Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist
What can we do to be peacemakers in the world we inhabit? Whenever I ask myself that question, I come back to today’s responsive reading, (one of my favorites in our hymnal). Lao-Tse suggests we must begin with ourselves – not an easy assignment. How do we find the calm that brings peace to our hearts?
Well, you have each come here this morning. You have chosen to gather in religious community for a variety of reasons. May I suggest that one of the reasons you are here may be that being here brings you a sense of peace – the peace that comes with belonging – the peace of being part of a community – of finding others who share your values.
I believe it is important for each of us to find our own sources of personal peace. When we are at peace with who we are in the world, with all our particular shortcomings, we are less likely to be judgmental of others who are also imperfect. This was something that surprised me. I did a lot of emotional work to begin to accept myself for who I am. As a side affect of accepting myself, I found I have became far less critical of others who inhabit my particular sphere of the cosmos.
Many of us find peace in the infinity and intimacy of the natural world. One of the most spiritual moments in my life was when I was a teenager on the side of a mountain in the Adirondacks, looking out over a world with no sign of human habitation, feeling simultaneously insignificant and yet a vital part of the universe I inhabited. I get an echo of this experience every time I pass through Franconia notch. For me, there is something about the majesty of mountains that brings me peace. The natural world is a source of peace for some of us because the immensity of all that is helps brings our individual lives and problems into perspective. I have an equally humbling experience when I look closely at the intricate beauty of a trillium on a spring walk through our New Hampshire woods. Seeing ourselves through such lenses somehow makes it easier to forgive ourselves for our imperfections. After all, we are each such a small part of all that is. Forgiving ourselves for who we are is an essential component of attaining peace in the heart.
Being out in nature may not be the experience that brings you peace and self-forgiveness. Maybe you find peace in listening to, playing or singing, inspirational music that connects you with others next to you or across vast reaches of time and space. Maybe digging in the dirt, creating a nurturing place for beautiful plants to grow, helps you feel a piece of, and at peace with, existence. Whatever your sources of peace and grounding are (there can be more than one) make room for them in your busy life. If you haven’t found one yet, search for it. It is hard to be a peacemaker in your family, your community or the world, if you have not yet made peace with yourself – or have at least found a way to begin working on making peace with yourself.
However, as important as the search is, for peace in the heart, I know that I cannot wait until I feel completely at peace with myself, before I try to affect the quantity and quality of peace at the other levels Lao-Tse identifies as precursors to peace in the world. If we back up in his list, we come to peace in the home, peace in our families. I spoke about the importance of forgiving family members in my talk on forgiveness several weeks ago, but, before there can be forgiveness and peace in families, there must be an acknowledgement that even two people in a family (or home) constitute a relationship and relationships do not existwithout conflict.
Many people think that peace cannot happen if there is any conflict. Peace does not mean the total absence of conflict. In fact, a lack of recognizing and dealing with obvious conflicts often leads to, or can at least contribute to, even more complex levels of conflict. My experience as a volunteer in a battered women’s shelter brought this dynamic to my attention. I learned that many people stay in abusive, violent situations because they do not, cannot, recognize that conflict, dealt with rationally, before it escalates, is a healthy process that can build up, rather than destroy, interpersonal relationships. Many of the women who came to the shelter had never had any models for or been taught how to deal peacefully with conflict in a healthy, rational way. They accepted that their partners’ refusal to allow even the slightest hint of disagreement or conflict was a way to keep peace, rather than a power play to maintain total control. One way we can all promote peace in our families and the world is by modeling ways of dealing with conflict, rather than sweeping disagreements under the proverbial rug. We can advocate for “conflict resolution curricula” in local schools that can help those children who do not have families that model how to deal constructively with conflict. Peace can be achieved in family situations when family members are willing to deal with conflicts by listening, caring, understanding, and being open to possibilities – a big challenge for many families.
The next level Lao-Tse’s speaks of is peace between neighbors. Since I read my local newspaper, the Union Leader, regularly, I have been very aware of certain neighborhoods in Manchester that are trying to preserve peace in the face of increasing violence. Neighbors have banded together to address a variety of issues. They have provided alternatives for teens after school, patrolled the streets after dark, and supported each other in efforts to diffuse the negative, violent culture that is impinging on their homes. I wonder why man, who live in these neighborhoods challenged by violence, are not a part of this effort. Going back to Lao-Tse’s ultimate supposition, perhaps the people spearheading this effort are those who have strength of conviction because they have achieved a level of peace with themselves.
According to Lao-Tse, only when there is peace between neighbors can there be peace in the cities and nations. Here is where I see our political system, for better or for worse, coming into play. If I expected to continue as a resident of Manchester, I would be looking at who was planning to run for mayor in the next city election. What are his or her ways of integrating the desires of constituents with his or her vision for the city? How do you feel about the effort of your town government to “keep the peace”? When is the next town election? What are the candidates’ stands on local peace issues? Have you informed yourself about the presidential candidates’ stands on gun control and the Iraq war? Being informed and taking an active part in selecting local and national leaders is no small matter when it comes to your ability to affect the sum total of peace in the world (or at least in your town).
Peace in the cities is Lao-tse’s foundation for peace in the nations. This is an arena in which I feel very frustrated and impotent. An insight was brought to my attention this weekend, at a District Board meeting. Our American culture’s acceptance of what I consider to be over consumerism is more than an ecological issue. It is a justice issue and a peace issue. If we, as a culture, do not change the way we relate to the earth and the resources we use, we will continue to feel threatened by others who, justifiably, want their fair share of earth’s resources. The issue of sustainability is, in fact, both an ecological and a peace issue.
One reason I chose peacemaking as this morning’s topic was because it was selected by delegates at last year’s General Assembly (our denomination’s annual meeting) as one of the most important issues facing our society today. Every four years a new issue is chosen as a topic that Unitarian Universalists, individually and as congregations can focus on and advocate for. Since peacemaking was chosen as our current study/action issue, the UUA has developed resources to help congregations engage with this important topic.
Although peacemaking will be the chosen topic for the UUA for only four years, peace is not something we can check off our list of things done and accomplished. The search for peace at all levels is something we must live one step at a time.