Monday, September 10, 2012


So often, whether consciously or not, we understand peace to be the absence of conflict. In fact, a quick survey of three online dictionaries reveals a nearly identical definition. They each used a different word - expressing an absence of violence, conflict, or hostility.

The last one may get closest to a proper definition.

Our public politics tend to push for peace as the result of winning a conflict. We take sides and fight and may the best man win. Sort of the old school battle tactics (think Hector and Achilles or David and Goliath) - if my ideas defeat your ideas, then you must submit. Even when we have real battles, we tend to seek peace through dominance or victory. If I kill enough of the enemy, they'll stop fighting or fight to the death. Eliminate the enemy, one way or another, and we will have peace.

We may be able to end violence or conflict by intimidation or force, but we cannot bring peace that way.

The biblical concept is the Hebrew word shalom (the Arabic salaam comes from the same root) - translated to English as peace. It means a bit more than that, though. Shalom is about wholeness, completeness. This peace is one in which all parties come together in unity. It is not about competition or dominance; shalom can't exist in that environment.

Peace cannot be limited to simply the absence of conflict. As I said, the absence of hostility is closer. Even a defeated party is hostile. They may be powerless or disarmed, but the fact of defeat generally increases hostility. Our drive for revenge is often greater even than our original desire to win. True peace cannot be achieved this way.

As a Christian I believe that we all have to live together. We are united in our humanity as caretakers of creation. We are not a democracy, but one people who must move forward together. This is why I oppose divisions and labels. Our national boundaries separate us from each other, as do our flags and military uniforms and political parties. We are, in the end, just people, and we have to get along.

That is what politics are all about, after all. Politics is our way of getting along with one another. Peace must be the goal of our politics.

Whether its a dispute with the cashier over the price of a tomato or two Presidential candidates facing off in a debate. Our politics must be about peace. We have to live together. That means working, sacrificing if need be, to see the value and humanity in my opponent. It may mean refusing to have opponents.

I get excited when our politicians set out a positive vision of the future. I become despondent when they attack, defame, and degrade the "other side." I truly lack the ability to understand political parties - to understand why one would rather have be seen as representative of a brand than as an individual.

How much better off would we be if the Republicans and the Democrats could openly respect and acknowledge the good ideas of the other party. If they do think an opponent has a good idea - they can't say so without hurting their reputation and re-election bids. That's not entirely their fault; after all we are the ones voting for them.

But peace is more than just our day to day interactions, our families, our congregations, our communities, States, and Nations must be exemplars of shalom. The same rules apply. We must not seek to dominate or consolidate our position. We must refuse to have opponents and enemies. Peace comes when we recognize and actualize the reality that we're all in this together.

In the end, though, our understanding of peace only works so far as our opponent also accepts it. Shalom can be nothing but a universal principle. If someone is throwing rocks at me to take my food, shalom exists neither in throwing rocks back nor in starving.

There may be shalom through starving, through suffering - if that act softens the heart and wins over the opponent - but there is no guarantee. There is one truth, though: peace never comes until someone chooses to stop fighting.

There will never be true peace until more people are willing to die not fighting than are willing to pick up arms (material or otherwise).

Finally, we have to separate peace from violence. We live in a violent world; I suspect we always will. However, our world is less violent now than it has been. Our visions and views of violence are different than they were in the past. Our world is no more peaceful. We have shifted our perspectives and our expectations. We have so utterly associated violence with peace that we fail to recognize the lack of shalom.

We celebrate the "peaceful" transfer of power in many nations around the world. Something that was once unheard of. Yet our transfers of power do not embody shalom. There is regular talk of "healing the nation" after a bitter election, even after a decisive court decision or legislative battle.

Peace is more than an absence of violence or conflict - peace is shalom, a unified world ruled not by a gracious majority, but by sacrifice and cooperation. Only a truly free people can ever be at peace.

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