Many of us just completed the Christmas season with its message of peace on earth, goodwill to all people. Now we celebrate a holiday remembering the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who showed us what it means to wage peace.
Yes, we have to wage peace. It doesn’t just happen. It involves the courage and commitment to work through our disagreements without hurting each other. And it starts with each of us individually, with how we conduct our daily lives.
It’s not up to only the politicians and world leaders. Peace does indeed begin with you and me.
As with all things divine, peace is personal. It starts inside of each of us. We can bring peace into our world only to the extent that we’ve brought it into our own lives first.
We can’t bring peace into the world if we’re not living it each day. We have to pay attention to how we think of ourselves and others, take a hard look at how we’re treating others.
If we see our interests and needs as more important than the interests and needs of others, then we’ll never have peace in our personal lives or in our world. Peace requires a recognition that we’re all equally beloved children of the same loving God.
It involves recognizing that we all matter equally — and then doing some introspection to see if we’re living up to it in our various relationships.
When we have those moments of disagreement and frustration and misunderstanding – things that occur in every relationship – how do we respond? Do we run away and abandon the relationship? Do we get defensive? Do we lash out others? Do we dig in and try to get things our way? Or are we committed to working through it with mutual respect and compromise?
We can’t work through the inevitable disagreements peacefully unless we have a commitment to respect others and to listen to what they’re saying. We have to be willing to try to put ourselves in their place and see the situation through their eyes. We have to listen – really listen – to what they’re trying to tell us.
This goes for relationships between people and relationships between nations. Listening and understanding bring our compassion and empathy to bear on the moment and transforms it into something healthy and good. We recognize that the other person is worthy of our time and attention. We extend a mutual respect. We listen to their hopes, their dreams, their fears, their concerns, their pain. We share ours with them.
Only then can we figure out how to work it out. There is lots of listening involved in waging peace. A lot of patience and compromise and trust, too. And most of all, lots of respect.
Once we start living a deeper peace in our personal lives, we can grow it in our communities, our nations, our world. But it takes persistence and commitment and courage because there are always going to be those who don’t want peace. They prefer the haze of anger and recrimination and conflict. We have to be committed to showing a different way by living a different way. We have to challenge the illusion that peace can grow from a gun barrel or a bomb crater. Coercion never brings real peace. The two are as different as planting a seed and burying a body.
One other thing about peace: It always comes at a cost. We have to be willing to sacrifice for it, to take risks for it, to grow into it. We’ve paid a huge cost for our endless wars; now it’s time to pay the smaller price for waging peace. Part of the price is giving up our indifference and our inclination to throw up our hands at the first sign of conflict. Waging peace means working to change relationships – personal relationships, social relationships – where people are being treated unjustly. Where respect isn’t being given to the other person.
The Rev. King noted that genuine peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice. Making sure each person is treated with the respect they deserve as a child of God. And there’s always going to be a creative and holy tension to the process.
How much do we really want peace in our lives and in our world? If there’s no peace, it’s because we’ve decided it’s not worth the effort. We’re not willing to answer the summons to bring peace on earth, starting with each of us. It always begins with me.