Peace: Dreaming an Impossible Dream?
idea of peace has been close to my heart for a long time now. Recently,
while teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University, I decided to begin
practicing a holiday that I hope will be widely practiced one day. I finally
contacted a variety of politicians regarding establishing this holiday
[which will be outlined later]. Many who know of my efforts said that
I was being too naive, idealistic, and too much of a Pollyanna.
Hearing their words, I began to wonder if they had a point. Was I being
naive to think we could live in peace? Maybe my idea of a peace holiday
was unrealistic. With that in mind I began to re-evaluate what peace means.
In this article I will take you on my journey and search. Through questions,
scriptural references, and honest self-evaluations I hope to illuminate
the path towards peace.
Definition of Peace According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
Etymology: Middle English pees, from Old French pais, from Latin pac-,
pax; akin to Latin pacisci to agree -- more at PACT
Date: 12th century
1 : a state of tranquility or quiet: as a : freedom from civil disturbance
b : a state of security or order within a community provided for by law
or custom (a breach of the peace)
2 : freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions
3 : harmony in personal relations
4 a : a state or period of mutual concord between governments b : a pact
or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war or
in a state of enmity
5 -- used interjectionally to ask for silence or calm or as a greeting
or farewell - at peace : in a state of concord or tranquility
So the essence of peace is a sense of calm, harmony, and quiet. Is it
so impossible or unrealistic to achieve these things? I remembered in
one of my earlier articles (Cultivating
a Mind of Love) I briefly touched upon something that directly applies
to this dilemma of peace as well. Much of what we experience (hostility,
aggression, dislike, fear, pride) is taught. Taught by our parents, by
siblings and other family members, our community, society, culture, and
the church (for those church goers).
Us versus Them
Everything we do is a direct result of what we think and our thought processes
and reactions to those thoughts are in many ways a direct result of what
we learn. Consider the following questions:
Why is it easier to criticize than to compliment?
is it easier to tear down than to build up?
is it easier to be pessimistic than optimistic?
is it easier to berate than praise?
Why is it easier to make fun of differences?
From an early age we are taught the "Us" vs. "Them" idea. Everything is
set up where you are either one of "us" or one of "them." From the school
sports and neighborhood team games to the cliques formed in the cafeteria
and on the playground between boys and girls. This clique behavior does
not stop there. We continue these segregated behaviors (and thoughts)
through to adulthood. Perhaps this is most evident when we speak of the
U.S. as the ultimate "US" and anyone or anything that is even slightly
contrary is "THEM" and there is no middle ground.
The need for separation
Sociologically speaking there seems to be a need for us to form these
bonds between community and culture. We find a sense of self, support,
strength, and affirmation from these groups we form and identify with.
From the obvious race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation
to the lesser thought of fraternities, sororities, clubs, and bowling
teams and churches we are a people in need of connections to those who
are like us. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is normal, natural,
and necessary. However, when we develop the US vs. THEM way of thinking
and behaving the problems arise.
Is it necessary for one group to hate or have negative feelings or thoughts
against another group? Do Blacks and Whites have to be at odds? Pause
for a moment. Ever consider the words "Black" and "White" in and of themselves
set us up for segregation rather than unity? (Maybe I'll address that
in a separate article on Race, Ethnicity, and Unity in the Church and
Beyond.) But do you see my point that even some of the language we use
sets up the division of "US" and "Them"? The labels we use to identify
the groups have become a barrier of separation.
side is Gay the other Straight
side is Black the other White
side is Male the other Female
side is Christian the other Muslim (or any other non-Christian religion)
Like I said there is nothing wrong with having groups. There will always
be Gay people in a group and straight people in a group BUT do we need
to be against one another?
There will always be issues related to men and women but does there need
to be a battle of the sexes? Can men and women not see eye to eye? Are
they that different?
Can Jews and Christians sit a table together and rationally and calmly
talk despite differing faiths?
Muslims and Christians do the same?
Americans and Afghani or Iraqis do the same?
would say no. There are too many things different between these separate
groups to be united. But, in reality, are there?
While I hear and understand the rationale behind the statements of separation,
I whole-heartedly disagree!
Fear as the cause
It is because we have fear in our hearts that we have to make and defend
our divisions. We are taught that "WE" or "US" is always better than "THEM."
Our football team is better, our church is better, our house, our country
. . . and we fear losing this. We fear not being better than Ö name the
group. If it were not for this fear (pride), we would not have many of
the problems we face -- not only globally but in our own homes as well.
We are threatened by anyone who looks different, thinks different, feels
different. We then take those feelings and become hostile, aggressive
and develop some misguided superiority complexes. Homogeneous attitudes
support our ideas of superiority and anything that does not support this
is a threat to our security -- a threat to our pride.
Homogeny vs. diversity
are we so afraid of? Losing our identity? Losing our culture? Think about
it. What is it that scares each of these groups? Don't jump right to the
larger global issues. I'm not talking about issues as large as thermonuclear
war and terrorist activities.
Let's first look at the local neighborhood issues of a black family just
moved into the house across the street and why that is perceived as a
bad thing when a white family moving into a black neighborhood is not
perceived the same way. Why is that gay couple holding hands such a disgusting
thing? What is there to fear from the gay community? So what happens if
they are given the right to marry, have spousal benefits at their job,
kiss and hold hands in public... what does that mean? What is so bad about
that? What is there to fear? Why were so many Christians holding signs
outside of Matthew Shepherd's funeral that said things like "The Fag is
burning in Hell!" "God hates Fags!"? Things to make you go "Hmmmmmm???"
The Bible as source of segregation and hate
All too often people pull in biblical references to point out what is
wrong with certain issues like homosexuality, etc. Similarly the KKK has
used the Bible to give them authority over blacks even as they were lighting
the naked, castrated, and hanging body on fire!!
Peter Gomes said, "Scripture sanctioned racial segregation, and that
the most religious, most churched, most piously populated parts of the
country not coincidentally happen to be those places in which racism and
slavery and segregation long have flourished. The most pious people found
the Bible their easiest ally in maintaining the advantageous social status
quo, and saw no conflict in their consciousness between their religious
profession on one hand, and their heinous social practices on the other.)
People to this day continue to use the Bible to support war, death, oppression,
and destruction and it has possibly been since Paul (thinking he was doing
God's will) was seeking out followers of Christ and persecuting them.
Is that what the Bible is for? Is that what the Bible is about? Is that
the way to love and to peace?
Do you think that Christ's words, "I did not come to bring peace, but
a sword..." (Matthew 10:34 NIV), really means for us to wage war and kill
our fellow human beings over ideological ideas, religious faiths, sexual
orientation, or skin color? I hope you agree with me when I answer, No.
So what did He mean? After taking in the entire context I have found that
He simply meant that we cannot place anything above our union with Him
and the sword He was referring to is the sword that separates us from
tradition and teaches us that we must value Him over mother, over father,
over our children, and our very life must not come before Him. That was
a radical thought for His day and remains one today. He did not however
mean to literally hate your parents, your children or your life. However
if you are struggling between something and Him, it is better for you
to hate that something in order to clear your way to Him.
From the inside out
We can all agree that there are separate groups of people based on class,
sex, religion, socio-economics, color, age, political affiliation, sexual
orientation, ethnicity, etc. With so many groups, is it possible to attain
peace? Why not?
The reason we are not at peace with our neighbors - first and foremost
- is we lack peace within ourselves. We focus more on the dissimilar than
the similar. We focus more on what's wrong with others as a way to keep
us on top. Why worry about your neighbors' house needing a new paint job
if your paint is chipping and peeling. Is your garden being tended to
or are you more concerned with theirs?
Having such discontent inside, we project it onto others. And because
of that discontent, within us rages a war. The fires of frustration, hostility,
jealousy, hatred, insecurity, fear, pride, envy, and greed reside within
us and there is no way to give to another what you do not have inside
yourself to give. Time for another analogy: Suppose I have an apple and
you want or need orange juice. Can I give you what you want or need? No
matter how I squeeze that apple, orange juice will NEVER flow from it.
Likewise, if you need comfort and support but I have insecurity, fear,
and envy inside me no matter what I do you will only get from me what
I have to give. So if peace is the goal then each of us must look inside
and critically and honestly ask, "What do I have inside of me?"
What would He notice?
Think seriously about what I am about to propose. Each of us can say we
are not hostile, prejudiced, or aggressive individuals but what if Jesus
were to travel with us for a day or two, what would He notice?
Would He notice you sticking up that middle finger and screaming out or
mumbling a few choice profanities as you express road rage on the freeway?
Would He notice you at work complaining about how much you hate (notice
the words we use, "hate") your boss or co-workers?
Would He notice how often we say someone does not deserve something that
should have been yours?
Would He notice the way you clutch your purse or move to the wall in an
elevator when a black person walks on?
Or how many times you thought or said aloud, "We should just bomb them.
They're all terrorists anyway."
What would He find if He were he to listen to your inner most thoughts?
So again I ask, "What do you have inside to give?" Do you like yourself?
You cannot like another if not yourself first. Do you love yourself? You
cannot love another if you do not have love for yourself first. Do you
have respect and honor for yourself? Do you appreciate the differences
that make you special and unique?
See where I am going with this? My questions could go on and on but I
think you get the point.
Peace starts with you
That brings me back to peace and where it all begins. Do you have peace
inside of yourself to give to others? A good way to find out is to practice
or contemplate this exercise I conducted with my students.
When I was teaching public speaking at Virginia Commonwealth University
I had an exercise that my students engaged in called "Controversial Issues."
The point of this exercise as I explained, was to encourage people to
express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings on a variety of controversial
issues -abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, use of the word "nigga," interracial
dating- without the fear of being criticized or judged. No one was permitted
to criticize, name call, or judge another classmate regardless of what
that person says. If a student said they believe that Jesus and the Buddha
are brothers from the planet Olympus and that they traveled here in a
magic teapot two thousand years ago, no one was to make any negative comments.
Students could ask questions but ultimately I wanted to instill a sense
of respect. Respect for each other even though there are contrary beliefs.
It is amazing how quickly people want to defend "THEIR" beliefs and from
that desire to defend comes their aggression. If you are defending your
belief then it means you perceive an attack of some sort. Why does a different
belief have to be an attack against your beliefs? Why can't you accept
it simply as a different idea; one you don't subscribe to but none the
less accept another person's right to have it.
I eat sugar on my rice and you use pepper. Do you need to be defensive
over my preference for sugar? Do you need to attack me for my likes? Of
course not! Do we really need to pass a judgment on someone's tastes?
If we don't need to do it, why do we?
Many people I have met are not able to have a conversations where different
opinions are raised. We can talk about the major extremes like how many
parents refuse to even discuss abortion in their house. We can talk about
the fights (often physical fist fights) that break out over whose NFL
team should be playing in the super bowl. Why can't we talk calmly and
agree to disagree? Again, I point you to the fact that you give what you
have inside to give.
Just BE it
Consider the scriptural reference: "Be careful how you think for your
life is shaped by your thoughts" (Proverbs 4:23 Good News Translation).
In other words as James Allen said, "As you think ... you are." So what
do you think about most? Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and philosopher,
has said that we must be more than supporters of peace; we must BE Peace!
I think this is a profound statement. Are we merely giving lip service?
Are we embodying what we desire to create? Are we being Sunday Christians
only? If I am for a healthy lifestyle but am still smoking, consuming
too much fatty foods, and having sex without a condom, am I really for
a healthy lifestyle? I must BE that healthy lifestyle and every action
I take should reflect this mental attitude.
So no matter if it is peace between countries, peace within our own nation,
or peace within our own household, it all begins with having peace within
A mind of love
In my article about love I gave some examples of things we can do like
practicing non-violence, practicing patience, practice giving and sharing,
and practicing walking in love as things we can do to shift our minds
towards love. If you do the very same things, peace will occur as well.
Ultimately having love means having peace.
You have to examine what you need to do in order to make this a reality
for yourself but I assure you that if you remain trapped in thoughts of
separation rather than togetherness you will forever be separate and without
peace. Some of you say, "So what? I don't want to be at peace with those
damn terrorists anyway! You can kill them all and I won't miss them!"
I ask you, is that something Jesus would say?
Do you enjoy living each day not knowing if another 9-11 type of attack
will occur? Do you enjoy sending people into wars? Do you accept the rationale
that if it is OK to kill them, because you hate them, it is equally OK
for others who hate Americans to kill us as well? Are you being blind
to the benefits of peace?
More than tolerance
No one said we have to like everything about another country, another
religion, another culture, but until we can at least discuss these feelings
calmly there cannot be any hope for peace. I am not merely talking about
tolerance. What I am proposing is about genuine understanding and open-hearted
compassion for another human. Having an attitude of love that says, "I
may not believe what you believe and I may not agree with you on these
things but I can sit and talk to you, I can be your friend, and I can
live peacefully and compassionately with you."
Be the change
Is it really being Pollyanna to believe in or to strive for peace? Do
you think peace is possible?
Gandhi said, "Be the change you would see in the world." which brings
me back to the concept of "YOU" must first be the light and then let others
become illuminated from your example.
Below is an outline of the holiday I still seek to have honored yearly.
Start today and begin to put each thing into practice and peace will become
a natural by product of your efforts.
THE NATIONAL/GLOBAL DAY OF PEACE
This week long celebration will commemorate the efforts of the peace makers
around the world, both past and present, as well as encouraging each of
us to take the necessary steps towards peace in our lives, in our communities,
in our country, and in our world.
This holiday will focus on a set of principles each day of the week allowing
each of us to, as Gandhi said, "Be the change we would see in the world"
-- one person at a time.
All of these acts are the seeds we plant for tomorrow.
Sunday: Day of Remembrance - A day to reflect on the peacemakers
of the past and the present as encouragement for each of us to take up
the torch for peace. Does anyone really want war, death and destruction?
No healthy person wants this. Find the place within you and search for
peace, so that you speak peace, live peace, share peace, and are peace!
Monday: Day of Being "For" - One of the most challenging days in
the week, this day is about changing your thoughts from what you are against
to what you are for. Do not be against war -- rather be for peace. Do
not be against abortion -- be for life. Not against poverty -- but for
abundance and prosperity. Take this time and stop thinking of the glass
as half empty, but as half full. Think of all you have to be thankful
for, not what you have to be depressed about. As I said this is the most
difficult challenge. If you can begin to take the first steps towards
changing your thoughts, "you" can change the world!!
Tuesday: Day of Random Acts of Kindness - Do random kind acts for
friends, family, and most importantly strangers.
Wednesday: Day of Forgiveness - Let go of the grudges and hostility
you are holding - towards other people or yourself. Begin to let in the
healing rays of forgiveness.
Thursday: Day of Laughter - Celebrate the healing power of laughter.
Tell jokes (not racist or sexist lest they defeat the purpose of togetherness),
rent funny movies, tell funny stories with friends. Let go and laugh!
Friday: Day of Love - Reflect on the true meaning of love and tell
those you love how much they mean to you. Too often we hold our tongues
for fear of rejection, embarrassment, and pride. For once, let go and,
no matter the response, tell others you love them. Expect nothing in return
- it is not done so you can hear it. It is done so you can say it and
express it to others.
Saturday: Day of Diversity - A day to celebrate the beauty of diversity
regardless of color, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age,
ethnicity, culture, ability, etc. Celebrate and embrace your differences
and the differences of your neighbors, whether in the house beside yours
or the country across the ocean. Celebrate what we are as humans and embrace
all people. United we stand and succeed, while divided we fall and fail.
his first Associates from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh 1986 (Illustration
and Graphic Design), his second Associates from The Community College
of Allegheny County 1998 (Interpreting and Deaf Studies), his BA from
Carlow College 1993 (Art Education), and his MFA from Virginia Commonwealth
University 2003 (Theatre Pedagogy).
Ray is the founder and Artistic advisor of a American Sign Language performance
company called S.T.A.R.S.
(Sticking Together Always Results in Success) He is also the founder and
chief instructor of The Phoenix Hall of Light martial arts school and
co-founder of a newly developing dance company called Ascension. He is
currently attempting to further his acting, directing, choreographic,
writing, and dancing career as well as obtain his Doctorate of Divinity.
Ray is available for performances, lectures, workshops and seminars, and
speaking engagements. For more information, bookings, or just to chat,
you may contact him at either: Hikari_4_god@yahoo.com
Copyright © 2003 by the author
All Rights Reserved
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