Peace

The Subversive Peace of Christmas

Banksy stencil grafitti in San Francisco. Radoslaw Lecyk / Shutterstock.com
Banksy stencil grafitti in San Francisco. Radoslaw Lecyk / Shutterstock.com

Christmas is a time for celebration, joy, and family. But Christmas is much more than a sentimental holiday.

Christmas is subversive.

The Bible doesn’t tell us the specific date Jesus was born. Later Christians tradition gave us the date of December 25. It was chosen by Pope Julius around the year 350 and Christians have been celebrating Christ’s birth on that day ever since.

But Pope Julius didn’t just randomly pick December 25. He was deliberate. As Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan claim in their book The First Christmas, when Pope Julius declared December 25 as the date to celebrate Christ’s birth, he integrated “it with a Roman solstice festival celebrating the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.’ The Roman birthday of the sun became the Christian birthday of the Son.”

That last sentence isn’t just a cute turn of phrase. It symbolizes the subversive quality of Christmas.

Your Story Stinks … Oh, and Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth type, MyImages - Micha / Shutterstock.com
Peace on Earth type, MyImages - Micha / Shutterstock.com

The letter arrived at work about two weeks after baseball’s opening day in 2003. It had a Zanesville, Ohio, postmark. A return address sticker mentioned a Mrs. Howard Richardson.

What‘s this about?

Inside was a handwritten note along with a neatly clipped copy of my Cincinnati Reds season preview story from the Zanesville Times Recorder. I didn’t have to read far to get the gist.

This Mrs. Howard Richardson — she wasn’t happy with me. Not at all.

In beautiful cursive — the kind of handwriting you don’t see anymore — she pointedly took me to task for suggesting the Reds could be awful that season. I should be more positive, she insisted. It would help the players.

“You get more flies with honey than vinegar!!!!!” she wrote. (Yes, underlined and topped off with many exclamation points.)

The note was signed: Evelyn Richardson.

The Christmas Truce: A Lesson from 100 Years Ago

Public Domain.
British and German troops meeting in No-Mans's Land during the unofficial truce. Public Domain.

One hundred years ago, during the First World War, the Christmas truce took place between British, German, and French soldiers in the trenches on the Western Front. On Christmas Eve 1914, soldiers from opposing sides, who were stationed there to kill each other, instead got to know one another, shared photos of loved ones, and even had a game of soccer.

This of course made their superiors furious, not just because the troops were disobeying orders, but because it is much harder to harm someone with whom you have formed some sort of relationship. The enemy is to be faceless and nameless.

The same holds true for millions of people living in poverty around the world this Christmas. They are the faceless and nameless ones. In reality though, the enemy that is poverty is not faceless. Poverty is about people; it is not about statistics. Poverty is also not just about a lack of material goods; it is more about a lack of dignity, a lack of a sense that you are important. We are reminded that poverty is always personal because it is about relationship.

Gratitude with Hope

Thankfulness. Image courtesy Nikki Zalewski/shutterstock.com
Thankfulness. Image courtesy Nikki Zalewski/shutterstock.com

I'm grateful for the warm, safe shelter of my home when there are 610,042 experiencing homelessness on any given night in the U.S.

I’m grateful for more than enough to eat when there are 805 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active live.

I’m grateful that I have clean drinking water when over 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes.

I’m grateful that I have good health when so many people do not have access to decent medical care, like the 5,459 people who have died from Ebola this year, and the millions more who die each year from preventable diseases.

I’m grateful I have clothing to wear when in the poorest of places, the lack of proper clothing costs lives, and hundreds of millions still live in conditions of material deprivation.

I’m grateful for my freedom when the U.S. had 1.57 million inmates behind bars, the highest percentage of a population of any developed country in the world.

I’m grateful for my citizenship when there are over 11 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. living in the shadow of constant fear.

But I’m especially grateful for the people I know, and the ones I don’t, that are working for justice and peace; a world where all our brothers and sisters have the basic necessities of shelter, food, clean water, decent medical care, and warm clothing. A world where every human being’s dignity is respected and valued. A world Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven.

Hope — The Most Important Gift

Snowdrops peek through the snow. Image courtesy ArtOfLightPro/shutterstock.com
Snowdrops peek through the snow. Image courtesy ArtOfLightPro/shutterstock.com

I currently serve as Pastoral Associate at a Catholic parish in Buffalo, NY, where our pastor decided to hold monthly Prayer Hours for Peace in response to the violent outbreaks in Syria, the uprising in Ferguson over Michael Brown’s death, ISIS, gang violence — to name a few.

Our November Prayer Hour for Peace offered four rounds of Scripture passages and ten-minute reflection and prayer time, followed with an excerpt from a Pax Christi USA prayer called “Just for Today.”

I read this excerpt aloud:

“Just for today, I will believe that world peace is possible. I will remember that hope is the most important gift I can give my world.”  

The next Scripture verse was from Psalm 122:6-8.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, Peace be within you.”

For the next ten minutes, I inhaled “belief….possible” and exhaled “hope most important gift.” Physically, my body relaxed, and I watched my hope flow out into my immediate surroundings.

'Peace, Peace.' But For Whom?

Stop fighting. Image courtesy RYGER/shutterstock.com
Stop fighting. Image courtesy RYGER/shutterstock.com

Peace, with its connotation of tranquility and stillness, is the Christian’s most misunderstood concept. We have long sought to keep peace by silencing dissent under the guise of pursuing unity, coated with a zealous concern for niceties, unwilling to budge a status quo. We forget to ask the crucial question: for whom do we keep peace?  

Wherever peace is elusive, the first ones to suffer are the vulnerable.  

When corporations engage in legal battles, employees who don’t get a vote have the most at stake. When marital tensions rise high, children’s tender spirits lay at the parents’ mercy. When war ravages a country, the displaced peoples helplessly suffer.

When keeping the peace only benefits the powerful, it is not a Christian peace. The sweet baby Jesus portrayed in sentimental Christmas cards has taken an abrupt departure from the kind of peace we see Jesus embody in Scripture. Even as an infant, the baby Jesus so disrupted the power authorities of the day that sent them scrambling into every home killing firstborn baby boys.   

Christian peace is not about coddling people’s fear of conflict. It isn’t about making sure everyone is comfortable. It does not silence those for whom a lack of peace is a life or death situation. The irony is that often, the ones with feeble power are the ones who are told to keep peace and remain silent.   

When the society is disrupted by scandalizing conflict — whether it is the Bill Cosby rape accusations, or the “harsh disciplinary methods” of certain celebrity parents, or an entire neighborhood weary of losing their young men to police violence — the Christian dare not keep peace by silencing the voice of the victims.

'You Are a Human Being'

 Photo courtesy Dr. Wee Teck Young
A mosque and minaret in Kabul. Photo courtesy Dr. Wee Teck Young

I believe in love. I don’t subscribe to any particular religion.

Feroz, a Hazara who is a Shia Muslim, lived with me in a community in Kabul with 13 other Afghan Peace Volunteers, including Tajiks and Pashtuns, who are Sunnis.

This is a community established with the intention of learning about and practicing nonviolence, a little like an Afghan version of Gandhi’s ashram.

One day, there were black faces and a curt exchange of words.

“What meaning does praying with the little piece of stone have anyway?” Bashir, a Tajik, who is a Sunni Muslim, snapped at Feroz, a Hazara, who is a Shia Muslim.

“Why should that bother you? It’s important to us. Your way of praying isn’t particularly good either, praying with your hands ‘closed,’” Feroz retorted. Shia Muslims like Feroz pray with their hands and arms in an ‘open’ posture, and till today, some Shia and Sunni religious leaders make an issue of it.

The ways we reach out to God should be happy endeavors, but these ways can become bones of contention, especially if they’re deemed to be special or exclusive paths to God.

This Veterans Day, Work for Peace

Elena Dijour / Shutterstock.com
Elena Dijour / Shutterstock.com

In the wake of the latest escalation of the U.S. “war on terror,” it’s time to remember the origin of Veterans Day. In 1926, Congress officially recognized the commemoration of Armistice Day on Nov. 11 with the exhortation, “the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.” Armistice Day commemorated the day when World War I hostilities ceased, and had been celebrated informally since 1919 as a day to work for peace.

On Being A Muslim Parent

LAST YEAR, as I was unpacking my son’s school backpack, I found the children’s book on the Prophet Muhammad that my wife and I read to him at night. He had brought it to school without telling us. “It was for show and tell,” he explained to me.

You might think that my first reaction would be happiness. One of my goals as a Muslim parent is to help my kids feel connected to their faith. Clearly my son felt close enough to his religion to bring a book on the Prophet to share with his class.

What I actually felt was a shock of fear shoot down my spine. It was an immediate, visceral reaction. A whole slew of questions raced through my head. What did his teacher think of Muslims? What about his classmates? Would somebody say something ugly or bigoted about Islam during my son’s presentation? Would his first taste of Islamophobia come at the age of 5 during show-and-tell?

My fear at that moment is one small window into what it feels like to be a Muslim-American parent at a time when Muslim extremism is on prominent display and Islamophobia in America continues to spread.

My wife will not let me watch news shows in our home for fear that one of our kids will saunter by during the segment discussing Muslim terrorism (and it seems to be a regular feature of the news these days) and ask what’s going on.

The truth is, I would not have a good answer for them. I am doing my best to get two kids under 10 years old to love and identify with their religion in a secular urban environment. I don’t have a way of explaining to them yet that there are some people who call themselves Muslim who do stunningly evil things. When the TV talks about Islam, mostly they talk about those people. Moreover, when some Americans think about Islam, all they think about are those people.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Pages

Subscribe