Habits of peace, habits of violence
Grace and Truth: A word from pastorsby Sara Dick
While substitute teaching at a middle school recently, I noticed a leather coaster with a quote from Aristotle on it: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." Might the same be true of peacemaking? And of violence?
I can easily think of my own "bad" habits—the ones that do violence to myself, my friends or my community: talking before thinking, losing patience, muttering unkind words to people who don't drive like I think they should, and there are many more. Perhaps you can think of your own habits of violence.
As a society, we are so well-schooled in habits of violence that we often don't notice them: We're caught up in consuming goods made with exploited labor. We put toxic chemicals into our bodies and our land. We go through our days with attitudes of entitlement, apathy or aggression. We allow racism, sexism, child abuse and poverty to continue unchallenged.
Warmaking is an intentional cultivation of violence that wounds not only the bodies but also the souls of soldiers and officers. Psychologists describe some war veterans as suffering from "moral injury" when they witness or commit acts of violence.
In light of these deeply rooted habits of violence, it's a relief to read Isaiah 2:
Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." ... 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.
God's teaching will someday bring about the transformation of people and our tools. What a glorious future to look forward to!
And Jesus comes along proclaiming this same peaceable kingdom. At the beginning of his ministry in the Gospel of Matthew, he says,
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. ... Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We can't help but wonder, How is this possible? We may imagine we're to accomplish this love of our enemies through great personal effort—as we're expected to accomplish other tasks in our lives. This is discouraging.
Such self-sufficiency in loving our enemies is impossible since we are all broken and sinful people. We are constantly falling off the wagon of recovery from our own habits of violence. But Jesus' command to love perfectly is just the start of his teaching.
Later in his ministry, things get more and more difficult for him and his disciples. As he sees that his death is coming near, Jesus tries to boil it all down for his friends. In all four Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples, Do this: eat this bread, drink this wine, wash each other's feet. Make this a habit. Let it become part of who you are. Let it become a habit of peace for you.
Sharing bread and cup and washing feet are not the only habits of peace Jesus advises. But they are defining habits; they show peace as the will of God and the heart of Jesus’ gospel.
To revise Aristotle's quote, we might say, "We are what we repeatedly do. Peace, then, is not an act but a habit."
Fortunately, I can think of a few of my peaceful habits, too: riding my bike to get around town, showing kindness to neighbor kids who stop to feed my chickens, taking time to pray.
What are your peaceful habits? The new book Seasoned with Peace (Mennonite Press, Inc.) gives daily suggestions for prayers and activities that could become habits of peace, too.
And no matter how well-trained we are in the habits of violence—personally, locally, nationally or globally—we can confess our brokenness, our complicity, our apathy, and try again at cultivating habits of peace.
Sara Dick is associate pastor at Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan.
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