I am on sabbatical right now, with a stack of books, studying peace with a peace educator. When I tell people I am studying peace on my sabbatical, I get a strange look and am asked why or how one studies peace? That's actually a good question, and one that makes me a little sad.
In our culture, studying martial arts and war and all manner of types of fighting and shooting is basically understood. We get a lot of exposure to training for war and violence. But studying peace? What is that?
The word "peace," from a Christian theological standpoint, begins with the Hebrew word "shalom," which literally means fullness and well-being.
As a theological dictionary puts it, peace is "more than the lack of war and points to full societal and personal well being, coupled with righteousness."
In that sense, peace is when all have enough and are treated justly and with respect.
Studying peace (shalom) is, then, to consider in-depth not just what peace is, but ways in which to bring about both personal and communal shalom.
Another way to say it is that studying peace is considering and exploring alternatives to violence in the world, including the violence of war, fighting, injustice, oppression, exploitation and poverty.
Peace is about changing the way we feel about those we are taught to hate as "others" or enemies, and to care about one another.
The Bible sets out the ultimate goal of peace in Isaiah 2 (some of my all-time favorite verses): God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more "They shall learn war no more."
Peace is that for sure. Jesus commands us to love everyone, even our enemy and put this into action, including stopping his disciples from violence. Jesus told Peter to put up his sword. Martin Luther King noted poignantly that "That through the vista of time a voice still cries out to every potential Peter. 'Put up your sword!' The shores of history are white with the bleached bones of nations and communities that failed to follow this command."
Peace educator and advocate Colman McCarthy sums up what peace students look for in peace education. He writes:
"The students I've been with these 20 years are looking for a world where it becomes a little easier to love and a lot harder to hate, where learning non-violence means that we dedicate our hearts, minds, time and money to a commitment that the force of love, the force of truth, the force of justice and the force of organized resistance to corrupt power are seen as sane, and the forces of fists, guns, armies and bombs insane."
Mr. McCarthy goes on to note that "unless we teach our children peace, someone else will teach them violence."
And if you do not think this is a smart thing, no less a "brainiac" than Albert Einstein wrote: "I would teach peace rather than war; love rather than hate."
And Mahatma Gandhi, a peacemaker if there ever was one, agreed. He said, "If we are to reach real peace in the world then we shall have to begin with the children. And if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won't have to struggle, we won't have to pass fruitless resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace."
Jesus, the Prince of Peace we espouse to follow, tells us in the Beatitudes, that blessed are the peacemakers.
So my sabbatical is about working to try and become a better peacemaker.
I hope to gather peace ideas for personal, community work and most especially for youth and education ministries.
But, I also will be trying to learn ideas that help put into action, and take steps toward, a day when we "beat . . . swords into plowshares, and . . . spears into pruning hooks; [a day when] nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
Any skepticism that this is possible is diminished by the fact that the God is love, and that love is non-violent. That makes non-violence the very force of God. And we have seen that the power of non-violence, of love, when unleashed by Jesus, Gandhi and Dr. King has no match. It is the greatest power in the world. It's the power of peace.
The Rev. Scott Elliott is the pastor at Riviera United Church of Christ in Palm Bay. Visit Riviera UCC's website at rivieraucc.org.