Ephesians 4:1-6, 15-16, 29-32
We are a bridge building congregation. We proclaim it on our entry wall and on our Russell wing bulletin board. Our own words challenge us to live in a particular way in the world of separation, difference and exclusion. To live a life of connecting with others.
In January, the session declared 2019 to be our “Year of Peace.” One thing we have done which clearly carries out this intention is to begin the Children’s Peace Choir. This past week was the Children’s Peace Choir Camp. We decided to take our historical passion for music, mix it with the energy of our new Music Director, add a dash of creative art projects from Linda Natale, long faithful to our Mt. Tabor young ones, and…, what did we get? Magic! Or in more churchy terms – Peace, Friendship, and Joy.
I got to be there each morning to tell the children a peace-making story – something from recent times and something which included peace-making children can do. I discovered in preparing these stories that the seeds of peace are very simple and accessible. Everyone can plant and scatter the seeds of peace.
An 18-year-old girl from India, Tanmaya Murthy wrote a poem called, “Sowing Hope,” which starts with the same thought:
I clasped a scintillating seedling
And vowed to sow it with motive.
Its growth to be a transcendent one,
And bring with it a change,
A change so profound and serene;
Capable of spawning a portrait
Of irrevocable, unconditional love
With strokes of perfection and
Shades of sanctity and brotherhood.
Bridge-building and peace-making are much the same thing. Both make connections between people. When we started Taborspace, we had to do a lot of peace-making. There were many in our community who found the idea of walking into a church building deeply frightening. Some of the fear is because they don’t know what may go on inside the walls which hold a religious practice. Some of it is because they believe the rumor that the church is uniquely full of hypocrites – people who should be loving but who judge and exclude instead. Actually, it is common inside and outside the church. Some have been deeply damaged by the clergy abuse which had for so long been kept a terrible secret, and for that they will never enter a church.
For Taborspace to thrive, bridge-building meant helping people to make peace with the church building. We took down overgrown shrubbery which made the building look like it was hiding something. We opened the doors, some which had been boarded up for decades. We put signs on the sidewalk inviting people to come in. We put flowers, yellow umbrellas, tables and chairs outside, so that people could break the ice by sitting there first, in the courtyard. We trained staff to ask questions and be interested in the people who came in. We did not present them with information. People even got to choose how much they would pay for their coffee, which in itself started many conversations! All of this was a way of making peace with the community who assumed that church people were demanding and judgmental.
Peace-making is a down home, ordinary task.
So often, when we think of peace-making, our minds go to the great councils and the work of international ambassadors. We think of lawmakers. We think of Generals and heads of state; war councils and peace treaties. All that seems so far out of reach. All we can do about these things is to vote, protest, write, and pray. Really effecting change seems so far out of our grasp. But it isn’t.
The deepest truth is that we are all one. Paul bases all of his teaching about Christian living on this truth: “There is one body and one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Source of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6). That is a pretty vast unity which Paul is describing! Remember that Paul was Jewish, as was and Jesus and Mary and all the disciples. The primary affirmation of Judaism is that God is One: Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One. The ten commandments all follow from this one affirmation. All of the evils of humanity fall from denial of this one truth. Evil – or – separation from God – happens when we make little gods of human things. It happens when we don’t see the presence of God in the other and discount them or lie to them or take their things. It happens when we neglect the Sabbath as a reminder to honor God and each other.
All manner of evil might be avoided when we remember that God is One, and we are in God and God is in us. And so, Paul bases his whole teaching about Christian living on the reminder that there is one body, one Spirit, one Lord, One God. From there all loving, fearless behavior follows naturally.
Peace-making is quite simply the work of making real the oneness of God and humanity.
And most of the work of peace-making is about how we choose to live every day. This is what we learned in the Peace Choir Camp. I want to let you listen in to some of the stories which guided us this week.
First there was Mother Eva. She made peace in a crowded train compartment by giving up her seat – any of us might do that as a kindness. But that just made people resent her, and they got even angrier. Then she added something more to the gift. When she boarded, she had been given a bouquet of roses to remind her of how much her friends loved her. Quietly she went to the most quiet and downcast in the train car and began handing them each a rose until she had given them all away. With the simple gift of a flower, the spirit in the car lightened, and bits of light conversation and even laughter began to be heard. She built a bridge, which made peace.
We observed something about the story. What is the first thing you do when you receive or walk by a beautiful rose – I love to watch it happen at the Washington Park Rose Garden – you bend down and breathe in the beautiful scent. Two things happen in our bodies when we do this. First, we bend down – a position of humility and honor of the other. This is the first step in building bridges. Honor the other. Then we breathe. We know that taking a deep breath and slowly releasing it is one of the best and quickest ways to calm ourselves. So the act of kindness shown in giving these people roses, also stimulated their bodies to peace-making actions – bowing and breathing.
So peace-making can be pretty ordinary!
Then there was the story of water. We know that the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a bunch of foolishness. The damage we do to each other by words is almost indescribable. But did you know that water is impacted in the same damaging way? Dr. Masaru Emoto did some fascinating experiments with water that showed that how we speak to water changes is composition. He set up two jars of water. The first jar was repeatedly told it was stupid, and the second jar was told how much it was loved. Then he took pictures of the frozen crystal forms the two jars of water made. The first jar’s crystals were random and chaotic, while the second jar’s crystals were organized, beautiful and colorful. He has whole books of photos! Clearly the water is impacted by the words.
Just before the turn of the millennium Emoto gathered 350 people on the shore of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan, which is sorely threatened by environmental hazards, including annual blooms of noxious cyanobacteria. When these people gathered around the lake, they sang and chanted for peace. Their music echoed and vibrated all over the lake. And the next year, the deadly bloom did not happen. A coincidence?
When I told this story, the children in the Peace Choir Camp told about their class experiments with plants – talking lovingly to one and hatefully to the other. The loved plant thrived and bloomed; the hated plant was small and did not flower. A coincidence? I heard that the children went home and talked nicely to their plants. If only it was as easy to speak lovingly to human plants! Who just might talk back!
Bridge-building can be so simple. Like the story of Dorothy Day. She regularly visited the psychiatric hospital in her district, chatting with the patients, and speaking loving attention. One day, an angry, thrashing, screaming and spitting woman was wrestled into a padded cell across the hall. Dorothy Day insisted that she wanted to go into that room as well. After repeated refusals, she was finally allowed to sign a waiver of responsibility and go into the room. All she did was stand at the door and hold out her hand to the woman. No words. She just stood there with her hand out as the minutes drug on. Slowly the woman’s screaming settled into a hoarse whisper. And then, the great miracle. The troubled woman reached her hand out too and touched Dorothy Day’s hand. Calmly they both sat down on her bed and there was peace.
That is all it was. Taking the time and intention to hold out a hand in peace. There are so many ways we can use our bodies to make peace, to build bridges. If someone is shy and uncomfortable in a room and you notice and go stand next to that person, even if you don’t say anything, you are making a difference. I learned after story time that children are learning in school that when someone is being bullied on the playground, they can help by gathering a group of children to stand with the one being picked on. Just stand with them. Don’t attack the bully. It most often defuses the situation and brings peace.
Are there risks to peace-making, building bridges? Of course! Will it always work? Sadly, no. But every act of connection plants a seed which can bring forth a bountiful crop – thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. May we always look for ways to sow peace – with our words, with our bodies. May we together fill the world with seeds of peacemaking!