiving the International Peace Award. The nomination form can be found at: http://www.cofchrist.org/peaceaward/nominate.asp. Additionally, the nomination form lists the criteria we consider for potential recipients. We look forward to seeing you at the 2011 Peace Colloquy! ~ Brad A. Martell, co-director, 2011 Peace Colloquy, Peace & Justice Ministries

18 06 2011
Terry Flowers

Looking forward to her story…




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