Today we’re celebrating international peace day. We brought flags for the nations we want to know peace. We want peace to prevail on earth. We bring our whole and broken selves to this place hoping to make the world a peaceful place.
But I have a question: What is Peace? Is it the cessation of war? Is it inner peace? What is it we’re asking for?
Do we want every person on the planet have a sense of inner peace? Is it everyone choosing Non-Violence? Is it lack of turmoil between people, between nations? Or are we simply asking for solutions to problems that don’t come down to war?
What does peace look like? Does it look like everyone keeping to themselves – staying out of other people’s business? Is it caring for those who are sick and poor and hungry? Does it mean sharing resources across international boundaries? What does your utopia look like? —
I bet some of you are imagining tranquil waters, surrounded by natural settings where people walk around being kind and generous with each other. Tending the earth and to each other’s needs. This kind of utopia has been the dream of many a commune.
There certainly is an appeal to this ideal, but I think it lacks a foundation in the reality of human interaction. People aren’t always able to be calm and kind – when our needs don’t align with other people’s needs we get into conflict. We don’t need to be violent in conflict, however.
“But”, many would say, “people are inherently violent, there’s no point in trying to change that.” The reading I shared reminded us that we are not inherently violent as human beings. We are only aggressive and violent when put in certain circumstances. We, like most animals, act with aggression and violence out of fear. When we are scared of losing something vital to survival, scared of starving to death, or see threats to those we care about – that’s when violence comes out.
We see violence everywhere because we are steeped in it. We assume people are violent because we are witness to violence – in person, on the news, in our entertainment, basically everywhere we look. The citizens of the United States have become acclimated to violence, and so we have started to accept it as inevitable.
But work on Non-Violence proves that people, nations and countries can solve conflicts without resorting to violence and war. The United States Government and many of its citizens are living in fear, and are resorting to violent action – no longer as a defense, but now as an offence. We are so scared of being attacked that we have taken to deploying drones to take out “potential threats” – with the side effect of ending too many innocent lives.
The reading cited that the US has been a part of 150 military conflicts worldwide since 1850, but that article was written in 1988, 27 years ago. How many more have we been a part of in the last 27 years? How many innocent lives have been lost in the name of freedom? We’ve decided that innocent lives need to be sacrificed in the name of peace and freedom.
I am not willing to sacrifice innocent lives for freedom. Are you? What about not-so-innocent lives? Do you support the death penalty? Would you condone the killing of a violent dictator? If you had a time machine would you have gone back in time and kill Hitler before the holocaust could happen? Where is your dividing line between acceptable loss and unacceptable sacrifice?
What ARE you willing to sacrifice for peace? I don’t support the military industrial complex, and yet I am not in the street standing in front of the tanks. I am not striding through the capitol building standing up against those who support force. How close does war need to come to my life for me to be willing to sacrifice my comfort? We’ve been told so many times that war is for the greater good that we have started to believe it.
Have any of you seen the movie Serenity? Well if you haven’t, it’s great, and I am going to majorly spoil it for you. Sorry.
In this futuristic space western (yes, space western), a misfit band of space robbers – the crew of the spaceship Serenity – come up against the Alliance – an intergalactic government – who have sent a hitman to kill one of their number, a sixteen year old psychic.
This hitman is willing to sacrifice his own life, and the lives of many innocent people for the sake of “a better world.” That he believes will come about only when everyone is under the protection and control of the Alliance. Unfortunately this 16 year old girl knows a secret that the Alliance wants to stifle, so he is on a mission to kill her.
The crew of Serenity aren’t willing to sacrifice her life for the greater good, so they defy the Alliance by seeking out the secret.
The big, life changing secret is that the Alliance – in an effort to create a peaceful world – has drugged an entire planet with a peace drug. The unintended side effects of this drug? Most of the population is so peaceful they have no motivation to live, so they lay down where they are and, peacefully, die. A small fraction of the population become violent cannibals who roam the universe senselessly killing people.
If this is the better world, the peaceful world, the crew of Serenity know they don’t want to be a part of it. The hitman, when he finds out, can no longer believe the Alliance is the way to a better world, and gives up his quest to destroy the girl.
He was willing to sacrifice hundreds of innocent lives for a peaceful world. He expected that he himself – as a killer – would not be welcome in this better world he was building, and yet he was willing to sacrifice his place in the peaceful future to violently reach the goal. But when the people he trusted to make the better world weren’t willing to publically accept their own role in the destruction of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives – that was more than he was willing to sacrifice.
Who are we willing to sacrifice for peace? Where do you drawn your line? Your own life? Do you drawn the line at a limited number of “evil” people? What about people who sign up for military service willingly risking their lives? How about some innocent men, women and children? Would you be willing to sacrifice an entire planet full of people?
What are you willing to sacrifice for peace? Are you willing to give up your autonomy? As a nation, the United Sates Government has asked us to sacrifice our privacy for peace, and most of us haven’t even noticed much of a difference. Of course when we say peace in this context we really mean safety. In order to have peace people need to have a certain level of safety. Remember that it’s fear that makes us act out with violence. But we have taken safety to new extremes.
We as human beings need social contracts to facilitate how we are together, but we have become obsessed with making laws for everything. There are some neighborhood associations that regulate the color of the homes and the appropriate length of the grass!
When a black teenager is tackled by 6 police officers for j-walking, something is wrong. When a popular, black, sports celebrity is violently arrested for standing in front of a hotel, something is wrong. When a black woman is committed to a mental hospital for 8 days because the white police officers don’t believe she owns her expensive car, or that she knows President Barak Obama, something is wrong. When BLACK lives are being taken by police all across the country, even in our own backyards, in the name of safety, SOMETHING’S WRONG. We have become so obsessed with safety in the guise of peace that we have become scared of our own citizens.
If you are willing to give up your comfort to save the lives of the millions of innocent people who are “casualties of war,” are you willing to give up your comfort for the safety of your neighbors? Do you stand with #BlackLivesMatter even though you’re the only one on your block? Do you put up a blacklivesmatter sign, even if it means people will tear it down? Do you put it back up again? Are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of black lives? It is the least we can do as UUs, the very least we can do.
So, what do you think peace looks like? What are YOU willing to sacrifice for peace? Would you house a refugee, break the law, or run for office in the name of peace?
Are you willing to sacrifice your inner peace for peace in the world?
Because that may just be what it takes.
Sara Goodman, Consulting Minister
UU Congregation of Rock Valley, Rockton, IL
September 20, 2015
© 2015 Sara Goodman. All Rights Reserved.