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?