Disturbing the Peace

This month, many Patheos bloggers are writing on the topic of “Best Practices for Peace in 2015.”

I used to be a great proponent of peace.

My prayers and meditations were often aimed in that direction. My actions, too, to the best of my ability, as I marched in the streets, wrote letters, and examined my own anger and violence.

The killing of Oscar Grant in 2009, and the killing of Alan Blueford in 2012 –and all of those brutalized and killed by police in between and since– changed my relationship with peace. Vigiling and marching with families whose loved ones were stolen by police violence has shifted my view. Organizing with Black leaders and communities of color affected by police militarization and systemic harassment and imprisonment has diminished my talk of peace.

But why? Why isn’t the concept of peace just as important as it always has been? Here are some reasons why: Talk of peace can be used to stifle anger. Talk of peace can serve to calm us down. Talk of peace all too often fails to become talk of justice. Talk of peace can all too often wish to rush toward niceness, toward a balance that doesn’t exist, and toward a veneer that will soon crack.

Before there can be peace, there must be justice.

Before there can be justice, there must be truth. And some of us must learn better to listen.

I don’t have “ten best practices for peace” to offer you. Do I think peace is bad? Do I think that the endless wars being waged around the world are good? No. I don’t. But it seems to me that talk of peace is premature. We do not just cease war and fighting. First, we listen. Then we tell the truth. Then we work toward justice. When people have justice, they liberate one another. When people have justice, they build systems of equity. When people have justice…there comes a possibility for peace.

“No justice, no peace!”

As a rallying cry for liberation this means “Until there is justice in our communities – economic justice, environmental justice, racial justice, gender justice – we will continue to upset you and to disturb your sense of peace.”

“No justice, no peace!” This is also a simple statement of reality: without justice, the concept of peace is meaningless.

The roots of war are watered by injustice. 

Focusing on peace without working for justice feels like we want humans to just wake up one morning and miraculously get along. As if a spiritual awakening alone will make everything better. Spiritual awakenings can help, don’t get me wrong. But spiritual awakenings can either help us look at suffering more deeply, or enable us to forget that suffering exists at all.

KING racismmaterialism

In Dr. King’s great speech against the war in Vietnam, he spoke of the triplets of racism, militarism, and extreme materialism. These are ever with us. No matter what our spiritual path is, we can find practices to counter all of these. We do not begin on a global scale. We begin as individuals. We begin in our communities. We can continuously seek the roots of racism, militarism, and materialism within ourselves and all our thoughts and choices.

We can start the work over, every single day, to choose and foster justice.

We do this as beings motivated by love. Once we choose to work for justice, we can begin to imagine what peace might actually look like.

I leave you with with ten possible practices toward justice. They are simple. They are one way to begin.

Ten Practices Toward Justice

  1. Listen deeply.
  2. Examine your assumptions.
  3. Study the systems in play.
  4. Amplify the voices of those most affected by injustice.
  5. Challenge yourself and others.
  6. Tell the harder truths.
  7. Seek equity in your communities.
  8. Listen deeply.
  9. Organize (keeping in mind #4).
  10. Disturb the peace.
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