Two of my teenage nieces traveled to Chicago this summer to teach Vacation Bible School. They live on a farm in Minnesota, surrounded by wide open fields and long stretches of straight highway. When they took the kids outside the church for a game one afternoon, they heard a rapid popping sound and assumed it was fireworks. The kids who grew up in downtown Chicago, however, knew immediately that it was gunfire and ran towards the basement stairs.
“Can you honestly wake up as a person of faith each morning,” asks Sandy Sorensen, director of the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries, “and accept that it’s normal that there is going to be a headline about another school shooting? The answer is no” (“Churches under the gun,” ucobserver.org).
We worship the Prince of Peace, Christ. As his followers we are called to be peacemakers, and the job description includes taking action. It’s in the roots of the word as used in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” – eirenopoios in Greek means a do-er or founder of peace. But what does peacemaking look like? Is it possible to wage peace instead of war?
Let’s first consider some challenges to peace-building. Fear and hatred can plant the seeds of war. Poverty plays a role, as when conditions during the Great Depression contributed to World War II. Violence might also seem like the only option to individuals living in poverty. Patterns of oppression and exploitation will eventually explode in retribution. If there’s profit to be made, greed steamrollers the common good and subsidizes war. A certain egocentricity might be a factor, when one country looks only to its own interests and willfully ignores the rest of the planet. A similar nearsightedness can occur with time – a failure to recall history, or to learn from it. Lastly, anger – personal and corporate – provides the ignition, the flare-up that sparks an explosion. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit, pastor Beth Moore points out, which means that our sinful nature actively resists it (Living Beyond Yourself, 113).
But when Christ “takes over the running of the world,” Isaiah prophesizes, “the abuse of oppressors and the cruelty of tyrants” will vanish (Isaiah 9:5). There is hope! and it comes from doing what we can to serve a God of peace and wholeness.
Steps to peace
Peace comes from an honest accounting on all sides regarding past conflicts. Did you know that over 1.2 million people visit the Anne Frank House every year? Most come from outside of Holland to view the Secret Annex in person – about 3,450 per day. Amazing! Anne Frank died 73 years ago, but through her diary and this packed museum, a powerful testament to the horror of World War II still impacts thousands of people today. Peace education such as this is an important part of building peaceful communities and countries.
What about a Federal Department of Peace, as an organization called the Canadian Peace Initiative has proposed? It advocates for a transition from a war-based to a peace-based economy; for restorative justice; for the establishment of a Civilian Peace Service, and the abolition of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Maybe it’s time to ban personal handguns (see Darren Roorda’s guest editorial on the next page). Let’s pour more resources into healthy conflict resolution. Let’s support churches that act as agents of peace and government policies of disarmament and nuclear de-proliferation.
Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble, breathe out whole buildings and flocks of redwing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown lawns. […]
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers. […]
Wage peace with your breath.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
(excerpts from Judyth Hill’s poem “Wage Peace”).
“It was hard leaving the kids,” my niece Heidi said about their time in Chicago. “We wished we could show them what it was like not to have a life where going outside is dangerous, you’re looking around every corner for gangs and going to the park alone is completely out of the question.”
May we help to lay the groundwork for a world of peace in our streets, hearts and countries, so that gun deaths never make the headlines again, and children no longer recognize the sounds of violence.