Reflections on Peace

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1. Peace is more than the absence of war

8 September 2014

I’m a peace activist. It isn’t anything that I expected to happen but has become a key part of working for harmony between people of different religions. Religion has a bad name as the cause of wars and conflicts, and some warlike history, yet at its heart seeks to bring us into peace with God and ourselves, and then with our neighbours. So Christians should not be starting wars. However, there are wars and Christians fight in them. I learnt a few years ago that some Western weaponry has Bible verses written on it. It’s bad enough knowing that scripture is implicated in the deaths of people around the world, often innocent, but also that weapons wielded by soldiers are playing out some kind of spiritual battle against an evil foe. This may be enough to turn any of us into a peace campaigner!

But is peace just the absence of war, something that does not exist in its own right? Consider those weapons again, even if we’re not using them ourselves they will be exported so a violent regime can use them. Or if they are not being used actively but as a threat, a deterrent, is that peaceful? Peace activism forces us to look at ourselves, our own impulses and urges. If we want to stand against conflict and wars in far-flung places we need to begin with ourselves.

My colleagues and I are sharing reflections on peace this week in the run-up to a London peace conference, and activities linked to International Day of Peace – Sunday 21 September. We’re going to be asking ‘what does peace look like?’ in different traditions – Jewish, Muslim and Quaker. Peace be with you.

Listen online here (after 30 minutes)

2. Shalom

9 September 2014

This week we’re looking at peace. Today our focus is on the roots of peace in the Jewish religion as my colleague Steve Miller from the Faith-based Regeneration Network shares with us.

Steve - There are many claimants for the most important Jewish concept – concepts like tzedakah (charity), or justice are contenders, as is the imperative to study – because study leads to action.  But the Rabbis who formulated our tradition in the Talmud said this, “The whole of Jewish teachings (Torah) is for the purpose of promoting shalom, as it is written (in the Book of Proverbs) ‘all of its paths are shalom’”.  As Julian has said, peace is not just an absence of conflict, but if that is correct, then what is it?  Many of our listeners will know that ‘Shalom’ doesn’t just mean ‘Peace’.  The real meaning of ‘shalom’ is something more like ‘wholeness’ or ‘completeness’.  Making something whole requires work; it is hard and must involve us all.  Our tradition teaches us to ‘love peace and pursue it’ and this must be within oneself, with one’s neighbours, in the community and, ultimately, on earth – but without excluding any of them. 

Julian – As Christians, I hope that we are inheritors of this tradition, of seeking peace and wholeness. This, indeed, is the deeper meaning of our custom of sharing the Peace with each other in church, not just a ritual of hand-shaking but inviting each other into God’s peace and to being peaceful with each other.

Listen online here (after 30 minutes) 

3. A Muslim View of Peace

10 Spetember 2014

One of the things that I have been privileged to share in over the last few years, working for good inter faith relations, has been the Islamic focus on peace. We see a similar focus on peace-building in Islam. Today we hear from my colleague Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi a member of a European group of religious leaders.

Ali – As we live in an increasingly politicized world marked by conflict and fear, the world of religion is used as a tool to justify evils. It therefore becomes increasingly important for people of faith to promote peace as an ideal.

The terms ‘Shalom’ and ‘Salaam’, the Muslim greeting, both came from the same Greek word meaning divine peace, harmony and wholeness. By wholeness, it is suggested both physical and spiritual health and wellbeing, whether on a personal level or a social level. This is why an ideal society in Islam would be referred to as ‘dar us Salaam’, where peace and justice would allow for the removal of fear and terror, and in turn it would facilitate human progression and perfection.

Peace is therefore active and can only be achieved when humanity as a whole come to accept one another, to go forth into the kingdom of God.

Julian – Peace is a unifying theme for us. If we are committed to peace we will naturally work together, including at difficult times. Perhaps peace works best across our differences, as we live out in our different traditions the great imperative to be reconcilers.

Listen online here. (after 30 minutes)

4. A Quaker View of Peace

11 September 2014

The Quakers have a reputation in the Christian tradition for being totally committed to peace, pacifism in fact, in a way that other denominations are not. Today we hear from my Quaker colleague, Bessie White.

Bessie - At this time of so much active conflict in the world, it is good to reflect on peace and how we can achieve it.

Peace is not ‘passive’. It is active engagement. Conflict can lead to violence.  However it can also release creative energy and bring new ideas.  We must seek to channel that energy to build a world where all can flourish.  We need to listen with love to the voices of the poor and behind the bluster of those who have more than they need.

Our faith can help us in our vision.  Quakers see and reach out to that of God in everyone.  That is why most Quakers cannot take up arms.  We hope that by sharing the world’s resources fairly, listening to others, searching out whatever in our own life may contain the seeds of war, we may live ‘in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars’.

Julian – how can we fight another person if we see God in them? And that is where wars start, once we dehumanise our enemies it becomes easier to commit atrocities against them, in fact it is the only way of doing so. Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 is difficult enough anyway. What if he was asking – ‘did you see me on the battlefield?’

Listen online here. (after 30 minutes)

5. Sharing Peace

12 September 2014

One of the initiatives I was involved in recently gathered people of different religions together to pray for peace in the Middle East. Reflecting then on possible religious dimensions to conflict, I asked these questions:

Who listens to and shares our feelings of pain, grief, disbelief, horror and fear at times of conflict? Is it God where everything comes together? God who is for everyone, not taking sides, who loves human beings and hates war. We bring God into wars, when God would rather be left out of it. Except to comfort the wounded and urge combatants towards mercy, even better if they use God’s Words to speak against war, realising the ancient prophetic vision of swords being turned into ploughshares, or bombs into bread.

In prayer we listen to each other, share our pain and ask for reconciliation, cessation of hostilities and eventually peace. Perhaps we can’t stop hostilities in Syria, Israel, Iraq or Gaza, but we can stand together as peaceful people saying – ‘We don’t want this, what is war good for?’ And reflecting on a theme in our ‘Abrahamic’ scriptures, is God saying to us, ‘I want you to do something about it’.

God of Peace and Love,

We acknowledge wars and violence come from us, even those of us who are not fighting are implicated, when we harbour our own violent thoughts.

Refresh us with your perspective across our shared traditions – that we are made in your image, that you have put our neighbours, whoever they are, alongside us so that we can love them, not fight them, and that we are not on the right path unless we want good things for our sisters and brothers.

Guard us against demonising the other. Help us to look with mercy on all who fight or are on the receiving ends of attacks. Remind us that, like you, we cannot rejoice in the death of anyone. nger, and the hatred that we struggle with. Help us to consider your grief as your children fight, sometimes in the name of religion, targeting those who are different.

In your mercy hear our prayer,

Amens

Listen online here. (after 30 minutes)

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