Before making peace, we must first figure out what it is! This question is something I always like to start a week off at camp with. Is peace justice, or something else? The answers I get are unbridled and at some points flat out humorous. One of my favorite responses I’ve gotten so far was from a middle school boy who I had a few weeks ago proudly shout; “Smoking pot and singing kumbayah!” While on the surface this may seem funny (and to admit that my response was a chuckle would be the truth), looking back, I think his response was an accurate sample of how this subject is discussed and caricaturized in our society. Peace – this convoluted abstract ideal attributed to drugs, hippies, free love, Christmas and silence. How is our church supposed to work for peace if we don’t know what it is? As I continued to hear various definitions of what the group thought of when they heard word peace, a shy girl raised her hand and said; “Peace is when people are loved. When people don’t have to defend who they are, but just live with others. The absence of fear.”
My first instinct was to define peace in my own terms for the group. I want to say what peace means to me as if it is some definitive answer and basis onto which we are supposed to talk about living what we preach. My second instinct was to go to the dictionary. So, that’s what we did. There are several sources that say relatively similar things, but my favorite so far is found in the Miriam Webster dictionary: “Freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.” The obvious next question they had was of course, the definition of words like “disquieting” and “oppressive.” One high-schooler from the Tall Oaks camp in the Greater Kansas City region replied; “When you’re forced to question whether you’re a child of God. That’s disquieting and oppressive.” From that moment, the discussion shifted. Almost instantly, youth were naming the times in their lives when they felt like someone or something was trying to convince them that they were not children of God. They named times when they saw such powers knock down others and the way that made them feel.
Peace is really not abstract. Some may think it’s idealist, but I think peace is natural. Peace is the redemptive hug a mom and her daughter share after an apology is made. Peace is a soft breeze that blows grass seeds into other fields. It’s the feeling you get when you watch someone you love figure out what they’re supposed to do with their life. It is in the moment when an unarmed people walked cautiously, far enough forward to the end of a gun barrel and have the courage to reach out their hands and push it toward the ground. It is in the small things, like handing a Kleenex to your shaky grandmother in the nursing home. Telling a child that they are loved. Raising up your heavy thoughts and prayers for those whose voices have been silenced. Peace is about the small things.
Campers with week have been so mature and amazing. Their questions and honest vulnerability are what enabled us be a camp community that made peace. They changed each others’ hearts because they started from love. At the end of the week, I asked the group how the world would look if all people started from love rather than fear. We decided that must be what the kingdom of God looks like. Let us heed the call.