On Practicing Peace in 2017
I went to a New Year’s Eve gathering for peace last night. Sponsored by the Center for Non-violent Solutions, the First Unitarian Church of Worcester and the Islamic Center of Worcester, it featured short remarks by a number of local clergy (including Rev. Melissa Myozen Blacker) and professors of non-violence on the topic of how to practice peace in our everyday lives.
I was touched by two themes. The first is the possibility and perhaps the necessity of taking to the streets in the coming year. This year may require many of us to stand up and show up in new ways. We may be asked to join with each other to forcefully speak out against injustice and to stand with those who are being targeted by the government or other forces. There is power in joining together. There is power in action.
The second theme is the importance of reaching out across the lines that divide us. It’s so easy to slip into a bifurcated world of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ One speaker suggested the practice of looking around at the next gathering we attend. ‘If everyone you see looks like you, you’re living in a bubble,’ she said. Of course, we all live in a bubble, but perhaps, this year, we can intentionally reach beyond the invisible walls of our seclusion and build bridges to the other people in the world.
If we’re just nice to people who are like us, we inadvertently but decisively contribute to deepening sectarian divides. Another speaker mentioned that God’s instruction in the torah is not about loving our parents or children or neighbors, but about loving ‘the stranger.’ We don’t get credit for being nice to the people who are nice to us. Everyone does that. But to reach out to the stranger, the one without power and status, the one who has no voice; this is the work of peace.
Without intention, we just drift along and, more than ever, the status quo is not neutral.. As the great activist and historian Howard Zinn suggested in the title of his inspiring book on resistance and social action: You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train.
So on this first day of the year, while the morning light is just beginning to grace the eastern sky, I once again vow to take up the way of Saint Francis. May I be an instrument of peace. I feel so inadequate to the task, but pray that my thoughts, my words, and my actions may ever so slightly incline the world away from the perpetuation of violence and greed and move us all toward the glimmering possibility justice and awakening.