Many people just celebrated the Christmas season with its message of peace on earth, goodwill to all people. Today we celebrate a holiday remembering the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who showed us what it means to wage peace.
Yes, we have to wage peace.
Peace doesn’t just happen. Peace involves the courage and commitment to work through our disagreements without hurting each other. And it starts with each of us individually, in how we conduct our lives.
We have to do more than just support peace with posts on social media. Or sing songs and say peace prayers in places of worship. Or entrust the job to politicians and world leaders.
Our personal lives have to become portals for peace to enter the world. We get peace only when we live it and thereby establish it.
And this isn’t surprising. As with all things divine, peace is personal. It starts inside of each of us. We can bring peace into our world only to the extent that we’ve brought it into our own lives first.
We can’t wage peace if we’re not living it. We have to pay attention to our attitudes about ourselves and others. We have to look at how we’re treating others.
If we see our interests and needs as more important than the interests and needs of others, then we’ll never have peace in our lives or in our world. Peace requires a recognition that we’re all equally beloved children of the same loving creator with equally important needs.
Peace involves recognizing that all lives matter equally. And then doing some introspection to see if we’re living up to it in our various relationships.
When we have those moments of disagreement and frustration and misunderstanding – things that occur in every relationship – how do we respond? Do we run away and abandon the relationship? Do we lash out others? Do we dig in and try to get our way? Or are we committed to working through it with respect and discussion and forgiveness and compromise?
This applies to working out relationships between people, between groups of people, between nations.
We can’t work through disagreements peacefully unless we have a commitment to respect others and to listen to what they’re saying. We have to be willing to try to put ourselves in their place and see the situation through their eyes. We have to listen – really listen – to what they want to tell us.
Listening and understanding bring our compassion and empathy to bear on the moment and transform it. We recognize that the other person is worthy of our time and attention. We extend a mutual respect. We listen to their hopes, their dreams, their fears, their concerns, their pain. We share ours with them. We acknowledge our mutual shortcomings and failings. And then we try to work it out.
There a lot of listening involved in waging peace. A lot of patience and compromise and trust, too. And most of all, unfailing respect.
By living a deeper peace in our personal lives, we grow it in our communities, our nations, our world.
It takes persistence and commitment and courage to live in peace. There are always going to be those who don’t want peace. They prefer the haze of anger and recrimination and conflict. We have to be committed to showing a different way.
We have to challenge the illusion that peace can grow from a gun barrel or a bomb crater. Coercion never brings real peace. The two are as different as planting a seed and burying a body. Our solution to conflict and violence can never be more conflict and violence.
One more thing about peace: It always comes at a cost. We have to be willing to sacrifice for it, to take risks for it, to grow into it. We’ve paid a huge cost for our endless conflicts; now it’s time to pay the price for waging peace.
Part of the price is giving up our indifference. Waging peace means working to change relationships – personal relationships, social relationships – where people are being treated unjustly. Where respect isn’t being given to the other person.
The Rev. King noted that genuine peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice. Making sure each person is treated with the respect they deserve as a child of God. And there’s always going to be a creative and holy tension to the process. But as he put it, the only “weapon” we bring to the process is the weapon of love.
If there’s no peace, it’s because we’ve decided it’s not worth the effort. We’re not willing to put ourselves into the process of bringing peace on earth, starting with each of us.
It always begins with me.