Think Piece: Think Peace

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Released 23 November 2011

I recently had the privilege of attending ‘Let the Bells of Peace Ring!’ a universal Peace Day interfaith gathering commemorating those who were injured and killed in the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb of 1945. This event, held at the United Nation Church Centre, bought together individuals from all different faiths and religions in a reflective, somber yet optimistic service. 

On August 6th and August 9th, 1945 The United States released two separate atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An estimated 150,000 - 246,000 individuals lost their lives - thousands instantly and thousands more through the severe consequences of radiation exposure.

The Peace Day gathering sought to remember and honor those who were lost. Along with messages from Tak Furumoto (President, NY Hiroshima-kai), Takeshi Tamaguchi (President, NY Batten-kai) and Katsuo Takeda (Board Member, Japanese American Association of New York) Tomiko Morimoto West, a survivor of Hiroshima shared her story and grief at the loss of family members, friends, her home and lifestyle. As I listened to her heart-wrenching story I was surprised by the optimism she carried with her.  Despite the horrific events she witnessed there was no call for justice; there was no demand for the United States to pay for their actions. Amidst the mourning, there was a plea for one thing: peace. 

Why war?

People spend years studying this very question. There are thousands of books, journal articles, psychological studies and assessments, and roughly 160 million results on Google, attempting to shed light on the factors that cause nations and consequently their people, to enter war. Power, greed, oppression, conflict and discrimination; all these elements of the human condition play a role in War. The ten largest wars, according to death tolls, have killed 236,000,000 people. The first Liberian Civil War led to the death of 200,000 Liberians; 50,000 of those individuals were children. Throughout 50 countries 300,000 children have been exploited as child soldiers. Women and girls are violated as sexual violence is used as a tactic of war. War strips people of their human rights, their dignity, disrupts education and peoples’ livelihood and it throws a nation into poverty. War brings suffering in the most acute form. It exemplifies hate, intolerance and seemingly ‘justifies’ the most atrocious acts. War is and always will be devastating. 

As a Christian, I have been pondering how my faith should influence my response to war. Each faith tradition has at its core, values of compassion, kindness and solidarity. Faith provides a moral compass and inspires individuals to engage in actions of peace. Religious and spiritual beliefs provide a framework for peace and promote action. So, as a 22-year-old Christian living in a relatively peaceful country, how can my actions help nurture a culture of peace? 

At risk of being labeled as “one of those Jesus lovin’ hippies”, I have decided that the outworking of love can influence our response to war and conflict. Perhaps I am being optimistic. Maybe I am oversimplifying the situation. But if love is what prompted God to send Jesus to earth and serve as an atoning sacrifice; if love is what conquered sin and gave humanity freedom, then maybe “…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44) is something worth looking into. 

I recently lead a Sunday school class on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). We spoke about God’s commandment, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10: 27). More specifically, we spoke about Agape love - the love Jesus is referring to when he tells the Pharisee to, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Agape love can be a difficult concept for humanity to grasp. It goes against the grain of our culture. It is compassion, respect, kindness, sacrificial and unconditional. My Christian responsibility is to love others in the same way Christ first loved me.

God’s very being - the core of his character- is love. Romans 5:8 (NIV) tells us that ‘…God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Jesus’s death on the cross was the ultimate expression of agape love; unmerited, unchanging and sacrificial love. Agape love is more than feelings and words. It is how we act towards others. Agape love is an attitude and an act of the will to do the best by someone and for them regardless of our emotional or lack of emotional response. 

As I was discussing agape love with the Sunday school, we came across this question: how can we love people who are different to us? How do we embrace the God-given mandate to love people without discrimination? I was reminded of a short film produced by Pixar. This story follows two characters, Day and Night. These characters encompass all the elements that are unique to their namesake. Day enjoys sunshine, butterflies and joggers. Night enjoys fireworks, the moon and stars. Day and Night unexpectedly bump into each other and are less than thrilled at the discovery of another personality in their story. They are apprehensive, jealous and fearful. They begin to argue and fight until they realize each has something unique they can offer the other. Day can learn from Night and vice versa.  The short film is suitably completed with a quote from Dr Wayne Dyre: “… they’re loaded with prejudices not based upon anything in reality but based on if something is new I reject it immediately because it is frightening to me.  What they do instead is just stay with the familiar. You know, to me the most beautiful things in all the universe are the most mysterious.”

We all form prejudices and unhealthy stereotypes. We are often influenced by the fear that is associated with the unknown. The challenge is to look past our predetermined assumptions about people and recognize that every person is created in the image of God. Every person should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their religious or cultural affiliations. If we want to cultivate peace then we have to create attitudes of peace in our own lives. This means we embrace the principles of love as we see Jesus living in the New Testament. When the people of God love others, we see them as God intended us to see them; without discrimination and prejudice, we are able to look past differences and encourage a culture of peace within our own lives. We create a culture of peace within our lives by embracing the teachings of Jesus, specifically that of agape love. 

As a young Christian living in a relatively peaceful nation, I can ensure that my faith is at the core of my actions towards others. I can try my best to show agape love. I can challenge my current understanding of other faiths by interacting with those who practice Buddhism or Islam and trust that when the unknown raises fear or prejudice in those around me, I can embrace agape love and encourage understanding. 

How you can embrace your faith and the ways in which it encourages inclusiveness, love and ultimately, peace? 

Amanda Merrett

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