A few years ago, I discovered an unusual use for a pressure cooker. I took a thin copper pipe, flared one end slightly, curved the pipe into a “U” shape, and fitted it over the top vent of a pressure cooker. I put water in the cooker and brought it to a boil, and used the steam coming out of the copper pipe to froth and heat a cup of hot chocolate. A cheap alternative to an expensive espresso machine! And a lot better use of a pressure cooker than to make a bomb out of it, as the attackers did in Boston last week.
“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4) It’s a beautiful and inspiring vision of the possibility of peaceful resolution of conflict. Isaiah’s imagination swings like a hammer on heated steel. It’s spiritual alchemy, turning the leaden hate into golden hope.
About 15 years ago I was in a junkyard looking for metal to use for artwork. In the muddy back lot, I found two brass artillery shell casings, about 3′ tall and 6″ in diameter. I took one of them to the church where I was the pastor, and hung it up on a rope in the corner. It’s still there today at College Heights Church in San Mateo, used as the bell to gather the people for worship. A artist who was a member of the church, Susie Stone, rendered the “swords to plowshares” passage in calligraphy, and it hangs on the wall near the bell.
Now I am a member of Mt Hollywood Congregational United Church of Christ here in Los Angeles. We recently sold our building, and now we rent a beautiful worship space in the nearby Hollywood Lutheran Church. With the sale of the church building, we lost our beloved belfry bell. So I mounted the other artillery shell casing on a moveable frame and placed it in our new sanctuary.
This past week, at a conference at Esalen Institute on peacemaking among the Abrahamic faiths, a group of activists, scholars, and media producers gathered to consider how to turn swords into plowshares. One of the attendees, Mohammed Dajani, is a Palestinian scholar and activist from Jerusalem. He founded a movement called Wasatia – moderation – pressing for moderation, compromise, tolerance, and democratic values in all religions and cultures. I asked him, “How do you get people excited about moderation?” He laughed and said “We need help with that!” Blowing up a bomb made with a pressure cooker gets more people excited than building a beverage steamer out of it. The explosives in an artillery shell make a lot bigger bang than the lovely ringing sound of the shell casing being struck with a wooden mallet in a church. But really, what’s more impressive? Any disaffected person can kill people with fireworks and a piece of common kitchenware. But it takes high art, phenomenal patience, and astounding self-control to achieve peace after a long and bitter conflict like the one between Israel and Palestine.
It can be done. Think of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, in which he invoked “malice toward none, with charity for all”. He interpreted the Civil War as the wrath of God on all of America, north and south, for the shared national crime of slavery. He invoked the “civil religion” of America – a simple, non-dogmatic expression of humility before God as the underpinning of our democracy – to lay the moral and spiritual basis for the peaceful reconstruction of the country. With soulful persuasion he fired the furnace in which swords could be beaten into plowshares, bombshells into church bells, pressure cookers into espresso machines.
Calling all artists, musicians, poets, photographers, graphic designers, filmmakers, social media wonks! We need creativity to fire the moral imagination, in order to magnetize humanity toward a future of reconciliation and economic and social justice. The power of peer pressure that seduced the younger of the two Boston bombers must be steered toward the glorious challenge of making this world more peaceful and compassionate. It has been done, and it can and must be done again.
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www.tcpc.blogs.com/musings – MUSINGS – my weekly blog
Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California