Rev. Douglas Taylor
September 22, 2013
Prayer during Anthem “We Pray” by Nick Page
O Spirit of life, God of us all
We gather for healing and for peace this day
We see conflict in the world and indeed even in our own hearts
We long to build a peaceful world and to be a peaceful people
May we be restored and made whole
For peace in the world, for peace among all nations and people
For peace in our neighborhoods and in our families and for peace in our hearts
But not only for peace, O God, we pray also
For hope and understanding, grace and strength to lift us up
With humble voices we lift our hearts seeking a balm
When we are discouraged help us know we strive not in vain
Fill us, O Spirit with faith and with courage
And with the audacity to believe we can make a difference
This morning between services we have planted our Peace Pole back in the courtyard. It is Patty Parsons who made the Pole for us back in 2008. She did the design and the wood burning. She removed it last year to clean it up and refurbish it. A Peace Pole is a monument, often a 4 x 4 wood post, with the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in the language of the country where it has been placed, and then usually 3 to 7 additional translations as well. The movement began in Japan and came to our country in the 80’s. A unique feature of our Peace Pole is that instead of translations of the prayer “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” our pole has symbols of the world’s religions, local leaf prints, and local animal prints on the remaining sides.
Spirit of Peace and Life, may our Peace Pole stand as a symbol of humanity’s common vision of a world at peace. May it remind us to seek peace and harmony in our lives as well as in the world community. May peace prevail on earth.
A companion to the story and meaning of the Peace Pole is the story and meaning of Peace Day as September 21. There has long been an international United Nation’s Peace Day. Through the 1980’s and 90’s it was celebrated at the opening session of the United Nations each fall on the third Tuesday on September. It was a relatively unnoticed day until a young man named Jeremy Gilley worked over four years to get it changed from the third Tuesday of September to the 21st of September, and then he continued to work over the next several years to raise global awareness for the day.
One of the important aspects that Gilley also pushed for was an expectation that it would also be a 24-hour cease-fire around the world; a “day of global ceasefire and non-violence… through education and public awareness and to cooperate in the establishment of a global ceasefire.” This is important because Gilley was advocating a shift not only from a private UN observation to a globally celebrated event, but also a shift from a passive effort to celebrate the ideals of peace to an active effort to create peace through the cessation of violence.
It took four years of effort, but Jeremy Gilley did manage to bring the United Nations delegates a resolution that passed unanimously. The vote happened on the 7th of September twelve years back now. A press release was scheduled for four days later to announce to the world that International Peace Day was now officially September 21st and officially a day for non-violence.
It is a painful irony that the date of this press release was September 11, of 2001. At 8:45 as part of the press release, children from around the world were performing music meanwhile planes were crashing into the World Trade Center. Jeremy Gilley and his press release for peace had to evacuate the building. It was not an auspicious beginning. Yet it does highlight the hard reality that peace does not happen just because we make an announcement, pass a resolution, or plant a peace pole in our church courtyard. It takes continued effort.
Spirit of Peace and Life, may this day of peace shine as a reminder that every day can be a day of peace. May the violence and horrors we still find in the world neither dishearten us nor tempt us into cynicism. May peace prevail on earth.
The prayer to not be disheartened despite the events of our world is an important one. Have you been watching the news lately? I trust many of you are aware of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on their own citizens a month ago. The past few weeks have been tense, watching the global community respond. The use of chemicals weapons, like sarin gas, was banned by United Nations agreement, a document signed by the vast majority of the world’s nations. Syria, it is noted, is one of the six nations who have not yet signed on to the agreement. It is heartening to hear about the progress toward diplomatic solutions.
The situation was distressing as it unfolded. I felt conflicting values within me as I watched. As people of faith we talk about our values of peace and compassion and justice. I am certainly rooting for peaceful and diplomatic solutions to win out. I have great confidence in the power of diplomacy. I will certainly be watching this coming week’s news about the proceedings at the United Nations with great interest. It seems like there is an opening for that third way of negotiating mentioned in the How to Get to Yes reading. Not soft negotiation with concessions and capitulations, but not hard negotiations either with a test of wills and winners and losers. The third way, the diplomacy way, values the principles at stake and honors the people involved.
It is heartening to see Syria coming to the table to talk about signing the ban and destroying their stockpile of chemical weapons. But I am well aware that a key component to bringing the Syrian government and its allies to consider diplomatic talks was the threat of swift and extreme force on the part of the United States military. The threat of violence was one of the steps to the current possibility of peace in Syria. This fact is something I have been struggling with.
I try to live out the statement “There is no path to peace, peace is the path.” And yet here is a real example of the threat of violence being instrumental in opening the way for the possibility of a peaceful resolution.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” says the first line of St. Francis of Assisi’s famous Peace Prayer. “Make me an instrument of your peace,” and I have taken this prayer to heart. This is the prayer of my heart of how I live my life. “Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” That’s my work. That’s what I am doing every day – or perhaps more accurately, that is what I strive to do every day.
I aim to be a person who uses peaceful means to reach peaceful ends and to advocate for others to do the same. I am grateful to see the situation with Syrian moving toward a peaceful, diplomatic end. But I am well aware that the present progress toward peace was won through a very real threat of violence on the part of our president. And, I am conflicted inside because I understand that threat of violence. I see the point of such a threat. And it worked.
The United Nations banned the use of chemical weapons, along with nuclear and biological weapons. These weapons due to their scope were deemed too inhumane to use. In the face of the use of such weapons, in the face of nearly 15 hundred Syrians dead, almost a third of them children, is there not a moral imperative for us to act? Is there not a moral imperative for us to respond with a strong condemnation to this atrocity? There are some behaviors and actions so heinous we simply cannot allow them to happen without response.
Yet one of the prayers in our hymnal (#508) offers the phrase “save us from the weak resignation to violence.” Save us from being resigned to violence, from thinking of it simply as a given fact we can do nothing about.
There were some people who saw and heard about the use of chemical weapons against Syrian rebels and innocent citizens, and they were resigned to the violence. “That’s not our problem. Syria’s civil war is going to involve bloodshed and casualties, that’s the nature of it. We can’t do anything about it.” That sentiment is a resignation to violence and it is a weakness in us we must resist.
There are some people who saw and heard about our president threatening to launch cruise missiles at Syrian targets, and they were resigned to the violence. “That is the reality of the situation; we must send a firm message that will be taken seriously. The use of chemical weapons cannot be allowed to occur without firm response. We must at least send a few token bombs so they know we will respond.” That is a resignation to violence and it is a weakness in us we must resist.
Spirit of Peace and Life, may we always stay open to the possibility of peace though our words and our actions. May we remain maladjusted to violence and discontented with easy solutions involving violence. May peace prevail on earth.
This leaves me in tension. I want to rail against the violence the Syrian government wrought upon its citizens. But knowing my country’s threat of violence is what brought them to the table is sobering and takes the wind out of my sails. I wish I had a clever solution for this to share with you.
I am striving for peace and I do not want to strive in vain. I want to have an impact, I want to be effective. What can I do? The evidence is that the world is not a peaceful place. The evidence is that violence and the threat of violence is an effective way to bring global bullies to the negotiation table. The evidence is that my small efforts are insignificant. Or is that really what the evidence shows?
When I stop to think about it, I do have influence in certain circles. We all do. And more than that, we each know people or maybe even are the people who move through several circles of influence. How you treat people in your circle of influence, how you advocate for peace or any other high principle that guides your living, how you negotiate your conflicts will influence the people around you. And that has an impact. It isn’t a direct impact on the conflict involving the chemical weapon attack in Syria, but it is a start. And it shifts the conversation about peace from ‘peace as an issue’ to ‘peace as a way of living.’
Thich Nhat Hanh, who quipped “peace is every step,” writes in his book, Being Peace, about the amount of frustration and anger he noticed in the peace movement. This was in 1987 when the book first came out, but surely it is a timeless observation. He wrote,
The peace movement can write very good protest letters, but they are not yet able to write a love letter. We need to learn to write a letter to the congress or to the president of the United States that they will want to read, and not just throw away.
Can you imagine the letters Thich Nhat Hanh sends to the leaders of the world? Could you imagine writing such letters? Or does anger or frustration or hopelessness get in the way of writing a compassionate letter to our political leaders? I would think the point would be to say what you need to say about war and violence, but to say it in a way that the can be received.
Spirit of Peace and Life, may the meditations of our minds and the words of our mouths be set on peace and compassion even when we would have the nerve to speak truth to power. May peace prevail on earth.
That is one of the classic answer I hear to that question of feeling insignificant. School your own heart first, make the change within yourself and let the impact ripple out through your words and actions. Inner peace is a necessary prerequisite to world peace. Gandhi advised us to be the change we wanted to see in the world.
The world is filled with turmoil and trouble. But it is also filled with example after example of people who have made a difference, people who listened to their conscience and spoke out for what is right, people who were effective in building a better way for the future. People like you and me who struggled with the issues and did not turn away in resignation.
Spirit of Peace and Life, may our minds be set on peace with freedom and justice. And may a song of peace take root in our hearts and sing to us gently through all the tumultuous days ahead. May peace prevail on earth.
In a world without end
May it be so.