The New Time Out

The New Time Out May 13, 2011

“The Peace Pole Project is the official Project of The World Peace Prayer Society. It started in Japan in 1955 by Masahisa Goi, who decided to dedicate his life to spreading the message, “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in response to the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Peace Poles are handcrafted monuments erected the world over as international symbols of Peace. Their purpose is to spread the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in the languages of the world.”

When the peaceful protests for reform in Egypt turned suddenly violent on national television; as a Libyan dictator continues to reign terror and violence over his people; when North and South Korea hang in a fierce and terrifying tension that could lead to global conflict; in all these places, we are desperate for a sign that a peaceful world may yet be possible.

The recent death of a long-feared and sought after terrorist brought forth a broad range of reactions across the country. Relief, reflection, closure, hope, and — disturbing to many of us– joy.  However glad we might be that this threat is removed from the world, the jubilant celebrations that unfolded in streets and bars were a far cry from peace-seeking

However necessary the military actions that led to his death, peace-seeking people mourned the necessity of violence; we grieved that such fierce powers of destruction could exist in the world to begin with, and we reflected on the awful truth that only more violence could remove his threat to the world. That’s what terrorists do. They take away even the possibility of peace. The enormity of their violent visions can only be answered with more violence.

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…”  It’s no wonder we’ve relegated it to a Christmas carol, or maybe a generic, secular holiday card. Peace is a frightening and overwhelming prospect. Knowing that bringing it to the earth demands a great deal of discipline and reflection on our own part is sobering, in even the best of times. In the worst of times… well, it’s easier to just say that peace will never be, and let ourselves off the proverbial hook.  I’m not casting stones here. Peace is just about the scariest things in the world to preach about. I’d rather talk about money, sin, or sex any day of the week. Bring it. But peace?  I never know where to start.

Because the world seems to be getting bigger and scarier and more filled with chaos and violence every single day. And also because, letting it “begin with me” is easier said than done. As Foothills dedicates a new peace pole on our grounds this Sunday—a sign of hope in a peaceful God– I will be asking myself some difficult questions. I will be asking them of my church folks as well.  Will the death of a reigning terrorist move us toward a peaceful world? Maybe. We can certainly hope so. Will dancing and cheering about it, without regard for the innocent lives who got in the way, bring about some peace in our hearts? I reckon not. I reckon it is a righteous sort of glee that emerged in the streets, and maybe a little bit within each of us, and we know who choreographs that sort of dancing. (Hint: it’s not Jesus).

Since our church shares space with a large preschool, I hear a tantrum being dissolved or a dispute being mediated nearly every day. And sometimes there are small children involved 🙂  It seems to me that, rather than making kids sit in time out or miss a fun activity, they ought to go stand at the peace pole.  Rather than bringing adults in for couples counseling, or a personnel meeting, send them to the pole. Whether we are constituents exchanging angry political rhetoric on facebook, or politicians casting hate-filled aspersions across the aisle, I think we all need a long time out at the pole. Only in the presence of that simple prayer—“May peace prevail on earth–” profoundly etched in many languages, can we maybe start to remember that our God made us for peace, and not for the chaos that creeps into our world, our homes, and our own fractured lives.

At Foothills, we chose the 6 languages that we felt were most relevant to our neighborhood, and to the current most pressing conflicts in the world: we speak our peace in English, Spanish, Korean, Navajo, Hebrew, and Arabic.  We let it begin in our backyard and then—we desperately hope—seep into the world around us.

The next time the chaos creeps into my office; the next time, perhaps, it is Friday afternoon, and I am just finally chipping off enough of the to-do list to begin a sermon; the next time my heart races at the fullness of next month’s calendar, or the emptiness of the sanctuary in July; or the next time that I’m sorry I turned on the news, I will put myself in time out at the pole. I will remind myself that I am small, and that I can see only one small corner of this monument, this prayer, this holy ground. It is only a glimpse of the peace for which I was created, but I can let it begin with me. The Spirit blows through this place like a madwoman, every single day. But every now and then, she comes to rest for awhile, and all is peace. I aim to meet her, next time she stops by…

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