“Blessed Are the Peacemakers”

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Image: The Sleeping Gypsy by Henry Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.

In a world of division, violence, hate, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and all manner of angst, perhaps we need to draw nearer to Jesus for a moment to listen to the thoughts of his heart. It happened before, you know, when Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

The things he taught them that day are ever so important for us in these days.

Love your enemies . . .

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)

Turn your other cheek . . . 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:38-39 NIV)

Make peace . . .

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9 NIV)

I have heard it said that one would not likely find the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount on display on any courthouse lawn. They might never be inscribed on a slate in a state capitol building. But the most important inscription for these words of Jesus is an inscription on our hearts. Not physically possible, of course, but spiritually, we can open our hearts to receive these words within us, allowing them to transform us in ways that empower us to create peace.

Richard Rohr asks how it is that many Christians have managed to avoid what Jesus actually taught? How have we evaded major parts of the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus’ clear directive and example of nonviolence, and his command to love our enemies?

Perhaps we do not believe that nonviolence actually possible or that it will not effect any significant change. Many peacemakers know better. The Pope has singled out one active peacemaker we should know. Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 Nobel prize winner from Liberia, organized pray-ins and nonviolent protests that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia. There are other peacemakers living out a commitment to peace. Not surprisingly, most of them are women. The contributions of women such as Leymah Gbowee in Liberia and Marguerite Barankitse in Burundi are showing the way to the eventual end of violence and the dawning of peace. Their work is working.

Two other women, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, write in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works, about the effectiveness of nonviolence, drawing from examples in Iran, Palestine, the Philippines, and Burma. They insist, based on their research, that nonviolent resistance is “nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as its violent counterparts. ” 

Perhaps it is that mothering, protecting instinct that makes women lovers of peace. Perhaps it is their capacity for hope and determination. Perhaps it is that women persevere in faith. Perhaps women are a prophetic people who insist that transformation is possible. Women who love peace know that nonviolent movements are made of loyalty, resilience, commitment, creativity and love. Fortunately, women are not afraid of love or creativity or commitment. Women do fear the destruction of hate, violence and war.

So sisters in the struggle, let us keep on. Let us persevere in our quest for peace. Let us persist, struggling for as long as it takes to see holy peace gently cover our world from East to West, North to South, so that every man and woman, every child will be able to lie down in safety.

After all, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Dreamers and Misfits

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In my younger years, I was a dreamer of dreams, big dreams, impossible dreams, dreams that I had to fight for. Without a fight, the dreams would not have become reality. I was brave and fearless. I would stand my ground in front of any person trying to thwart my dream. I would face off against any obstacle.

Where did all that bravery go? When did I stop taking risks? When did I give up on dreams? When did I lose my strong resolve to help create a better world?

Aging had a role, as did illness. Yet, I cannot help but believe that somewhere beneath this exterior reality, the old dreamer and misfit still lives. I cannot help but believe that I still care about justice and hope, hope for a better future. I am convicted and inspired by the words of Bishop Steven Charleston:

It may seem odd, in this age of doubt and disillusionment, that some of us still believe in a hopeful future, a time of justice, and the power of love to overcome every evil. It may seem odd, in this epoch of technology and consumerism, that we still believe in God, in a conscious and living presence that cares for us and helps us to care for one another. It may seem odd, but there is a perfectly reasonable explanation: we believe these things because we are odd. We are the odd ones out, the misfits and dreamers, the mystics and advocates. We do not follow the party line, but step over it, together, every chance we get. – Steven Charleston

The Bible calls us pilgrims and strangers, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people. Yes, misfits as Steven Charleston says, misfits that go against the grain of the status quo. Misfits that still dream in spite of those who want to maintain the world as it is.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.

So I want to spend my remaining years stepping over the line, taking risks in the name of love, living out of a compassionate heart, challenging the world’s evil ways, dreaming of justice, being a maker of peace, and not counting the cost. I hope you will do the same, sisters and brothers. This world needs all the misfits who still care and all the dreamers who won’t give up.