“Tiptoeing Toward Peace”
Nov. 27th, 2022
Rev. Rebecca Migliore
Tiptoeing toward Peace. This title suggested by Seasons of the Spirit really caught my fancy. I find the weeks of Advent to be contemplative, mysterious, and as a preacher, just down-right hard. On the one hand, you often have readings from the prophets (like our reading today from Isaiah) which hold up the ideal of God’s coming reign. The lion lying down with the lamb, the sword being beaten into plowshares, the coming of a true Prince of Peace. But then, in a schizophrenic swing, we are always reading about the destruction of the world in the gospels! Today’s reading from Matthew is the one where people are living their daily lives and ZAP, one is taken, one is left.
Of course, these gospel readings are the church’s way of trying to tell the timeless Advent message that we should not get sleepy after our excess of gratitude, we should not get lulled into the mindlessness of just existing from one moment to the next, we need to stay awake, for we never know when God’s coming into our world will happen!
And, of course, these First Testament readings are the way of faithful people to hold onto the dream of what God’s new reign might look like. It is the Shangrila, the utopia, the beautiful, seemingly imaginary place—far, far way, in a galaxy that couldn’t possibly be our own.
And, of course, the preacher is supposed to figure out a way to not depress their congregation who is already ramping up for “the holidays,” while also urging us all to want, work for, and believe in something that seems far out of reach. No wonder we preachers often skip the Advent themed songs, the Advent readings themselves, to find something, anything but that to preach.
And that is why tiptoeing toward peace gave me pause. It is such a child-infused image: the Grinch tiptoeing past all those sleeping Whos; the tiptoeing that happens in cartoons and theater for children; our own tiptoeing around things that we would just rather let lie. It is humorous. And I think we all have had a time when we wanted to tiptoe past something. But to tiptoe towards something?
It conjures up small steps, maybe even timid steps. Isn’t it true if we can start moving at all, it is better than nothing. What do those steps look like? Tiptoeing toward peace? They can be as simple (and very hard) as trying to limit the war-words that we use. Attacking a problem. Battling cancer. Not to mention all the military thoughts we might have about those who disagree with us. This is a tiptoe toward peace. The difficulty of even negotiating a single day without using war-words/images makes us realize why Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God!”
The idea of “peace” was especially relevant in the country of Israel. It was this little patch of land (smaller than Vermont) in the pathway of all these bigger countries that wanted that specific, militarily important land. And so, one of our commentators says, “Biblical scholars remind us that in the lives of ancient Israelites, there was only “wartime” and “preparing-for-wartime.” In this context, to speak about peace and pacifism (a vigorous debate throughout the Hebrew Scriptures) showed especially audacious faith” (Seasons Focus, p. 32, for 11/27/22).
But maybe even doing that “no war” thought experiment feels too much to consider with all the other million things we are juggling this time of year. Then how about a tiptoe toward peace as in actually finding a moment of peace in your own life. Here is how Wendell Berry, the American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer imagines doing that.
The Peace of Wild Things By Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free
Others have taken this swords into plowshares more literally. One of them is the Mexican artist Pedros Reyes. (This material is based on “This artist melted 1,527 guns …” by Karoun Chahinian, “The Plaid Zebra,” August 25, 2015). Reyes comes from Culican, a city known for its gun violence—and he wanted to take these instruments of violence and killing, and transform them into “weapons of creation.” So, a few years ago he took guns collected by the Mexican army and melted them down, and then fashioned them into works of art and even musical instruments!
In 2015 he decided to do it one better. He began a campaign that asked people to turn in their own guns—and in exchange they would get a coupon for electronics or household appliances. It caught on, and he collected 1,527 guns for this project. He melted them down, and made them into 1,527 shovel heads. He then gave the shovels to art institutions and schools around the world, where he asked that members of the community use them to plant a tree (1,527 of them).
“If something is dying, I think there is a chance to make a compost in which this vast catalog of solutions can be mixed in an entirely new way,” Reyes said to “BOMB Magazine. “An agent of death can become an agent of life.”
Tiptoeing toward peace.
Let’s hear one more story about making a step towards peace—this time in a more international context and lifting up the justice portion of “peace”/Shalom. (This comes from Sandra Rooney—via Seasons of the Spirit, Lection Connection.)
For this story, we need to travel to the streets of India, where there is an extremely vulnerable population of children who survive on the streets, begging at traffic lights, sifting through garbage, rag-picking, selling such things as snacks and cigarettes, all circumstances that often lead to drug addiction and sexual abuse. Across India, it is estimated that the number of such children may be as high as 18 million!
Twenty years ago, Sanjay Gupta, an engineer turned Social Worker, and the director of Chetna (Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action) which seeks to rehabilitate street children, had a community meeting. One of the boys spoke up, “The newspapers make a big deal about lost dogs, but never say anything about lost street children.” That insight prompted Gupta to initiate Balaknama (meaning “voice of the children”), now an 8-page tabloid with some 40 stories written by the children themselves. It is published once a month in Hindi and English, and now has a readership of 10,000.
The children who become involved start with an education intervention. Parents, if they are known, are encouraged to let their children attend some school every day. Balaknama (through Chetna) has weekly group meetings where they can talk about their challenges and create stories highlighting what they experience on the streets: how they are sometimes beaten by the police, things they may be forced to do—such as pick up abandoned dead bodies from the railway tracks. Drawing public attention to such abuses has brought an end to many unjust practices. One story about a government-run school feeding children spoiled milk, got a quick response.
But even if the children can’t write, they can become “batuni” (meaning “chatty”) reporters, who provide leads for stories. Starting as young as 12, they can begin to become reporters, and can go on to coach younger writers, even becoming editors, as the older participants move on with their education, finish school, becoming teachers and journalists.
The possibilities are endless. Balaknama provides a significant witness to the power of voices, including the voices of children. And is a powerful example of how a small investment, can lead to something bigger than ever imagined. As their slogan says, “Our fingerprints on the lives we touch, never fade—Be the change.”
So whether we are getting involved internationally in justice work, or working to bring about peace in our own communities, or trying to quiet our brains from war words, or even just snatching a moment of calm in the midst of a busy life, we can claim that we too are tiptoeing towards peace. It doesn’t mean that we have arrived. It only means that we have started the journey. We have taken the step towards something good, something of God.
I invite all of us to think about how we can join this tiptoeing movement. Maybe it is using one of the advent reading calendars that have been sent out (a weekly one for families with focus on actions, and two different daily ones for adults—one focused on eco-justice things we can do, the other based on Celtic themes.) Maybe it is getting more involved in a mission project (here at UPC or elsewhere in the community). Maybe it is just lighting a candle in the darkness of this time of the year in the northern hemisphere—and watching how even its small light warms the room and our heart.
I notice that when Isaiah sets down his vision, it doesn’t say anything about just Jews, or just Christians, or just one type of people streaming to God’s holy mountain—but actually says, “All nations shall stream to it” and “many people’s say”—as if it takes a village, or even a whole world, to bring about the creation of what God is dreaming.
And maybe that is something I can hold onto.
--Advent is the time when we are asked to stop for a moment to remember whose world this is we are living in.
--Advent is the time when we are shaken into wakefulness by “end of times” words, even while hearing the crooning of a lullaby about what God really wants.
--Advent is a time when we are preparing for Jesus to come into the world again: The Prince of Peace born into a world of terror; The King of righteousness (as Henry so wonderfully pointed us to last week) who shows the overwhelming power of grace offered to everyone; God of the heavens and the earth, come to be with us as a baby, Emmanuel.
--Advent is the time when we can believe in what seem like impossible things, even if just for a moment.
Advent is the time to not allow all that adult “necessary” stuff to keep us from what is really important.
To take a deep breath,
to put out a hand hoping another will grasp it
and so on…
To tiptoe towards peace.
May it be so, with God’s help. Alleluia, Amen.