From Sept. 14, 2017
More thoughts that come out of Hurricane Irma.
I’ve long identified myself, theologically, as closer to the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition than anything else. And what most people associate with that tradition is the peace stand, or peace theology. Now, I don’t think all that much about theology these days, at least not in the formal sense, but it still permeates a lot of what I do. And the peace stand is crucial to this.
So, what does it mean? Does it mean non-violence? Does it just mean not going to war? Those are, in a sense, distorted versions of what it really means, by which I mean, very small slivers of what peace is really about.
First, peace and justice are words that are two sides of the same coin. You don’t get one without the other. Nothing new with this – there are even “peace and justice” university programs. But what this means is that peace is almost always more about thinking ahead, about what comes before an event than the event itself.
Am I against guns? Not particularly. I’m against the lack of forethought and preparation that people engage in, that make a confrontation necessary. And that doesn’t just mean “don’t go to the sketchy part of town”. That means “what are the conditions that people live in that make confrontation seem to be the only option.” There is no weakness here, there is forethought.
Am I against helping people in need? Of course not, who would be? But the peace stand is one which asks, how can we make society a just place, so that those points of need become less and less frequent?
It means doing the non-glamorous work on the political committees, the social organizations, the places in which forethought happens.
Forethought doesn’t mean social engineering. It doesn’t mean fore-control. It means helping people to be able to make their optimal decisions in times of stress, rather than having those options curtailed.
So, we have hurricane Irma roll through, along with a tornado on my street (why don’t the tornadoes get names? I don’t know). We prepared in advance for the worst on my street, and so despite inconvenience, we’re ok. Others did not have these options, and in many cases it wasn’t just because they chose to disregard warnings (that’s the implicit message you get on public media a lot – people don’t take these things seriously and so the trouble they find themselves in is their own fault).
But as I noted in a previous post, a hurricane doesn’t so much cause problems as it uncovers them. And, what it uncovers is how far we still have to go in making a place in which peoples’ options for action are kept open rather than closed down.
Is all this really about peace? I think it is. Peace always means directing energy toward productive outcomes, and not just personally productive but generally productive. I miss this about not being in Canada – there is an ethos of “peace, order, and good government”, and that peace means at least trying to have infrastructure and services in place that allow people to retain their dignity. It is not perfect, by any means, and Canada has its hands dirty on the world stage in a number of ways. But the ethos is different from what I find in the US, which is governed by “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, much more individualistic virtues. Ironically, peace does a better job of supporting individualism by retaining the ability to choose from a range of options in situations of stress. But that’s another post.
So, I guess this is a shout-out for the heroes of peace. We honor those who respond in the moment of disaster – the first responders, the electrical people, the folks who put the world back in order. And we should honor them – that is hard work. But we should also honor those who do the less visible work, the work long before disaster hits, the ones who work for peace and justice, the ones who help those in times of stress to still have dignified and realistic options.