The Face of Peace
By Charles Rush
December 6, 1998
Isaiah 11: 1-10
rlier this week, it occurred to me that I am probably not the
person to speak on the subject of peace right now. My son is home from
school. I came home late to eat and had to go back out to a meeting.
I walk in the house and two of the boys are chasing each other in a
circle around the house. There is alternately shrieking and squealing
from being caught. Kate is trying to debrief about the day as she is
cooking. I am having to stop every 30 seconds and talk to the two
little girls 'Have you set the table? What are you doing? Please set
the table. One of them is trying to do her homework at the same time
she is getting glasses and keeps asking me 'how do you spell
secondary?' right over the top of Mom. My oldest son is walking
through every couple minutes with an update on the job search. My
daughter strides in to announce that it will be impossible for her to
finish college applications in such a short notice.
The little ones are all chasing
the new kitten right now and I am
trying to look over this file of college applications. The phone rings
for one teenager after another. Kate hands me some stuff to chop.
'How do you spell aggravate?' A group of the younger kids are now
running in circles around the downstairs, one has the kitten and
everyone else is screaming for justice.
One of the teenagers hands me
the phone. 'Who is it?' 'Something
about someone died.' I put a finger in one ear. I hear some sadness in
the midst of giddy screaming. Everyone ignores my waving hands, so I
step into the dark basement and shut the door. We finish our
conversation, I re-emerge and some of the teenagers' friends are
standing in the hall as I emerge They have that quizzical look on their
face wondering why a grown man is standing in the dark in the
basement. 'Evening' I say as I walk on by.
My wife has to light candles
for dinner every night to create a
brief respite of calm. Peace? I know nothing of peace right now and I
know a great number of you do not either. A friend e-mailed me this
week that his four year old refused to go to bed with his brothers
because he wanted some rough housing with his dad. Don't you love
that? 'I want rough housing and I'm going to win this conversation.'
No, I don't know much about peace but I do know about the most blessed
chaos that it is given for a man to know.
But we need some peace in our
lives, so last week at our family
Thanksgiving dinner at my brother-in-law's camp, we put all of the
cousins in one cabin, and we slept in another cabin right next to a
babbling brook. You hear that sound all night long. And I love to
sleep out on the beach or on the deck at the beach and hear the surf
The Buddha taught us that the
way to find inner peace was through
meditation, slowing our heart rate and breathing, focusing inwardly,
letting go of all external reality, which was only ephemeral. Getting
in touch with our essential selves through meditation could produce a
state of equanimity that freed us from desires like lust, greed, and
the longing for power. It could even mitigate our desires of hunger
and thirst. So the Buddhist monks spend hours each day focusing on
meditation. The most important focus that they have is from the inside
out, focusing on our interior lives and working out from there towards
producing a harmony in the world.
The Bible is pretty nearly the
opposite of that. One of the Psalms
looks forward to the day when peace and justice kiss. What a wonderful
and powerful image. The word for peace in Hebrew is 'Shalom'. The
ancient core meaning of that word is 'to be hale, whole, complete.' In
the Bible, truth, salvation, justice and peace are parallel terms and
you can see why.
In the Bible peace is
principally a communal concept that also has
personal connotations. In
Isaiah 48: 18
we are told to heed the
commandments of God which is the basis of justice. If we do, Isaiah
says, 'then your peace will flow like a river, and your righteousness
like the waves of the sea.'
Peace is not merely the
cessation of overt violence or aggressive
competition, it is the by-product of society that is in just harmony,
where everyone is included and empowered, educated and given access to
health care, where the extremes in wealth are not great, where respect
for the rights of others is reciprocal. It is a society where
self-esteem is developed in everyone as a matter of course, where the
resident potential of all is allowed to flourish. It is a place where
everyone is given to the worship of God and has a sense of reverence
for life, an understanding of the need for everyone to have a Sabbath.
It is a place where compassion radiates from the greatest to the
least. The harmony that exists in such a place is Shalom.
That kind of social harmony has
implications. In a society like
that economic development flourishes because you don't have so much
energy and attention being focused on internicene fights. The family
finds a stability and positive resources so that you can attend to the
higher order of spiritual and moral virtues.
And personal peace is more
likely as well. Aristotle used to say
that we can only become as moral in adulthood, as the good habits that
we were taught to practice in childhood before we even knew that they
were good. We know that the creation of a positive environment is a
precondition for the development of a higher order existence. Our
children must experience trust, safety, nurture, structure, and love.
If they do not, they have major issues that come back repeatedly
throughout life and absorb an enormous amount of spiritual energy.
How different that is from the
long course of human tyranny, one
society after another. You know when the astronauts landed on the
moon, they reported that the only man-made object that you could see
from the moon was the Great Wall of China. One of the reporters
covering the scene began to rattle off some statistics about how many
million men spent how many million hours to erect that enormous wall
that spans some 1500 miles, one rock at a time. I was sitting with one
of my relatives, Attila the Hun, who remarked 'Yeah, well somebody has
to push the wheelbarrow.'
I am always stunned by those
kinds of remarks, especially from
people who think they have busted their butt cutting down a tree in the
back yard. On one level, it is probably still appropriate that the one
man-made human object so poignantly symbolizes the oppression of so
many million in a life of ignominious toil, a life, in the words of
Thomas Hobbes that was 'nasty, brutish, and short.' In the long course
of human history, political oppression and the virtual enslavement of
one class by another has been the norm. Only here and there have we
occasionally broken from the monotony.
I have recently gotten involved
with a group in Washington called
Microcredit Summit that gives out small loans to women's cooperatives
around the world. It turns out that it creates an enormous social and
economic change with only the most modest of investments in most third
world countries. And their approach is simple. In so many countries
women are still bereft of any economic independence that a host of
oppressive social customs are allowed to continue in their
dysfunction. The Microcredit Summit identifies small women's
cooperatives and gives them modest loans to start their businesses. I
read about a sewing cooperative of women who had been rejected by their
husbands because they had contracted HIV. Never mind that their
husbands had given it to them.
The moving fact is this:
despite all of the difficulty of working
in a world that suppresses their independence, all of the difficulty of
working while they are developing their limited skills, the default on
these loans is miniscule. They have found acceptance in sisterhood,
empowerment in being included and taken seriously for who they are, and
they flourish even under harsh conditions. With the women economically
viable and independent, there starts to be long overdue social reform
between the genders. The seeds of today's justice form the husk of
The Bible realized just how
unlikely the attainment of such a peace
would be in this world. They realized that as long as ordinary men and
women were in charge tyranny and pettiness would be the rule. They
looked forward to a day when God would send God's own anointed Messiah
of peace into the world to upend the tyranny and put vainglory out to
To this day, the Orthodox
Rabbi's say if Israel's elect would just
keep the commandments of God for one day, the Messiah would come. In
other words, forget the whole world being just. Forget even all Jews
being just or the State of Israel being just. If the Orthodox Jews,
the religious zealots, if only all of them could be just for an entire
day, that would be enough justice for God to usher in the full reign of
peace that God intends for our world.
Jesus is called the 'child of peace'
(Luke 10: 6)
he would be called the prince of peace. Throughout his life, he
embodied the concern for justice that makes for peace. In the face of
violence at the end of his life, he did not return violence for
violence as we do, despite the fact that many of his followers wanted
him to. He pointed us, again, towards the virtue of righteousness or
justice that is the spiritual path towards peace. He only provoked
that kind of wrath in others that comes when the truth exposes the
pretences and rationalizations that justify the continuation of
inequity and oppression.
Thank God, the Almighty did not
wait until we had actually
fulfilled the commandments for a day for we would be here until
eternity. Instead, God chose to show us the way of peace beginning
with a child, in a manger. God showed us what the human face of peace
looks like in the actions and teachings of the life of Jesus. Thank
God, we are not left to our own caprice and device. Let us too be
filled with the compassion of Christ, the concern for inclusion, the
commitment to live in justice and harmony with those around us.
Perhaps, perhaps, peace might break out in the midst of our chaos as