This week The Commons observed Peace Sunday for the first time. Peace Sunday is something our wider tribe of Mennonites observe the Sunday before Remembrance Day. It is a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) initiative that seeks to give space for stories and ideas of peace that are pursued through active nonviolence. The slogan is “To remember, is to work for peace.”
As a community that is very new to the Peace Church tradition this time of year can be confusing and hard for us. We don’t have a life time of stories and teachings about nonviolence to draw upon. Yes we value peace and non violence but we also value safety. Many of us work in the for social service agencies that absolutely need to partner with Police to keep their community members safe. Some of us have friends and family who are in the military or who are veterans. These are people we love and respect. I’m with Johnny Cash in the notion that we need to “Support the Troops but not the War.” So at The Commons we really try not to make assumptions when we talk about peacemaking. I don’t really know what Peace Sunday looks like at other “Peace Churches” but here is what it looked like at The Commons.
We begun by handing out our peace buttons. We have been doing this for a couple weeks now and have been telling our Commoners that some people like to wear it as a compliment to their poppy and some like to wear it as an alternative to the poppy. We think both are valid and that it is a good conversation starter either way.
A MINUTE OF SILENCE:
We talked about valuing soldiers sacrifice and conviction to lay down their lives for what they believe in whether we agree or not with their actions. We stood and observed a minute of silence together in remembrance of the sacrifice given by soldiers both past and present.
We acknowledged that in our wider society that we have lots of opportunities to hear these soldiers stories and to honour their sacrifice in remembrance day services and school assemblies across our city, but that we don’t have a lot of places to think about a different way to bring about peace. A non violent way to work for peace. We said that today we are going to take the time on Peace Sunday to explore nonviolent peacemaking.
A STORY FROM A FORMER SOLDIER:
We then watched a video (see above) of Joshua Casteel’s retelling the events that led this solider to applying to be a “Contentious Objector.” It is the story of a soldier having a conversation with a terrorist about Jesus’ proclamation of “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” We used this story because it is coming from a solider. His journey into peacemaking has a weight and credibility that most of us (for whom war is just a theoretical issue) could never have.
Adam Getty led us through a Breath Prayer. He explained that violence is most often connected with fear. He taught us to pray “Perfect Love, casts out all fear.” As we inhaled we were instructed to pray “Perfect Love.” As we exhaled we prayed “Casts out all fear.” As we repeat the breath prayer to the rhythm over our own breathing we start to absorb the words and open our selves up to the Holy Spirit to speak into our every day lives. We were encouraged to practice this prayer over the next week as a way to not give into fear.
Nick Schuurman led us in a round of peace songs. We sang Sunday Bloody Sunday, by U2. Because we had already had been listening to the story of Joshua Casteel and practiced our Breath Prayer there was a different spirit to our songs. Often music is used to introduce a theme and the words are soft, especially for a catchy and familiar tune, but we had already jumped into the theme of peace so their was a different weight to this song. As we sang the following words really jumped out “When fact is fiction and TV reality, And today the millions cry, We eat and drink while tomorrow they die, Sunday Bloody Sunday…” For many of us the whole conversation of war, violence, and even peacemaking is just something we see from afar on TV or read about and we need to not let our sanitized media consumption not dull us to the realities and horrors of violence and war that need a real response that goes beyond the theoretical of arm chair activism.
We also sang “Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy” an old folk hymn by Joseph Hart written in 1759 and “We Will Lay Our Burdens Down” by John Bell. I could imagine verse 1 from Come Ye Sinners being especially meaningful for anyone who has suffered through war.
Come ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and pow’r.
Instead of someone speaking or teaching about peace we decided that we needed to go back to basics, Peacemaking 101 if you will. We needed to think of peacemaking through the lens of Jesus. To do this we read the story of Jesus calming the storm through the spiritual practice of Lectio Divinia. In Lectio you don’t read dead words on a page you allow living words to read you. What you hear may not be the definitive reading or meaning of the passage for all time but it is a way of reading scripture that leaves room for the Holy Spirit to speak into our lives in the moment. Here is the story we read:
“That day when evening came, [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”” –Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)
We listened to this passage 4 times:
- The first time we listened for a word or phrase that stood out.
- The second time we asked ourselves:
“What might God be saying to us in that word or phrase?
“Are we hearing anything related to the theme of peace?”
- The third reading we tried to place ourselves into the shoes of the disciples and really pay attention to the words of Jesus:
“Let us go over to the other side.”
“Quiet! Be still!”
“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
- The last reading we sat in silence and just rested in the words for a couple minutes.
At first glance this story may not seem to be about peacemaking but in our conversations we began to talk about this Jesus that has the power to control the seemingly uncontrollable. We often think that war and violence are just something that happens, something beyond all control, just like we can’t control the weather. But, if Jesus has the power to change something as unchangeable as the weather then perhaps we should trust that Jesus also has the power to change the way we work for peace in our world. We need to listen carefully to this Jesus that we claim to follow when he is perplexed and asks us “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
There is that “Fear” word again. I guess we need to start working on that.
Inhale: “Perfect Love.”
Exhale: “Casts out all fear.”
Inhale: “Perfect Love.”
Exhale: “Casts out all fear.” …
Keep breathing words of peace!