A Feisty Peace for Unquiet Times
September, 21 2008
Rev. Douglas Taylor
Over the years, the United Nations has set days aside as special UN holidays to honor the environment, world hunger, literacy, or public service. World AIDS day is December 1, for example. Universal Children’s Day is November 20, while June 26 is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Sometimes these days really capture the imagination of people and become rallying points for change. World AIDS day is a stellar case in point. Many events are coordinated with the UN December 1st World AIDS day and it has increased awareness and global response for this disease.
Lately there has been excitement building for September 21, the United Nation’s International Peace Day. For twenty years through the ‘80’s and ‘90’s International Peace Day was celebrated on the opening day of the United Nations session, the third Tuesday of September, “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and people.” It was a relatively unnoticed day until a young man named Jeremy Gilley worked over four years to get it changed from September’s third Tuesday to September 21st, and then continued to work over the next several years to raise global awareness for the day. Along with the adjustment in the date, Gilley also pushed for the Day of Peace to include specific expectations that it would also be a 24-hour cease-fire around the world; a “day of global ceasefire and non-violence… through education and public awareness and to cooperate in the establishment of a global ceasefire.” Thus it shifted from a passive effort to celebrate the ideals of peace to an active effort to create peace through the cessation of violence. International Peace day is no calm and tranquil day to honor quietude and serenity. It is a festive and feisty day to work for peace, to establish peace, to create the world we long for.
But does it work? I know this question is in some ways irrelevant. Whether it works or not is beside the point: the point is that this is the right thing to pursue! And yet the cynic is me wonders if the effort is worth it, is it an effective use of energy, does it actually accomplish peace? Jeremy Gilley managed to bring the United Nations delegates a resolution that passed unanimously. It was remarkably exciting for him and for many others. It was the 7th of September and Kofi Annan scheduled a press release four days later to announce to the world that International Peace Day was now September 21st and officially a day for non-violence. Unfortunately four days after September 7th is September 11th, and this was 2001. At 8:45 as part of the press release, children from around the world were performing music meanwhile planes were crashing into the World Trade Center. Jeremy Gilley and his press release for peace had to evacuate the building. It was not an auspicious beginning. Yet it does highlight the hard reality that peace does not happen just because we make an announcement, pass a resolution, or plant a peace pole in our church courtyard. It takes continued effort.
I have a story about how the continued effort works, it is from the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus tells The Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:2-6).
2He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4”For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”
This is such an interesting parable. Jesus is saying, ‘sure, you are right, sure it would be fair if it worked in your favor, sure it ought to work out. But really, what’s going to turn it around for you is if you keep at it and don’t give up.’ “I’ll see that she gets justice so that she won’t eventually wear me out.” Jeremy Gilley’s story reminds me of this widow in the parable from the gospel of Luke. The persistence of the people who seek justice, who make a difference, is remarkable. The persistence of those who will not sit down and wallow in pity, of those who stand up to injustice though the odds are stacked against them, of those who stare unjust authority in the face and say, “grant me justice against my adversary,” is remarkable indeed. The persistence of those who practice resistance is the key to accomplishing peace.
When the UN delegates accepted the resolution, Jeremy Gilley did not breathe a happy sigh and say to himself, “Well, that’s done. Now I will get back to the regular grind.” It would have been very easy to look at the September 11 attacks and think, “All that work, for nothing.” But no, he kept up the work to make the resolution real outside the walls of the UN building. On September 21, 2002, the first official Peace Day on the new day, Gilley helped bring together a great Bob Geldof style “Live-Aid” sort of concert. The UN helped publicize a World Peace Prayer that many people used in events in nearly a hundred different countries around the world. The most exciting piece of the 2002 events was how “the community of Amaekpu in Nigeria used the peace day to publicly declare an end to ten years of violence and hatred. They held a celebration of unity and reconciliation to heal families and neighborhoods that had been destroyed because of fighting and civil unrest in the region.” (from Peace One Day by Jeremy Gilley)
Since that day, Jeremy Gilley and people from the United Nations have been working build more success stories like that. This year, Afghanistan is the focus, and it is working. You probably don’t know this, because I only learned about it on the UN website. But for the past month and a half various steps have been happening to realize a 24 hour cease-fire in Afghanistan for International Peace Day. (reported by Homayon Khoram at
HYPERLINK “http://www.unama-afg.org/_peaceday/_peace_news/08sep20-peace-sets-agenda.html” http://www.unama-afg.org/_peaceday/_peace_news/08sep20-peace-sets-agenda.html)
“Afghan security forces, international forces under the command of NATO, the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan are set to observe Peace Day on 21 September, a United Nations General Assembly specially mandated day of ceasefire.
The biggest-ever peace campaign in Afghanistan is coming to its final climax with Government institutions, NGOs (Non-governmental Organizations), the United Nations, schools and universities, businesses, media, sports stars and artists, and people from all walks of life joining the campaign.
The campaign got a boost when Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday ordered Afghan security forces not to conduct any military operations on Peace Day.
“On the occasion of the auspicious Peace Day I order all Afghan security forces not to fire unless fired upon and I advise the international forces to act in the same way,” said President Karzai in a statement.
Following the President’s statement the Taliban also announced their support for Peace Day.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has ordered its Mujahedeen to hold defending positions on the Peace Day,” reads the Taliban statement.
General David McKiernan, Commander of ISAF, has also instructed all forces under his command in the country to observe Peace Day.
“In support of the UNAMA Peace Day ISAF forces will not engage in offensive operations from midnight on Saturday 20 September 2008 until midnight on 21 September 2008,” said a statement from ISAF.
“The aim of this whole process is to get peace back onto the agenda here. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “It won’t work through one Peace Day alone. We’re not naive about that. What you do with Peace Day is you provide a window, an opening” said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan.”
I subsequently searched the internet news organizations to see if it was working. Nobody is talking about this story. I did find a Reuters review talking about four soldiers killed here and a civilian shot dead there throughout Afghanistan, but it is hard to determine if those are events happened before the 24-hour ceasefire or not. Last night when I was writing this, we were 7 hours into the ceasefire. [The 9:30 is 18 hours into the 24 hour ceasefire. The 11:15 is 19 ¾ hours into the ceasefire.]
Meanwhile, parades, concerts, sporting events, vigils, and prayer ceremonies will be held to honor the day. We [will be planting / have planted] our own Peace Pole in the courtyard. The Red Cross and the Red Crescent will be delivering vaccinations to large numbers of children, particularly take advantage of any ceasefires to move around war-torn regions for these health needs. So, it is stuff like this that quells the cynic in me, allowing me to hope for real peace. And when that hope is there, we can build. With persistence we can create the world we need, like the widow in the story from Luke, like Gandhi with his work in India, like Jeremy Gilley and the enlivening of International Peace Day, like countless other peacemakers in the real world making real differences.
I love the words for the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” According to biblical scholarship in which they study which phrases Jesus is likely to have really said and which phrases were attributed to him and passed on through the oral tradition over the decades until it was written down. “Blessed are the Peacemakers” is a phrase that is generally considered highly suspect. If that is the case, I think it is one of the best lines Jesus never said!
Blessed are the Peacemakers! You have to make it! The line is not, “Blessed are the peaceful, or the peace-loving.” Jesus is not saying “Blessed are you who find inner peace in this crazy mix-up world of ours.” No. He is saying “Blessed are you who make peace a reality in this world. Blessed are you who work to realize the kingdom of heaven here on earth.”
So how does that fit in with us today? We have our peace pole and our own UUA resolutions for peace. And we have war and terrorism still large in the world today. What are we to do now? I’ve told the story before I’m sure about the young school girl who was not afraid of nuclear war. I heard the story from a colleague and have no cause to doubt its authenticity. An elementary school teacher, back in the ‘80’s was aware of the anxiety and fear that was all over the news and in everyone’s conversations. And she could tell the children were aware of it too. There was a lot of talk back then about the possibility of nuclear war. One morning she asked her class, by a show of hands, who thought a nuclear war would happen. Every hand went up, except one. And as stunned as the teacher was that almost every child held that global fear, she was even more amazed that one child did not. So she asked the child, why are you not afraid of a nuclear war happening? The child say, “I know there will not be a nuclear war because my mom and my dad go to church every Tuesday night for a meeting to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
That was us. That is what we did, here and in synagogues and churches all over Binghamton and the country and the whole world. That was us, and that is what we did: we made peace; we persisted in our calls against the injustice until we wore away the powers to bring up a step or two back from the edge. We’re not done! We have not yet dismantled the bombs, but the rhetoric of the ‘80’s eased for a time.
Today’s rhetoric is just as dangerous and calls for just as persistent a level of peacemaking attention as ever before. We have our peace pole; we have our UN official Day of Peace: a serious day for non-violence and ceasefires! Today’s work for peace is bold and feisty, just like it has always needed to be for it to work. What will we do as a congregation now that our pole is in the ground? Certainly we will sing and pray and light candles; and we will also write letters and sign petitions and call our elected officials; certainly we will vote and march and speak out and listen to other voices.
Blessed are the peacemakers, it is written, for they shall be called the children of God, … and theirs will be the kingdom of God. Blessed are the peacemakers who see that a spirited peace is possible. I say more blessed are those who gather in groups to make peace for they shall build the kingdom of God here on earth. We, together, will build peace.
In a world without end, may it be so.