Lesson 17: Peace- Sign of the Disarmed Heart

Military Industrial Complex cartoonAbout half way through the chapter, Chittister wrote that being at peace gives “the courage to evaluate what is patently wrong but never open for discussion.” As soon as I read her words, a brash comment made by an executive of an arms company several decades ago came to mind. We were at a meeting shortly after Dwight Eisenhower warned that the nation should beware of the military-industrial complex. The executive dismissed the president’s fear by claiming the US was best in the world in only one thing: the production of weapons and waging of wars.

You could say that Eisenhower was able to raise concerns about one of the unmentionable social realities, because he was at peace as he left the presidency. His freedom certainly compelled the arms executive to defend the worth and wealth of his company by making a claim that still troubles me. I imagine most Americans firmly believe we are the most peaceful people on the face of the earth. I can never again blithely take that position for granted.

I expect Chittister’s statement had additional impact because of the present political situation. Her words offer helpful guidance for those of us worrying that the prevalence of violent and threatening language might lead to oppression and conflict. First, she echoes Martin Luther King by reminding us working for peace is based on faith that good will eventually triumph. For Christians, that means trusting God’s promise that he can and will raise good from evil.

She goes on to emphasize that ending wars with others must begin with ending wars within ourselves. We have to be at peace within ourselves before we can be at peace with other people and the earth. Again she believes we are able to do that when we are at peace with God.

Once we find that kind of peace we are freed from the compulsion to control everything, to surpass other people, and to ignore the truth. Like Pope Francis she describes this peacefulness repeatedly with words like be gentle, speak softly, live quietly, and walk lightly.

It does not take long to realize that she sees peace providing the freedom to live the moral life. It provides the mindset fundamental for the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful. It supplies the mental attitude necessary for generosity and kindness. When you are right with other people, the earth, and God that which deters you from sharing with the poor, caring for the weak, showing respect for others, working for community, and protecting the environment disappears.

Of course, that leaves us with the question why the violent approach is presently being promoted in most areas of life, especially when, as Chittister assures us, there is a growing body of data that indicates nonviolence is far more effective for resolving conflicts. Why has the nation reduced their diplomatic corps and turned increasingly to the military for resolving international relationships? Why have individuals accepted without question the logic of “The only way to stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.”

From Chittister’s perspective part of the answer lies with our not being at peace with ourselves and God. From that of studies I have read it is because we are not willing to work for peace as hard as for warfare. Those reports make clear that nonviolent movements are far more successful than armed revolts for establishing lasting peace, but also that they take greater commitment, discipline, and effort. And sadly, from the viewpoint of the arms executive cited above, it is because weapons production brings profit to the military-industrial complex and keeps our economy rolling.

Perhaps the answer is not as important as simply the acknowledgement that we have been turning from words to weapons, from personal relationships to technology, from peace to conflict, and from love to violence. Once we recognize that, we might be able to seek a solution that is not as self-destructive as the path on which we find ourselves. Chittister reminds us that the Gospel speaks directly to our situation. Jesus makes clear we shall find peace in our world once we find peace within ourselves. Sister Joan defines that as becoming so immersed in Christ’s Way that nothing else matters.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. John Myers says:

    As a Christian who cares deeply about and agrees with all of what has been said here, I remain conflicted. Jesus directed us to turn the other cheek. A modern illustration can be seen in the recent movie “Hacksaw Ridge”, in which a Conscientious Objector joins the military during WWII. He does so because he feels deeply that evil is winning and he must act to ‘do his part’ to maintain freedom for his family and community. He mistakenly thinks the Army will allow him to be a medic and not be forced to carry a weapon. Of course, the story is more complicated than this. But, many of these issues are examined there.

    Is peace a luxury we enjoy at the expense of those who do not ‘turn the cheek’? Would we seek a peaceful approach if we were being over-run by zealots intent on enslaving us? These are troubling questions, and ones I do not have an answer for.

    I can never get out of my mind the powerful example the Amish provided many years ago when a mentally disturbed man invaded their schoolhouse with a gun and killed most of the people in the room. Their public statement of forgiveness was forever burned into my memory as an example for me. It is my hope that I would have the strength to do the same. That said, the Amish enjoy a somewhat closed community and are free to live their lives as they do because they are not living in Syria or Pakistan.

    The world MUST embrace peace. We cannot despair. It is comforting to realize that our world would be very different without Jesus Christ. Christianity has created a pivot in the arc of evil in this world. As such, in my mind – HOPE abounds.

  2. Derek Halverson says:

    This lesson brings up a number of challenging issues, and brings to mind a thought I’d had when I’d been reading different interpretations of the end times.

    The thought was that, especially in the harsh times after Christ’s crucifixion, if someone really paid no mind to the murderous persecutions from those in power, nor to the needs of food, water, clothing, and shelter, and generally didn’t worry about their life as they traveled about, it would take a miracle for them to not end up dead. So perhaps there was a rapture, but by that point there were only a few Christians for whom nothing else mattered left starving out in some wasteland and nobody noticed. We, then, are in the time of tribulations.

    Now, I’m not proposing that as a new theological interpretation, but it does seem to highlight the troubles of having a functional Christian nation. In some ways living the Christian life as taught would seem to work best in the Roman model Jesus planted it in, where Christians exist powerlessly within a mighty nation that provides police, soldiers, and a structure to maintain human life. This allowing them to be pacifistic and forgiving as the Amish are in the incident John Myers refers to above, despite the situation, where the perpetrator seemed to have brought in all manner of devices intended for rape and torture, but seemed to have his plans cut short by a trooper with a gun arriving at a window, prompting the perpetrators suicide.

    Perhaps in some ways that’s a silver lining to the secular and atheist direction Western governance is drifting?

    In the meantime I feel the best path is to acknowledge we have not created a world as Christ would like it to be, and act as we need to act in terms of conflict and material things. But we should still bear in mind, even when we seem to have achieved a military “victory” or even certain material “wins.” that they still represents a sort of failure, and heed the call to once again try loving our enemies and turn to God from the things of this world.

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