peace begins with justice begins with me

"Teach us the peace that comes through justice." Candle-lighting liturgy, Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ

"Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." Sy Miller and Jill Jackson

It feels deeply ironic to be talking about peace this second week of Advent. 

It's ironic every year, I guess. 

There's never a year without war somewhere on the planet. 

This year, however, aside from the wars already raging, there are tweets and threats and political palaverings that place peace at risk on practically every continent. 

If there's a spot without outright war at this minute, it seems like it's just a matter of time.

Olive wood nativity from Bethlehem, photo: me and my cell phone

Olive wood nativity from Bethlehem, photo: me and my cell phone

What do we do with the second week of Advent and its peace theme at a time like this?

First of all, I think we have to face this reality: 

True peace only comes through justice.

Peace without justice is simply oppression that we happen to be ignoring right now.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When we stop ignoring injustice, then we feel pain. 

And we don't like to feel pain. 

But if all of us, who have the privileged option of pretending that things are okay, would allow ourselves to experience just a fraction of the pain that victims of injustice suffer every day, then that pain might motivate us to be the change we want to see in the world.

It's a very common truth in the therapy world: pain is the great change-agent.  As long as we're feeling fine, we'll keep doing what we're doing.  Give us some pain, though, and we're pushing for change.

If the terrible realities so blatantly displayed before us right now (sexual abuse, racism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia) actually end up causing us some pain, which then motivates us to care for victims, to care for the sick and suffering, to become kinder and more compassionate, to end wars rather than start new ones--well, that would be some measure of justice in the world: justice and peace.

Justice and peace often begin with our own personal pain and motivation to do better, which ties right in to my second point:

Peace begins with me, right here and now.

We can't wait for someone to legislate peace from on high and let it trickle down.

We have to take responsibility for peace within our own circle of influence, and let peace rise like the tide. 

The powers that be, the powers that love the status quo with all its injustice and personal payouts to the mighty, those powers might dam up a river. 

They might build a wall. 

But they will never stop a rising tide.

And we can all be part of that tide of justice, one drop at a time in an ocean of mercy.

(And on the eve of elections in Alabama, where the choice for justice is facing voters, I just have to say it:  roll, tide, roll.)

The practical reality of bringing justice and peace, I have found, is that I must first create within myself a space for peace. 

I cannot fight for justice and peace unless I already possess it myself. 

The tide of peace has to rise in me first.

In my line of work, I am a witness to endless experiences of injustice.  Without some peace-space within myself, I will quickly begin to oppress others to deal with my own pain, which just births more injustice and un-peace into the world. Without that peace-space inside me, rage against injustice will burn me down in a heartbeat. 

For me, creating peace-space in myself means a contemplative practice, receiving the Love of God and the peace that passes understanding, receiving the life-breath of the Spirit for myself, before I can breathe it out to the rest of the world. 

A helpful read is How God Changes Your Brain, and here's a short introduction to contemplative prayerYoga is a huge part of my contemplative practice as well.

As I attend to my own peace-space, I'm able to extend justice and peace into the world. 

How peace flows out of each of us into the rest of the world will be highly individual.  We occupy our own finite spaces in the world, we have our own finite spheres of influence and interest. 

When we accept where we are, when we accept who we are, when we let ourselves see what we see, when we attend to what impacts us, then we'll naturally find the peace we're supposed to make and the justice we're supposed to do.  And if we all do that together, peace comes on earth.

Andy and I happened to be up at church on Saturday morning for a volunteer training session.  After the training session ended, I was talking with a friend and Andy went over to look at the "Giving Tree" where there was one last request from a child at a nearby elementary school. 

"Daniel is 5 years old and in kindergarten," the tag read.  "His teacher and the school counselor say that he has had a really hard year.  He wants a bike, like the other kids in his neighborhood.  Can anyone help out with this last-minute request?"

So Andy and I had a wonderful time on Saturday buying a bike (and a helmet, because I'm a mom) for Daniel.

How is does giving a kid a bike promote peace and justice? 

I don't know for sure, but my hope is that this child understands that he is equally valued in the world. 

I hope he knows that his voice matters just like everyone else's. 

I hope he knows that we care that he's had a hard year. 

I hope a bike brings joy and makes his life a tiny bit better. 

I hope that peace reigns in Daniel's 5-year-old world when he is respected and cared for, heard and responded to, on Christmas morning.  

I believe that every time we act with justice and mercy, we contribute a drop to the great rising tide of peace, a peace that is "too big" for a single person to accomplish, but completely within the reach of every one of us together, as we each "Do small things with great love." (Mother Theresa)

Peace comes in every place where every person is perfectly loved and safe and chosen, a precious part of the whole, on earth as it is in heaven.  And that is the work of justice that each of us has in our  hands today.  We can make that kind of justice and peace come right where we are, every minute, always.

When we light the peace candle in the Advent wreath this week, we're also lighting the justice candle. 

When we commit ourselves to be lovers of peace, we're committing ourselves to be lovers of justice. 

I wish that this Advent season, I could feel all comfy, safe, and warm and pretend that peace is a present reality.  Instead, I'm disturbed and uncomfortable, losing my faith in political and religious leaders to do the right thing.  In this particular season of Advent, instead of waiting in hope, it feels like we're just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But when I let myself center down and breathe, here is what I know for sure.

I have faith in YOU.

I have faith in ME.

I have faith in the Love that flows through us and never lets us go.

We are the Branches of the Vine. 

We have the mind of Christ.

We are the light of the world.

We will do justice, we will love mercy, we will walk humbly.

We will be the change we want to see in this world, you and me.

Love will light the way for us, to justice and to peace.

And so we light the candle of peace today, and the darkness will never overcome it.

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