Peace was big when I was growing up in the ‘60s. People exchanged two-finger peace signs and wore peace jewelry. They told each other “peace out.” They held peace-ins. They sang about peace and chanted for people to give it a chance. There were songs and poems about what the world would be like if we all lived peacefully.
What did people want? Peace. When did they want it? Now.
Decades later, it all seems rather dated, kind of like bell-bottoms and psychedelic art. Today, the people who want peace seem to be far outnumbered by those who prefer confrontation and conflict. Fear is fanned and hatred is stirred. Peace can feel like an illusion or a hallucination.
But it’s not. Peace is as real in the world as you and me.
It’s true that the world isn’t living as one, as John Lennon imagined. Not yet, anyway. And not ever, most likely. As long as humans are around, there’s going to be discord and disagreement. There’s going to be war and bloodshed.
And there’s going to be a lot of peace, too. Just look around. Recognize the daily acts of kindness, the way people reach out to each other. There is peace in the world, just not enough of it.
It’s the International Day of Peace today, which is a good time to remind ourselves that peace on earth is already a reality and still a dream. Peace comes into our families and our communities and our lives only to the extent that we’re willing to value it and expand it.
With that in mind, let’s consider three important points that some of our greatest peacemakers have tried to teach us:
— Working for peace doesn’t mean avoiding tension. Rather, it’s about immersing ourselves in a creative tension that transforms the world. In a peaceful world, people still argue and disagree, but they do it respectfully. They don’t let emotions like anger and fear decide how they will act. They don’t purposely hurt each other. To be a peacemaker means to embrace tension and use it constructively and lovingly. It means engaging others in a way that will ultimately bring us closer together instead of dividing us further.
As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, “I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”
— Peace is fundamentally linked with justice. Injustice is at the root of our problems as humans. When people aren’t being treated as equally beloved children of God and are denied equal opportunities for the things we all want, then division and anger grow. If we want peace, we have to want justice.
Again, as the Rev. King put it, “It must be remembered that genuine peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.”
Or, in the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “There is no peace because there is no justice. … God’s Shalom, peace, involves inevitably righteousness, justice, wholeness, fullness of life, participation in decision-making, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, sharing and reconciliation. … When there is injustice, invariably peace becomes a casualty.”
— We can’t just wish or pray for peace, we have to create it. Peacemakers aren’t starry-eyed dreamers, but clear-eyed realists. They see the toll that war and violence and injustice take on the world. They don’t ignore it or accept it as inevitable – they know better than that. Instead, they try to transform it with the power of love.
It takes a lot of faith and hope and courage. It takes the kind of spirit that the Rev. King described in his acceptance speech at Oslo, Norway, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964:
“I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life which surrounds him.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
“I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.
“I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.
“I still believe that we shall overcome. This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of tomorrow.”