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Peace: A Hip Word, A Hard Reality

December 10, 2008

It is the Advent week of peace — a time to come to terms with our own struggles and problems, a time to realize that the coming of Christ will offer us all assurance that His kingdom comes, His will be done.

When one thinks of peace, especially during the holidays, I’m never sure what kind of peace we’re talking about. Peace on earth, amongst people, in your heart, in your family, at your job, peace with the state of the world? While peace of the heart is important, peace amongst people is more what is on my mind.

Whether it’s a state of the mind or of the world, there’s no doubt that it seems peace is a fine and lovely term to toss about, in churches, in the media, from the mouths of politicians and next-door neighbors to one another. People love the idea of peace because it indeed makes them feel…peaceful. If I just sing “Peace on earth, good will towards men,” then that must mean that somewhere deep down, I mean that and my, that sounds lovely.

But it’s not enough.
Peace isn’t always lovely…most of the time, it’s damn hard, complicated and unpopular.

I think too often peace is mistaken for complacency and inaction.  It’s seen as a passive response to the world that allows us the cushion to sit back and not do anything to combat the really tough things, like genocide and dictators and war, all while hugging our Bibles and praying in a very detached way. But I would argue that peace is anything but simple and cozy. I would argue that staying your fists, your guns and bombs when it is the most tempting to use them is much, much harder than letting them fly.

[…a beautiful example of this…]

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.”

Which means that the myth of redemptive violence is just that — a myth, a falsehood, an outright lie, a conspiracy, a blatant slap in the face of all that Jesus taught. And any doctrine or gospel that preaches anything else is not of Christ.

………………..

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best-the sun to warm and the rain to nourish-to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

-Matthew 5:38-48 (The Message)

………………..

Most people find the idea of utter nonviolence to be absolutely insane. How can you not protect yourself? How can you let people like Hilter or Saddam Hussein just do what they do? What about soliders who are pillaging villages and raping children?

I have the exact same questions.
And I don’t have the answers — but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

All I know is that when I committed my life to following Christ, I didn’t commit insofar as it was comfortable or easy. I didn’t commit only to what I understood. My entire heart is in Him, and that includes sharing His passionate commitment to nonviolence.

Perhaps this might sound morbid or insane, but if someone is attacking me, I would never want someone to kill them. I don’t want the threat of my safety to cause anyone to take another human life. I would rather die. Because I’ve come to see that a long and safe life isn’t the point. We are never, ever promised that following Christ is a soft, sweet, boxed-in little life where we are to protect ourselves at any cost. That was never the deal.

Peace is active in its compassion. It’s creative in its methods, constantly reinventing new ways to love one another in a way that is disarming. It’s engaging, it’s contagious and in this day and age, will get you thrown into jail over and over, and branded as a traitor and a deserter for it. But it’s our only choice. Look back over history, over the thousands and thousands of years that civilizations and nations have tried to perfect redemptive violence, killing and destroying just enough to gain control, and you’ll notice one thing. IT HAS NEVER WORKED.

The point isn’t to convert the world into some giant hippie commune, where everyone wears hemp and holds hands. Peace is an action, it’s a lifestyle of pure and unbiased love. It’s loving your enemies because it’s the right thing to do, not because it feels good or always makes sense. And it’s contagious, as catching as the flu and a heck of a lot better for you. It reminds us that we are all human, all creations of a God who loves each and every one of us, even the terrorists, the rapists and the corporate executives. It doesn’t mean that each person deserves that love or even “has a good heart.” Choosing peace is making a decision that the image of God in another person is more valuable than your own revenge and hatred, more precious than power or control. It’s choosing to endure and forgive, when killing and resenting would be so much easier.

Maybe peace will never really be en vogue. Maybe we will continue on destroying ourselves one by one, through wars and famines, greed and hoarding and most of all, through indifference and apathy (which I truly pray and believe will not be the case). All I can do is refuse to be a part of that story. If by living a life of committed and resistant nonviolence, all I do is care for people (even my enemies) and do my part to show them what God’s love looks like, then let it be so. I will know that I followed my Savior out into the storm, even with no guarantee that I would live to see the morning, and that is enough. When I come to die, I have no illusions to go with nobility and importance, but rather die as a solider for love.

Hands down, the best footnote in any book I have ever read (and I have read a lot) was in Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw”s Jesus for President. When writing the stories of people they had met, who have left the military and abandoned lives of violence for lives of revolutionary resistance, his footnote read as follows:

“If it appears that we, the authors of this book, are encouraging people to leave the military, it’s because we are.”

(If you haven’t read this book and want to, I will gladly buy you a copy and mail it to you. It’s that good.)

We are never promised that a peaceful life will pan out in a peaceful way. Countless martyrs over the years have been killed for their staunch commitment to not take another human life. While this is in no way meant to disrespect anyone who has served as a solider, I cannot agree with violence merely to make people feel better or vilified. I can respect without agreeing and I hope people can see that.

Peace can make a person feel small and ineffective in the face of our world today, but I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: If it comes down to the choice to love too much or not enough, I will always love too much.

Be encouraged, peacemakers. You are not alone.

P.S.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Glo permalink
    December 10, 2008 8:07 pm

    So, miss Caroline, its funny that you should write about this today because I was reading Joshua this morning and got utterly fed up. Allow me to engage your argument with a counter argument just for fun?

    “Which means that the myth of redemptive violence is just that — a myth, a falsehood, an outright lie, a conspiracy, a blatant slap in the face of all that Jesus taught. And any doctrine or gospel that preaches anything else is not of Christ.”

    Yes, it is a slap in the face of what Jesus taught, but not what God would have his people do. The slaughter of entire people groups was required for Israel to “redeem” the promised land. Non-Israelites, like the ones that Jesus said could share in his communion, were killed for the good of God. Contradiction? Discuss.

    Another point for the same question above: “Look back over history, over the thousands and thousands of years that civilizations and nations have tried to perfect redemptive violence, killing and destroying just enough to gain control, and you’ll notice one thing. IT HAS NEVER WORKED.”

    But God would have his people do it. Did he change his mind when Jesus came around?

    I believe that faith is in the questions, so I love asking the hard ones. I would love a debate 😛 Also, remember that I am a believer (well duh, lol.)

    Your mind is lovely Caroline, you are becoming quite the wordsmith!

    Glo

  2. Caroline permalink*
    December 10, 2008 10:02 pm

    I actually just finished reading Joshua and I must say, as much as I try, I have a difficult time with the Old Testament. I cannot reconcile a God that approves genocide and then changes His mind when Jesus comes? I’m sure there’s all kind of theological and spiritual explanation. But I just don’t get it.

    I appreciate the hard questions though — I think they’re necessary, even when I can’t answer them. We’ll have to talk about it when we get to see each other again.

    Love you dear!

  3. James permalink
    December 11, 2008 9:55 am

    1. I really liked that video.

    2. From your post I am reminded of a fella named James. Good strong name, not sure where he got it, but I am sure I have shared my fondness for this passage before…

    Where do wars and fightings among you come from? Don’t they come from your pleasures that war in your members?You lust, and don’t have. You kill, covet, and can’t obtain. You fight and make war. You don’t have, because you don’t ask. You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it for your pleasures.

    The big part for me there is the “you ask with wrong motives.” I am sure nearly everyone is guilty of this. Asking for something good, but for the wrong reasons.

    I think a lot of people ask for peace, but with bad motives. We have war because we WANT peace. We desire problems to be settled, so we solve them the only way we know.

    But the reason we want peace is for the same reason we have war: to feel safe and secure. Which, if you think about it, is quite contradictory.

    Peace is not safe and comfortable, tucked away in a cozy little box.
    Peace is a letting go, a breaking down, a shattering of the mind.

    Perhaps this is why Jesus said he came to bring fire on the earth. To bring division, and not peace.

    Peace is not something that can be given, it is not passive, it is not a gift in a package. It can only come through, first division, so that one may then see non-division?

    Perhaps… I haven’t had my coffee this morning yet.

    =)

  4. James permalink
    December 11, 2008 10:02 am

    P.S. There are 14 wild turkeys a foot outside my office window right now.

  5. Caroline permalink*
    December 11, 2008 10:22 am

    I love your perspective on peace — and I think it’s spot-on. Especially the part about how it come only through division first…you’re blowing my mind, James.

    I really wish you lived closer…I miss you.

    Say hi to the turkeys for me. 🙂

  6. December 11, 2008 5:59 pm

    Romans 13
    “1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

    Because we live in a fallen world where there will always be some bullies ready to take advantage of those weaker than them, we need some kind of law and order. Heaven doesn’t need cops or a military, but this ain’t heaven! And sometimes that law and order needs to be forceful (they “bear the sword”).

    St. Augustine had what he called his “just war” theory. I don’t remember everything he said (although I’m sure it’s online somewhere), but some of the tenets were:
    – There must be a just cause (i. e. protecting the innocent);
    – It must be comparatively better than NOT going to war (i. e. greater harm would be done by doing nothing as compared to going to war–a good example being the US entering WWII to stop Hitler from conquering all of Europe and continue his slaughter of the Jews)
    – The war is waged by a legitimate authority (not a brutal warlord/dictator who just wants more of something).
    There’s more, but I don’t remember all of it.

    My whole point being, I don’t think it’s possible for this broken world to ever be totally at peace. There’s just too many nuts and bullies. Sometimes the Christ-like response is to physically attack or restrain the jerk who’s trying to steal an old lady’s purse; sometimes the cop needs to shoot the nut who’s pointing a gun at some kids; sometimes the big brother needs to push down the bully who’s picking on his little sister.

    I think World War II was a just war–protecting weaker nations from the dictatorships of the Nazis and the Japanese imperialists. Ditto for our invasion of Kuwait in the early 90’s to kick out the Iraqis who had forcibly taken it over. I don’t think you can sit down and reason with people like Saddam Hussein and Adolph Hitler. That just gives them time to do worse or fortify their position. Sometimes you need to pick up “the sword.”

    I look forward to the day when real, lasting peace can be achieved everywhere. But it looks to me like only God can bring that about. And, according to the Bible, that peace is only reached through Christ physically returning to earth and–you guessed it–waging war on evil and its followers.

    (I’m doing it again–preaching a sermon! Sorry!)

  7. Caroline permalink*
    December 12, 2008 7:13 pm

    I understand the idea of just-war theory and get why sometimes it’s necessary or at least an option. I don’t think that earth will ever be entirely at peace, because it will never be entirely perfect — I totally agree with you there.

    I just know that I cannot kill someone or ever condone anything that kills innocent civilians. I know I tend to be too much of an idealist, I acknowledge that. I just…I have a hard time reconciling how to fully follow Christ in a broken world.

    I appreciate your comments though and how you challenge me to think outside of myself. Keep doing so and don’t apologize. 🙂

  8. Monsieur Frank permalink
    December 12, 2008 10:00 pm

    I love your random picture breaks in your blog, it makes it so much less blocky. Plus I love the amish cartoon (BEARD) and the girl with the e-mail to Barack. She’s pretty, let’s invite her to inauguration with us, eh?

    On second thought, I really hope that girl is some random picture you found on Youtube and not a friend of yours who will read this. AWKWARD.

  9. Caroline permalink*
    December 12, 2008 10:56 pm

    Haha, no the girl isn’t a friend of mine. If you click on that picture, it’s a link to where the photo is from — it’s a thing on photo memos you could send in if you could send a memo to Barack. It’s actually cool — see if you can spot yours truly. 🙂

    I enjoy finding cool photos and graphics to put in the different posts — especially ones with swanky beards.

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