A more excellent way: P-E-A-C-E

This post appeared in the local Sherman newspaper the week of July 8.

“When we are downcast, Lord, we think of you. When our hearts are yearning for things to be different, we think of you. It's at these times we understand that even when we are preoccupied elsewhere WE are always on YOUR mind. You are greatly to be praised. 

Peace, hope and courage, instead of anxiety, discouragement and fear. This is your doing, Lord, and we thank you for it.” - You Visited Me, by Susan Hardwick, 1997

I recently shared this prayer with a dear friend who is facing some significant health issues. But as I read it this morning, I found it really spoke to me as well. I don’t have physical concerns, at least as far as I know; but I have significant spiritual concerns for our country. I am yearning for things to be different. I am hopeful for God to relieve some of my anxiety, discouragement and fear. These feelings are related to the outrageous gun violence we have experienced this summer, but also a broader issue I see: nihilism. A quick internet search defined nihilism as:

The doctrine that nothing actually exists or that existence or values are meaningless.

Relentless negativity or cynicism suggesting an absence of values or beliefs.

Political belief or action that advocates or commits violence or terrorism without discernible constructive goals. 

- The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

Where do I see nihilism at work? In the thoughts and actions of young men, aged 18-22, who perpetrate mass shootings with weapons of war. A Bible study at a historical Black church in Charleston, Hispanic shoppers in El Paso, African Americans at a grocery store in Buffalo, students at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood at a parade on the 4th of July. Sometimes these attacks are motivated by racist hate. Sometimes they are random. For me at least, they all reveal a lack of value for human existence. 

I also see nihilism at work in the response of leaders to these tragedies. Rather than ask questions like, “What is causing this devaluing of human life?” Or “Why is it so easy for these young men to access these weapons?” I hear responses like, “Laws won’t change this.” “There’s nothing we can do.” “It’s time to move on.” Literally someone said that last line on the same day as the shooting at the parade where at least six people were killed and thirty injured. No, it is not time to move on. It’s time to confront the forces that compel us to accept things as they are and not do anything about it- because nothing ever changes anyway. Too often we associate confrontation with violence. Let me suggest “a more excellent way,”: P-E-A-C-E.

“I will lie down and fall asleep in peace because you alone, Lord, let me live in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

I’ve lived far too long with people who hate peace. I’m for peace, but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120:6-7).

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27). 

What is missing in our world of violence and despair is any sense of peace. Places where people gather together for community: houses of worship, grocery stores, schools, parades, public places, are often unsafe because of the ever-present possibility of danger. And personally I am not made to feel at peace by more and more people openly carrying weapons. Others may resign themselves to the inevitability of this way of life- since ultimately it doesn’t matter and we can’t change it. No; we can do better. We do not have to live like this.

Last Sunday in my sermon I shared the story of Jesus sending out dozens of new disciples into neighboring towns to do ministry. Among his instructions were these words: “Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person. If not, your blessing will return to you” (Luke 10:5-6). The first gift persons of faith offer to others is the gift of God’s peace. Peace is not an informal way of greeting a new acquaintance. It’s an invitation to a new way of living. If peace is accepted, it multiplies; if it is rejected, it returns to be shared with someone else. The sharing of peace is the first step in transformation in the lives of individuals and communities.

So I invite all of us to put into practice this work of peace making. Meet new people with the goal of creating peaceful connections. Advocate for changes in our communities that allow for peace to be shared. Hold leaders accountable to creating a more peaceful society. Do not accept violence and fear as inevitable. Confront them with peace. 

“If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people” (Romans 12:18).