Peace on Earth?

Peace on Earth. Goodwill to all.

That’s what the story says the angel proclaimed. This season, peace on earth grows ever more elusive. When I originally wrote this column for the newsletter, the Paris attacks and Beirut bombing had not yet faded from our awareness. The immediate response to the events in Paris was increased bombing of Syria by the French. Meanwhile, shouts rang out for our own country to take a stronger stance against the Islamic State.

Since then, we have witnessed a shooting at a women’s health center and an office holiday party. Earlier, we saw white supremacists shoot at demonstrators in Minneapolis. Guns, death, hatred. We seem surrounded.

At the same time, many of our leaders, including our own governor, have reacted against the most vulnerable, calling for the exclusive of Syrian refugees from our country. It’s not the first time that anti-immigrant sentiment has arisen, of course. We Americans have long been cautious about immigrants who were seen as “not like us,” – Asian, African, Hispanic, even Jewish refugees before World War II. But how ironic, that as we celebrate the poor wandering couple who found no place at the inn, that we would push others away.

Religions across time and place have called for peace. In ancient times, the prophet Jeremiah decried people who said “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. The prophet Jesus was supposed to be the Prince of Peace. There are peace Buddhas and peace gods.

At the same time, religions have been at the center of conflict through the ages. Conquest flowered with the conspiracy between states and religious leaders not only in Christianity and Islam, but in Buddhism and Hinduism as well. From the Crusades to the Islamic State, people have used religious ideology to declare their own cultural superiority and to crush those different from themselves.

So, how do we present an alternative view? As religion has inspired war, so it can inspire peace. I’ve come to believe that we need to take seriously even suggestions that seem outlandish and impossible. We must because what else is there to do but build an alternative worldview?
What if we were to add a Department of Peace to our federal institutions of Department of Defense (which could be re-named the Department of War) and Homeland Security? What if we took peace-keeping and peace-making as seriously as making war? What if we learned and taught non-violent compassionate communication and peaceful resolution of conflict on the small scale – in schools, in religious institutions, in community organizations like Scouts?

Maybe this season of Christmas could be a time of peace-seeking and peace-making, a time to remember the high price of conflict and to find a new way.

Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me.

In faith and freedom,

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