At 35, I discovered years ago that New Year’s resolutions are a practice in failure. By January 15, I haven’t lost any weight, I keep swearing, I’ve stopped flossing my teeth, and I haven’t learned any new recipes…but I can still make a pretty mean batch of Top Ramen.
Here’s another resolution I’m going to fail – be more peaceful. That’ll last until about 12:15 am on January 1st. But if you’re like me, you know that the biggest problem facing our world is violence in all its forms – physical, spiritual, economic, emotional, and ecological violence are killing us and the planet. It’s as if humanity is addicted to violence, which means that if there’s one resolution worth keeping, it’s to become more peaceful.
So, to help us become more peaceful in 2015, here are my top 5 ways to have a more peaceful 2015:
5. Admit that you are a violent person.
Are you offended yet? Well don’t worry. The first step in overcoming any addiction is to honestly admit that you have one. So, if you find yourself protesting, “What a jerk! I’m not violent! I’m a peaceful person!” you know you have violent streak. And here’s the thing: that’s okay. We all have a violent streak. As someone who promotes nonviolence, I can be provoked to violence pretty easily. I often feel like the theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas when he said, “I say I’m a pacifist because I am a violent son of a bitch…But by avowing it, I create expectations within others that hopefully will help me live faithfully to what is true. But that I have no confidence in my own ability to live it at all.”
4. Become aware of the scapegoat mechanism
The scapegoat mechanism is the reason I have no confidence in my own ability to be faithful to peace. As explained by René Girard, the violent scapegoat mechanism is everywhere in human culture. Scapegoating is blaming someone else for our problems. When two people experience tensions in their relationship they unite against a scapegoat. Scapegoating another makes them feel like their relationship is tighter. They create a bond by teaming up against their scapegoat. And once they have dealt with their common enemy, they feel a sense of peace. But that peace is only temporary because blaming someone else for our problems never actually solves our problem. The scapegoat mechanism runs every aspect of our lives. Its violence permeates our families, neighborhoods, workplace, religious institutions, economics, and politics. So, if you are serious about becoming a more peaceful person, become aware of the scapegoat mechanism. Notice it and name it. And then stop participating in it.
3. Know the relationship between war and peace and justice
Did you ever read War and Peace? Me neither. I hear it’s great…But I can tell you that war never leads to lasting peace. Oh, sure. War gives us a temporary sense of peace. Attempting to kill our enemies makes us feel like we are making the world a safer place. But if there’s anything we should learn from the last 14 years of the “War on Terror,” it’s that war only creates more enemies. But our “enemies” aren’t the real problem. As the Paul wrote 2,000 years ago, “Our struggle is not against enemies of the flesh and blood, but against…the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.” The way to lasting peace isn’t to kill flesh and blood; it’s to struggle against “the spiritual forces of evil.” And the only way to struggle against those forces is to work for justice. Peace can only be achieved through justice. Not a justice based on retaliation, but a justice that seeks to heal. The Hebrew prophets and Jesus were obsessed with making sure everyone’s basic needs were met. The prophets claimed that if the nation didn’t care for the weak, vulnerable, and marginalized – those who were scapegoated – that the nation would fall. Jesus gave free food to crowds of poor people. He even provided free health care to people! The way of justice modeled by the prophets and by Jesus is a justice that heals and leads to peace.
2. Blessed are the peacemakers and forgiversJesus said that peacemakers are blessed. Jesus had a very specific way of making peace and it had nothing to do with scapegoating or killing people. He knew that killing people would only strengthen the scapegoating process and never deal with the actual problem, which is violence. But here’s the obvious problem: Jesus was killed. And his death wasn’t very peaceful. Yet, Jesus was right. Peacemakers are blessed because they unmask the violent powers of evil. They reveal that violence and scapegoating only leads to more violence and scapegoating. As René Girard states in his book Violence and the Sacred, “Evil and the violent measures to combat evil are essentially the same.” But the powers don’t like to be expose. People who are blinded and seduced by those powers don’t respond kindly to peacemakers. Know that by following Jesus and becoming a peacemaking you will be blessed by God, but you are likely to be cursed by others. As you expose the violence of the scapegoating mechanism, family and friends who are enthralled to the mechanism may turn against you. And that’s okay. You don’t hold it against them because you know they are enthralled to the mechanism. You are blessed because you know that you are too. (See number 1.) And because you are aware of your own tendency to scapegoat, you can forgive others for theirs.
1. Love and forgive your neighbor as you love and forgive yourself
Love is fundamental to being more peaceful. But let’s face it, love is hard. I find it especially hard to love myself. I beat myself up for not being good enough, smart enough, popular enough, or peaceful enough. I fail in so many ways. I gave up New Year’s resolutions years ago because it only confirmed the fact that I’m a total failure. And this resolution to be more peaceful? Not a chance. But Jesus and the Hebrew priest of Leviticus tell us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But it’s hard. I’m aware that I’m going to fail at love and so are my neighbors. And that’s okay. Failure is part of being human. So be gentle on yourself and on your neighbors. When we fail, when we get caught up in the violent scapegoat mechanism, we don’t have to beat ourselves up. Rather, we can receive those blessed words from Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We can receive God’s forgiveness and offer that forgiveness to others. In Jesus we find that forgiveness and justice, not violence, are the way to peace.
Those are my top 5 ways to be more peaceful in 2015. Let me know what you would add. May you have a peaceful 2015!