Monday, 17 December 2012

Pollyanna Peacenik

Advent week 3: peace.

Yesterday, we had a lessons and carols service at our church. I sat in the pew with boys ages 6-9. They drew quietly during the service, waiting for their time to get up and sing. Their images were striking: Star Wars spaceships, stick figures holding guns with dotted lines leading to another stick figure, other stick figures laying on the ground with the word "dead" written below, and speech bubbles between figures, threatening to kill. All of these boys come from stable, safe, secure, peace-loving and promoting homes. So why this fascination with violence?

There are times when I feel like Pollyanna Peacenik. Like in May, when a friend and I presented at a conference in DC. Our topic was "Teaching Peace to Children." It was a fine presentation, but the next night there was a panel on violence, and one of the panelists, Melvin Bray, spoke about growing up in a violent area of DC, and always carrying a knife to defend himself. His story moved me, especially as I preached about peace.

Who was I to say anything about peace? I had lived a very safe, happy childhood, growing up with 3 siblings on a farm - loved, encouraged, secure. I'm sure there was a bit of violence at times... I remember one particularly angered departure from our school bus, my brother chasing me the whole way in the lane, ready to pummel me. But those moments of violence were few and far between, at least in my memory. I have never carried a knife; I have never needed to defend myself. I've led a Pollyanna kind of life, with peace as a theoretical construct.

I approached Melvin the next morning, unsure of what I was going to say. I just knew I had to say something. I said, "I was really moved by your story last night. And I thought: who am I to be telling stories of peace when I don't really understand violence? I've never experienced it, so I must sound really stupid to you. Maybe only people who have experienced violence can truly teach about peace." And I broke down, tears streaming down my cheeks. I told him that this is part of who I thought I was - someone who sought out and told and retold stories of peace. But maybe I had been mistaken. Maybe others need to tell these stories - not me. He listened intently, his hand gripping mine and said, "Don't stop telling your stories. I need to hear stories that help me to imagine a way of peace, just like you need to hear my story and stories of others who have had experiences of violence."

So through that experience, I've thought about how my "pollyanna peacenik-ness" needs to be nuanced by an understanding that is more realistic - that takes into account the child soldiers, the abused sons, the bullied daughters, and the grade one children shot dead in Connecticut.

There is so much need for peace in our world.

December 17th: Where are you being led to pray for peace in our world? Where are you being led to act for peace? 


  1. Thank you for telling this moving story. I have often pondered similar things. I will carry your questions with me today. A short comment as I am off to teach today. :)Shauna

  2. Rebecca, I agree that the voice that speaks peace in the midst of violence is a different one that speaks peace in the midst of peace. However, the latter is still woefully absent and much needed.

    I was struck by a discussion I had with 3 12-year old boys on the weekend. The the span of less than 5 minutes, the conversation went from a saddened, empathetic conversation about the events in Connecticut, and rapidly descended into giggly conversation about paintball wars. There are too many voices of non-peace and violence in our peaceful Pollyanna world. Unfortunately these go unnoticed and our kids spend more time "training for violence" than they do dreaming and training for peace.

    Keep up the storytelling!

    1. Thanks for your reflection on your conversation. It's something I'm really wondering about lately - how to talk about / hear stories about violence, while "training for peace" - like you said. I agree - there are too many non-peace voices out there. But there's something so appealing about them. Is the voice for peace appealing? Or boring?

  3. Thank you, Rebecca for sharing those powerful reflections. I also really appreciate Dave/Lisa?'s comments on the different voices of peace that are needed depending on the circumstances.

    As I've thought about your questions I feel like my focus for peace right now needs to start right here with me. My outward expressions of peace need to come from a heart and mind that opens itself to be nurtured in the way of peace from the Prince of Peace who has so beautifully shown us the way.

    And yes, keep on with the storytelling!
    Blessings, Sue

    1. Sue, I like the way you've framed this - starting with yourself. Thanks for this perspective - I need to hear that!