Someone I know has embroiled himself in the midst of a ballooning conflict between one of the para-church organizations we are affiliated with and those who question some of the motives and actions of that organization. I’m not an authority on any matters that require deep thought, especially not of late when I’ve been focused on simply trying to put myself back together piece by piece, but I am a parent and sooner or later every issue is going to come down to “How does this affect my children?” and “What do I teach my children about this?”
And so I am going to stick my toes into the water here and try to tackle a subject that has been weighing on me lately. You may agree wholeheartedly with me, you may vehemently disagree. You may just not understand a word I’m talking about, feel free to stop reading and rest assured I’m not trying to take my blog off in a different direction. Maybe I’m tackling this issue because I want to know where grace resides in the midst of this issue.
I grew up as Mennonite as they come. (No, not the little bonnet and buggy type, trust me, you could pass most Mennonites on the street and have no clue of their denominational affiliation.) One of the tenets that the Mennonite church holds firmly to is the idea of non-resistance, pacifism to call it by the common name. Not pacifism in the ‘ho-hum, let’s sit back and do nothing’ sense, but pacifism in the sense of ‘how can we actively work to bring about peace’, or ‘how can we be peace-bringers in today’s world’? Unfortunately, we tend to be rather smug in our pacifistic little hearts, certain that we are somehow more right than the other denominations. And so I was raised with the idea of what good Mennonites do to create and maintain peace.
And then those ideas began to be shattered. My first encounter was while on a gospel team spring break outreach in college. We gave programs in various churches and were hosted by families from that church. And the so-sure-of-myself little Mennonite girl landed one night in a host family in which the father was a retired something high up in the military. Wait…a MILITARY person attending a MENNONITE church? But…but…but… how do we teach consistency to our faith when HE is sitting there?
Then, my brother joined the army. To my parents, this was perhaps the only thing that could have topped me announcing I was a Democrat. How could I say that ‘we’ did not approve of the army (picture pursed lips and self-righteous smile) when that is my brother we are talking about? How can I be immune to the plight of the soldiers and families when he has just shipped out in the past month, leaving a wife and three young children behind for a year?
And then there is Gates. Wonderful, complicated, uncoordinated, socially and behaviorally awkward Gates. Mother-love says that I will do anything for that child. And guess what his developmental pediatrician recommended? Yep, martial arts. You want to put a pacifist’s soul at war with itself, tell a mother her child would benefit from taking martial arts. He’s been at it a month now; I’m still struggling with “But I’m teaching him to FIGHT!” And we’ve raised a few eyebrows among friends, and maybe someday I’ll be able to just say “Yeah, Gates is taking tae kwon do,” without feeling that I need to jump into the five-minute explanation of WHY.
All that to say that over the years I have begun to realize that the issue of peace is much more complex than my early years would have lead me to believe. I think it is much more complex than many people are yet willing to admit.
So, what do I teach my children about peace? HOW do I teach my children about peace?
We tried banning anything resembling a toy gun. We tried to shelter them from the news, violent movies, etc. Guess what? Somehow, the concept of ‘gun’ still crept into their little minds and unless I sweep my house of all Tinker-toys, straight pipe-like objects, Legos and anything that has a bend in the middle including half-eaten pieces of toast, pretend guns are going to happen. All we can do is set parameters and stick to them, enforcing the idea that real guns can hurt people and therefore we never pretend to hurt people.
Already we are talking to them about the concept of ‘making things right’. We don’t use physical punishment because we believe it reinforces the idea that the strong can make the weak behave by virtue of their strength. Instead, we constantly reinforce the idea that their actions affect others and when their actions hurt it needs to be made right. To me, this is sowing the seeds of peace; acknowledging our part and making amends.
When you look at it that way, suddenly the tent of peace gets a whole lot bigger.
When you look at it that way, some of the actions done in the name of peace begin to look a whole lot more political and a whole lot less like peace making.
But what do I know? I’m just a mom trying to raise her children to know what it is to be peacemakers.