As we all know, the seeming deluge of violence and war around the world has made it difficult to properly address any once incident with proper substance. Every time I made a start on this essay, yet another tragic, devastating act would cause our world to erupt – and each statement or call to action would be pre-empted by yet another.
Statements by groups like RFPUSA are important. The ensuing actions are perhaps even more so, for they signal how we will respond as people committed to the work of building peace.
Indeed, events like those in Paris, Brussels, Orlando, Nice, Chicago, Falcon Heights, Baton Rouge and Dallas and so many other places in the US and around the world challenge not just how we will respond but who each of us is as a person. For in seeing and witnessing the human capacity to hurt one another, we arrive at the door of our own humanity, and we see what is in our own hearts.
The pull to violence is addictive. Lust for power and domination has stalked human history like a hungry demon. Even the sacred desire for justice is all too easily diverted into a pattern of retribution in which each act of violent evil becomes the basis for another. There is an irrational belief that each act of retribution will somehow be the final blow that will cause the other wither away or kneel in submission. We know what actually happens: a growing rage and blinding fear are simply fanned back and forth until it spills over into larger and larger numbers of people.
The work for peace can seem like a naïve idealism in the face of wars like the ones in Iraq and Syria, or the heart-breaking conflict in Israel-Palestine or in the struggle to overcome terrorism around the world. But in reality, the work for peace is nothing other than the struggle to live as people of dignity, values and honor, precisely in the midst of the forces that threaten to make violence and rage the way of the world.
The decision to work for peace is, of course, up to us, particularly those of us who uphold it as a sacred value and calling for human beings. We can lose heart based on the stream of horrors and the voices that call only for more bloodshed, but in so doing, we must remember that we would be, first and foremost, walking away from ourselves, our own lives and sacred commitments in who we are in the deepest wells of our humanity. As strong as the pull to violence is, more powerful than that is an abiding inability to allow violence and injustice to go unabated.
The great lives that have inspired each of us committed to the highest values we cherish have, without exception, faced enormously forbidding odds, whether to transform their own reckless cultures or to face the vicious realities of war and oppressively dominating power. This is precisely where people committed to peace will always be found—and this is where they are most needed, lest everything be left to the cycle of retribution.
No nation or culture, including my own United States, is ever immune to any of these forces or risks, and American foreign policy is as much a peace concern as any act of terrorism. Criminal justice reform is an urgent need for both citizens and law enforcement. Relationships among the religions must replace utterances of intolerance and fear regarding those of different faiths. We have work to do, which is a good reminder that peace remains a goal and a task, both of which will last as long as human life lasts, our own or humanity itself.
Religions for Peace USA is one way that people of peace have come together to keep the lights for peace and transformation shining. We too share a deep awareness that many places in the world are not what they should be. Too many suffer unjustly and have their lives, dignity and freedom continually assaulted.
While the work to do something about this is hard, and the price high, the way of peace-building is, at its essence, the very project of being human. Nothing less is worthy of us, nor we of it.
Every week, at the grassroots level, we take heart as we see ordinary people in ordinary communities coming together across the very lines that divide the world. The truth of the matter is that the work for peace is alive and well among those with the courage and conviction to live life not in the name of their highest values but out of the heart of them. When that happens, surely the powers of violence and war shudder, because there is yet hope for the human endeavor. While violence and war do not and will not immdieatly wither away at the sight of this, their power ebbs.
This is how great things have always been accomplished: by ordinary people living out who they are and remaining steadfast in their highest values, even when—exactly when—the world needs them most.
Executive Director Robert Montgomery