Waging Peace

If we truly want to wage peace, we have to be very aware of when we are tempted to cling to a scarcity mentality, when we become afraid that there isn’t going to be enough, or that we are losing our place. This is when we become vulnerable to doing harm to others. This fear can happen in our homes, our marriages, our families, workplaces, school, and here at church. And when we become aware of our own vulnerability, then we begin to build the inner personal strength to wage for peace.

This service was offered to the Unitarian Church of Quincy and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of La Crosse in December 2018.

Wisdom Story

Planting Peace by Megan McKenna

“There was a woman who wanted peace in the world and peace in her heart and all sorts of good things, but she was very frustrated. The world seemed to be falling apart. She would read the newspapers and get depressed. One day she decided to go shopping, and she went into a mall and picked a store at random. She walked in and was surprised to see Jesus behind the counter. She knew it was Jesus because he looked just like the pictures she’d seen on holy cards and devotional pictures. She looked again and again at him, and finally she got up enough nerve and asked, ‘Excuse me, are you Jesus?’ ‘I am.’ ‘Do you work here?’ ‘No,’ Jesus said, ‘I own the store.’ ‘Oh, what do you sell in here?’ ‘Oh, just about anything!’ ‘Anything?’ ‘Yeah, anything you want. What do you want?’ She said, ‘I don’t know.’ Well,’ Jesus said, ‘feel free, walk up and down the aisles, make a list, see what it is that you want, and then come back and we’ll see what we can do for you.’

“She did just that, walked up and down the aisles. There was peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, harmony, clean air, careful use of resources. She wrote furiously. By the time she got back to the counter, she had a long list. Jesus took the list, skimmed through it, looked up and smiled, ‘No problem.’ And then he bent down behind the counter and picked out all sorts of things, stood up, and laid out the packets. She asked, ‘What are these?’ Jesus replied, ‘Seed packets. This is a catalog store.’ She said, ‘You mean I don’t get the finished product?’ ‘No, this is a place of dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds. You plant the seeds. You go home and nurture them and help them to grow and someone else reaps the benefits.’ ‘Oh,’ she said. And she left the store without buying anything.”

Source: https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/book-reviews/excerpts/view/13648


Meditation on Hope and Love in a Time of Struggle by Rev. Alice Anacheka-Nasemann 

In a world so filled with brokenness and sorrow
It would be easy to lose ourselves in never ending grief,
To be choked by our outrage
To be paralyzed by the enormity of suffering,
To feel our hearts squeeze tight with hopelessness.
Instead, this morning, let us simply breathe together as we hold our hearts open.
Breathing in as our hearts fill with compassion
Breathing out as we pray for healing in our world & in our lives.
Breathing in, opening ourselves to the transforming power of love
Breathing out as we pray for peace in our world & in our lives.
Breathing in as we hold hope in our hearts
Breathing out as we pray for justice in our world & in our lives.
May we know our strength
May we be filled with courage
May our love flow from us into this world.
Breathing in, we are the prayer
Breathing out, we are the healing
Breathing in, we are the love
Breathing out, we are the peace
Breathing in, we are the hope
Breathing out, we are the justice
May we know our strength
May we be filled with courage
May our love flow from us into this world.
Amen, blessed be, may it ever be so.

Source: https://www.uua.org/worship/words/meditation/meditation-hope-and-love-time-struggle



This sermon is about how we keep planting the seeds of peace, in our hearts, in our families, in our communities, and in our nation.

In 2009 and 2010, two boatloads of Tamil refugees, fleeing ethnic violence in Sri Lanka, showed up off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia. They had somehow made it all the way across the Pacific in boats so old and rusty it was a marvel that they survived. Each of the refugees had paid everything they had to smugglers who promised them they would be welcomed into Canada. When Canadian Border Patrol boats and helicopters came towards them, they stood on deck, exhausted, filthy, hungry, but filled with hope, waving and smiling.   They had arrived.

What they did not know, or ignored because of their desperation, is that the Canadian government didn’t want them. At that time, the federal government was in the hands of anti-immigrant Conservatives. This is the party that has repeatedly suggested, in the face of a nation that is becoming less and less white, that immigration should maintain the current ethnic balance of the country. That is code for keeping a white majority, which is going to end in a few short years, 2036 to be exact, 10 years before whites will become the minority here in the United States.

Everyone on those boats was imprisoned immediately, unlike the normal procedure of quickly processing and releasing them with a series of dates to meet with the Refugee Board to determine eligibility. However, the government was aware that it couldn’t risk looking cruel and heartless because a general election was on the horizon. So what did they do? They developed a sophisticated PR plan to turn the Canadian public against these Tamil refugees. They were a national security threat. They were terrorists with fake ID, trying to get into Canada to funnel money to Tamil terrorist groups. They were liars. Tamils were not a persecuted minority, there was no cultural genocide because the Sri Lankan military activity in Tamil areas was to protect the nation from Tamil terrorism. And this PR plan seemed to work. In a nation of immigrants, poll after poll showed that the majority of Canadians wanted these refugees turned away. And the next year, when some of these refugees were still in prison and many had been deported, the Conservative government won the 2011 federal election.

I imagine that as I’ve been speaking, some of you are making a connection between what happened in Canada and what is happening here. Over the last several years, thousands of Central American refugees, many of them families, women and children, have been making their way to our southern border. Just as the Conservative Party of Canada created a public relations plan to generate fear about the Tamils, our administration has nurtured a fear of these asylum seekers, identifying them as national security threats, as criminals, as liars, as lawless animals, as single dangerous men. Nurturing this dehumanizing hatred and fear was an election tactic to stave off losses in the midterms. And in some places, it worked.

Just the other day, I had a conversation with a neighbor who would not consider that these people are fleeing unstable unsafe countries and they just want to be safe and want their children to have a chance of a secure life. My neighbor is convinced that this migrant caravan is no good, that showing up at the border is illegal and they need to be turned back. If they die, that is on them for daring to try and cash in on the American dream. Those were his exact words.

And I found myself flipping back and forth between absolute rage, frustration and sadness. What is it about human beings that we can so easily dehumanize each other?

The theme of this month is peace, and it’s always a fitting theme for the holiday season because both the Christian Christmas story and the Jewish Hanukah story center on the experience of an oppressed people desperate for liberation and trying to achieve it in different sometimes competing ways. In both stories, the Jewish people are occupied by an outside power. In the Hannukah Story, Jewish lands are occupied by the Greek Empire. In the Christmas story, those same lands are occupied by the Roman Empire. Both Empires are harsh and brutal. The Greek Empire established control through cultural genocide, depriving the Jewish people of the right to practice their faith and speak their language, with a threat of death for those who refused. The Roman Empire used buyoffs and brute force. They offered limited power and influence to the Jewish priests and political leaders in exchange for their support and compliance, including crushing any resistance.

Both the Christmas and Hanukkah stories offer different paths towards peace.

In the Hanukkah story, peace is pursued through war. The Maccabees, a fierce Jewish tribe, arm themselves and rise up.   The key story that is held up is a battle in which they take control of a temple that had been ransacked. They light the temple flame, a symbol that God has returned to them, and even though there is almost no oil to keep it lit, the flame keeps burning. That is the miracle of Hanukah, that even against all odds, justice will prevail.

The Christmas Story offers a different path to peace. The Christmas Story plants the seed of peace that is yet to come. A child is born, said to be foretold by the prophet Isaiah, and it will be the Messiah, the one who brings the people into peace and justice out of their oppression. Even in Jesus’ time, there were multiple understandings of how that peace was going to happen. Some of those who followed him were not unlike the Maccabbees, an underground militia fighting a guerrilla type war against the Roman Empire. Others saw a different way, saw healing as a matter of faith and hope, of being exceedingly compassionate with each other, and trusting in the promise of abundance. And you have to know how awful things were in that time to understand how hard it could be to trust in each other and to trust in abundance, that if you didn’t hold on as tight as you could to what you had, you would have nothing.

So what we have in both the Christmas and Hanukkah stories are complicated approaches, even conflictual approaches to peace. What is peace. How do you create it? How do you maintain it?

I will admit that I’m very uncomfortable with looking at the Hanukkah story as a path to peace. I’m a pacifist. I don’t think that armed struggle can create peace, or that the military can create peace, it can only hold violence at bay by threatening violence in return. I don’t believe that military capability creates freedom or protects, it only keeps violence at a safe enough distance so that you can live, and I know that is probably a minority opinion but that is where I stand. You may stand somewhere different.

And yet, most of us have never lived in a war-torn country. I have never feared for my life because of political instability. I have never starved, or been beaten because I spoke my mother tongue, or watched my children torn away from me, so who am I to judge that the Maccabees turned to violence to pursue freedom and peace? What other option did they have?

In fact it was the reality of living in a war-torn country that made things difficult for the Tamil refugees, because some of them had served in the resistance, some chose to fight freely, some were forced to take up arms, and regardless of why they fought, these refugees were deported. The nuances of why one would take up arms were rejected by Canadian refugee officials.

We have competing understandings of peace today, too. Do you create peace by protecting what you have, insulating it from threats perceived or real, or do you create peace by ensuring that everyone has enough to live with dignity. Is peace the absence of war? Is peace created when you have high walls and strong borders to keep out danger? Is peace when the walls come down?

Last month, our theme was gratitude, and I talked about how gratitude is a powerful tool of resistance because gratitude urges us to live with an abundance approach to life. When you live in the spirit of abundance, you will be immune to manipulative appeals telling you that there is not enough to go around, that if one group is taken care of, there will be less for you. I would argue that an abundance mentality is also a tool of peacemaking, because it helps us to resist the urge to close off, to dehumanize others and see their yearning for security as a threat to our abundance.

I can understand that if you have lived in a place where you could never take your next meal for granted, or where you were going to lay your head at night, or if your kids were going to be able to go to school, that you would consider barricading off what you own in any way possible. But here, we are the wealthiest country in the world. We have more than enough to go around. We aren’t the greatest at making sure that it is equitably shared. We are also the developed country with the highest rate of poverty.   We have been trained to compete with each other, told over and over there isn’t enough to go around. This makes us as a people very vulnerable to having our insecurities manipulated, it encourages us to grasp our perceived piece of the pie lest it be the only one we’ll ever get.

Peace, in a nation like ours, is about resisting this insecurity and anchoring in an abundance mentality, that there is more than enough for us, that there is always room in the harbor for another rusted out  boat of refugees.

Our faith, Unitarian Universalism, has from its inception been about unraveling a scarcity mentality and compelling us to embrace the abundance of life. Unitarianism challenged the Calvinist theology of predeterminism, that God had already decided, at our birth, that some were saved and some were damned.   The doctrine of predeterminism allowed us to decide that some people were worth valuing and others weren’t. It created a divinely ordained pecking order and it’s really anti-democratic. Unitarianism challenged this, saying it wasn’t right. All of us had equal access to goodness. That Unitarian assertion is the basis of our first principle, that we covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Universalism did away with the concept of hell altogether. God was large enough and strong enough that all could be reconciled to love. This Universalist proclamation has been the foundation of our historic commitment to equity and equality ever since. There is more than enough room for everyone. To say that there isn’t, this is an act of violence, it is an act of war against humanity.  It is in violation who we were intended to be for each other. As Unitarian Universalists we are called to wage peace, not war.

This is the thing about what happened in Canada and what is happening here. With the exception of Indigeneous people and those brought here as slaves, we are all immigrants. Most of us are here because something went wrong in our country of origin.   Some kind of tragedy or hardship pushed us or our ancestors out. War. Land shortages. Political instability. Rigid class systems. Religious persecution. Famine. The inability to find work. And it’s not like most of us or our ancestors were simple victims; sometimes we were complicit in the very things that ousted us, we were part of the system. We brought all that complication with us to this new land, which really wasn’t new except to us. And when our people got here, most of our immigrant ancestors experienced prejudice and discrimination from those who had come earlier. Everything that is being said about Central American asylum seekers, everything that was said about the Tamil refugees, was said about those ancestors.

I believe the trauma of losing your homeland while experiencing prejudice and discrimination does real damage, and if those ancestors weren’t careful, it closed something off in their hearts, closed them off from abundance, and this closing off made it possible for them and their children and their grandchildren to repeat the pattern with the newest immigrants. So this immigrant nation imposes upon new immigrants the same trauma.

The work of waging peace is to stop this cycle. First and foremost, so that people stop dying. Canada sent back many of the Tamil refugees, and most were killed when they returned, just as they predicted. That blood is on Canadian hands, and especially on every Canadian who said “Send them back.” Many of the asylum seekers today have said repeatedly that if they try to go home, they might not make it. We need to believe them.

If we truly want to wage peace, we have to be very aware of when we are tempted to cling to a scarcity mentality, when we become afraid that there isn’t going to be enough, or that we are losing our place. This is when we become vulnerable to doing harm to others. This fear can happen in our homes, our marriages, our families, workplaces, school, and here at church. And when we become aware of our own vulnerability, then we begin to build the inner personal strength to wage for peace.

Some of the Tamils who arrived in those rusted old boats did gain refugee status and have built new lives. It is still hard to trust that they are safe, and it remains to be seen how the trauma of their arrival will manifest in the generations to come.   My sincerest hope is that we, together, will break the cycle, that we will wage peace by opening our hearts and minds to each other and to those who have asked for our help.


About kristataves

I am a Unitarian Universalist minister serving the Unitarian Church of Quincy IL. St. Louis is my residence. I am a dual American and Canadian citizen living in the great state of Missouri and building my life in this wonderful and sometimes very frustrating state.
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