Things That Make For Peace
Like many over the last few weeks, I’ve been following with a mixture of interest, despair, anger, hopelessness, confusion, and weariness the latest round of conflict in Israel and Palestine. Like many, I have read countless articles and op-ed pieces trying to explain, advocate, condemn or make some kind of sense of a senseless situation. I have read impassioned justifications for the actions of Israelis and Palestinians. What would your nation do if it was surrounded by hostile nations dedicated to the elimination of your people?! What would you do if you were penned up and locked into a tiny space and deprived of dignity and brutalized at every turn?! I have read many words and words about words, but it all seems so futile, as I sit here on vacation, a world away from the unspeakable reality that so many are currently facing.
Words, words, words… And still the killing goes on.
A picture may or may not be worth a thousand words, but I came across an image a few days ago that I have been unable to shake.
It is an image that is both utterly unremarkable and soul shattering. There are no doubt thousands of scenes like this that take place around the world every day, whether in Palestine or Israel or Syria or Iraq or Nigeria or the Ukraine or any of the other places in the world whose routine horrors have been relegated to the back pages of the paper by these places. This man is, in one sense, an ordinary victim of ordinary violence in a world where evil and injustice are utterly, pathetically ordinary.
And yet, there is nothing in the world like the pain that this man has experienced. His agony is like no one else’s. I don’t know what happened to the man in this photo. But I can imagine, as I look at his face. Perhaps he has lost a child? A mother? A wife? A brother? Perhaps his home has been destroyed? Perhaps his body is wracked by the fatigue of grinding, intractable conflict that chokes off any kind of hope or a future. Perhaps he is simply collapsing in despair at the evil and injustice that is “normal” in our world.
This man looks like he is about my age. It is impossible not to put myself in his shoes, to imagine myself losing a child, a mother, a wife, a brother, to imagine looking at my home reduced to a pile of rubble, my community devastated by war. It is impossible not to look at this face full of tears and imagine that this man had similar hopes to mine for the future—his own future, the future of his family, his community, his nation. It is impossible not to take this man’s face and transplant it to an Israeli family, a Syrian family, an Afghani or Nigerian family, any family on this earth where love and hope are crushed by violence and despair.
I read yesterday that this or that Western politician had said something to the effect of, “The civilian death toll in Palestine has begun to reach an unacceptable level.” It was a statement that struck me as obscene and absurd. One thousand deaths are “unacceptable” but… but what? Five hundred are tolerable? Two hundred? Ten? One? I wonder what the man in the picture above would say to such a statement? What is the magic number of innocent human beings that can be sacrificed at the altar of ideology, politics, and religion? When is the threshold crossed?
Two thousand or so years ago, Jesus of Nazareth approached the city of Jerusalem—the city where the collusion of ideology, politics, and religion would conspire to crush and kill him—and he wept, saying “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). They are still hidden from our eyes, these “things that make for peace.” They are hard things, things that demand us to overlook, to forgive long, blood-soaked stories of pain and injustice, to refuse easy roads of dehumanizing and demonizing the other, to love enemies and pray for those who wish to do us wrong.
I don’t pretend to be good at these things that make for peace. I have never had to choose these things in the unspeakable circumstances that so many are faced with daily. In a sense, these musings of mine are simply more words, untested words, useless words from the sidelines.
But whatever else these things that make for peace might entail, I am convinced that they start with looking at pictures like the one above and recognizing that this man’s story is not separable from my story or your story, that his life is not worth less or more because of where he lives or what he believes or the colour of his skin or any of the innumerable ways we have of drawing lines between human beings. At least one of the things that make for peace is surely the decision to consistently put ourselves in the shoes of the many precious human lives that are so routinely shattered by the other things—the predictable, wearisome, grinding things lead to anything but peace.
The image above is a sketch drawn by my daughter. I arrived home last night after an evening out with my wife to find it sitting on my pillow.