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What does PEACE mean to us?

This Tuesday is Remembrance Day, when we commemorate the lives of those who served their country, and who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
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This Tuesday is Remembrance Day, when we commemorate the lives of those who served their country, and who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Recent events in Ottawa and St Jean sur Richilieu have given us, and all Canadians, reason to reflect on the concept of “Peace.”

Albert Einstein once said that “Peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice, of law, of order — in short, of government.”

Until these events, we took for granted the presence of justice, of law, and of order.

The peace we have taken for granted was shattered, first, with the running down of two soldiers in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, and the subsequent death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Then, barely two days later, a gunman shot and killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo as he stood guard at the national War Memorial, then made his way across the grounds of Parliament Hill, and into the Parliament building itself.

Many of us watched news coverage of this second event, including the chase through the Hall of Honour which was captured on cell phone camera by a news reporter. Shocked. Outraged. Saddened.

And most of all, we feared that the Peace which we have for so long taken for granted had come to an end. How could such violence be perpetrated on our home soil, in the very halls of government?

But, as Prime Minister Harper reassured us, “Canadians will not be intimidated.”

It is a hallmark of the particular brand of freedom we enjoy as Canadians, that we are able to walk the ground of our capital building, and indeed, we can enter the Parliament buildings on public tours, or to meet with an MP or other officials.

I have, myself, walked those hallowed halls.

In the early 80s I was involved with the Ontario Youth Parliament, a non-denomination Christian youth fellowship which met annually to hold a model Parliament. I was honoured to be elected as Leader of the Opposition for the 1982 Parliament, and at that session was further honoured to be elected to attend the National Youth Parliament.

The National Youth Parliament is the only organization to ever be permitted to

use the Senate Chamber, and for 10 days in August 1982, I had a desk in the

Red Chamber, ate in the Centre Block cafeteria, and walked along the halls and stairways that we often glimpse on the TV news.

I witnessed and participated in the ceremonies and daily activities of Parliament, within the actual chambers of our government. It was a humbling experience.

So, to watch the video of a gunman running down the Hall of Honour, and to hear the echoing of gunshots, was very disturbing.

Watching the news coverage, especially of the motorcade returning Cpl Cirillo’s remains to his hometown of Hamilton — a city where I lived for four years — we were reminded of the 158 soldiers who also travelled the “Highway of Heroes” as their remains were brought back from Afghanistan.

For many, Canada’s involvement in foreign conflicts remains controversial.

There are those who will insist that we have no business taking sides in ongoing disputes between factions in the Middle East or elsewhere, that our involvement will only lead to retaliatory actions; some will point to this week’s events as proof of this.

Some will remind us that Canada’s greatest military successes came while wearing the blue beret of the United Nations, undertaking the “peace-keeping” missions which were instituted at the suggestion of Prime Minister Pearson in 1956… and for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Certainly, Canadians should be proud of our role in the development of Peace-keeping forces. But this was not our greatest military success.

Canadians were the first to land at Juno Beach on “D-Day,” and played a significant role in the subsequent liberation of Europe.

While it is true that Peace is not merely the absence of war, we would like to believe that it is possible to live without being at war with one another.

Unfortunately, there are evil forces in this world. We cannot stand idly by while these evil forces — dictators and fascists regimes — oppress others. We would not stand to see this happen to our own citizens, and likewise we cannot allow it to happen to others.

Our military has also played significant role in delivering humanitarian aid around the world, delivering food and medical supplies, building schools, and repairing vital infrastructure.

We believe in Peace, but there are times when we must intervene.

And so we maintain an armed force, ready to defend our homeland against attack, and equally ready to be deployed to assist our allies when they are under attack.

There are this who would remind us that Jesus taught us to “turn the other cheek,” but I believe that we often misunderstand this message.

This phrase is offered by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount, as an alternative to “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

But rather than proposing a pacifist response to violence, the advice Jesus gives is designed more to subvert the power structure of the Roman oppressors.

During that time, to strike someone of a lower class with the back of one’s hand was a display of dominance. If the person who was struck “turned the other cheek” it presented a problem — the left hand was used only for unclean purposes, so one could not strike back-handed with the left hand.

Alternatively, an open-handed strike with the right hand would be interpreted as a challenge — and one only challenged someone of equal status. So, when a person turned the other cheek, they were demanding to be treated as an equal.

Another interpretation is that Jesus was not changing the “eye-for-an-eye” instruction, but clarifying its original meaning.

Usually when Jesus makes these statements they begin with “It is written…” but this statement begins with “You have heard it said that…”, which suggests that this is a clarification of a misunderstood concept.

In this context, turning the other cheek is a simple command not to take personal vengeance.

As well, some theologians note that Jesus only suggests the other cheek be offered once, not continually. In this way, the offender is given a chance to rethink their actions and perhaps demonstrate remorse.

In a smaller community, such as would have been the case in Jesus’ time, this would be a good strategy — allowing people to make amends for unintentional or impulsive actions, which do not require immediate retribution.

Over the past decade, much attention has been directed to the problem of bullying, especially in a school setting. I suspect we can well imagine the school yard bully picking on weaker children — and perhaps some of you were victims of such bullying. I was.

And I can tell you that the pacifist advice given to me by my parents did nothing to stop the bullying. (My dad told me the best way to diffuse these situations was with humour, but let me tell you that bullies do not enjoy being made fun of.)

I was “the new kid,” moving to a new neighbourhood and a new school in Grade 5, not knowing any of the other kids. I was teased a lot, and occasionally subjected to physical bullying.

This continued for quite some time, until I had finally had enough, and one day when a fellow student was shoving me and trying to provoke me to fight, I snapped. I carried a book bag — a kid’s version of a briefcase — and I swung it and connected with his chin.

When he picked himself up off the ground and dusted himself off, it was over. We were now friends, and I was accepted by the other kids.

Obviously, simply striking back at a terrorist attack will not produce the same results, but neither can we simply “turn the other cheek.”

My opening question was: What does peace really mean to us?

Is peace just the absence of war?

Is peace the avoidance of violence or conflict?

The dictionary defines peace as an occurrence of harmony characterized by a lack of violence or conflict, and freedom from fear of violence.

Buddhists believe that Peace is achieved when all suffering ends.

“Islam” means submission — followers of Islam submit themselves to Allah, and in doing so reject violence and embrace Peace.

Jesus is often called “The Prince of Peace.”

But again… what do we mean by “peace?”

For myself, I believe that Peace, like happiness, comes from within.

Inner peace, peace of mind, calmness, or serenity — this is a state which we can achieve, a state in which we reject conflict, often through religious practises such as meditation or prayer.

Christians are told that Peace is also achieved through following the two greatest Commandments:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and Love your neighbour as yourself.

The first Commandment is, perhaps, the easiest to follow — to love God.

The second Commandment is arguably more difficult. As the Scribe continue to press Jesus, he asked “Who is my neighbour?”

We know how the story goes — the story of the Good Samaritan, the only person to lend assistance to the injured robbery victim, a person not of his own faith nor status.

We have witnessed expressions of intolerance — people spraying graffiti on Mosques, shouting insults at people of different colour and appearance.

There is a great deal of misinformation, and indeed in some cases pure ignorance; there are those who would paint with a very wide brush, denouncing all Muslims as “terrorists.”

We must remember that there are evil people in this world, people who will invoke religion to justify their own radical beliefs — and this applies to any religion, for there have been Christian radicals in recent memory, like Timothy McVeigh, who perpetrated the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

It may be asking too much for us to reach out to such radicals and embrace them as neighbours… but…

We can certainly reach out to others who are affected by these radicals, especially those of the Islamic faith, who join with us in denouncing these radical jihadists.

This is “peace.”

In fact, in many Mosques across Canada, Muslims offered prayers and words of sympathy and comfort for the families of Patrice Vincent and Nathan Cirillo. They are outraged that their faith has been dragged into the spotlight by radicals.

In Cold Lake, Alberta, following the Ottawa a mosque was vandalized, its windows shattered and its walls sprayed with graffiti. Citizens of all faiths descended upon the mosque to assist in cleaning and repairing the damage.

This is “peace.”

It is, perhaps, a sad commentary that we need Police services and Armed Forces to stand on guard for us; that we have people who are ready and willing to put their lives on the line to ensure the rest of us can continue to enjoy the peace and freedom which so many around the world envy.

And yet, peace and freedom must be defended against those who seek to deny us these fundamental rights.

I recently watched the movie Evan Almighty on TV — this is the one where Evan Baxter gets asked by God to build an Ark. In one scene, God and Evan — who now resembles Noah, with long hair and beard, and flowing robes — are sitting having a chat. God tells Evan that the world can be changed through one random act of kindness at a time.

Many people have taken to trying to perform random acts of kindness — paying for the order for the car behind them at the drive thru, or knitting toques for premature babies, or giving gift certificates to homeless people, for instance.

This is “peace.”

There are many ways in which we can promote “peace.”

Standing up against bullying, or against injustice.

This is “peace.”

Taking a stand against harassment and abuse in the workplace.

This is “peace.”

Speaking out in response to attitudes of prejudice and racism directed at new immigrants to our country.

This is “peace.”

Pressuring the government to act upon the cases of hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

This is “peace.”

Seeking better relations with our First Nations people.

This is “peace.”

Providing shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry, jackets and boots to those suffering from the cold.

This is “peace.”

Love your neighbour as yourself.

This is “peace.”     

 

But… that’s just my opinion.