Monday, September 21, 2015

Peace, Positive and Negative

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. -- from the Hebrew prophetic tradition, Jeremiah 6: verse 14

What is peace? Most people visualize peace as a tranquil world where everyone gets along. Our children just shared their ideas with you. To be desirable, that kind of peace must be based on fairness and justice with everyone having what they need. This is almost impossible to imagine in today’s world. This morning, I’d like to suggest a different meaning of peace, which seems more relevant and achievable. I was reading a sermon by Susan Maginn, which gave me a new way of looking at what peace means in our time. Today I’d like to share her concept with you which echoes what you heard MLK state in the opening words -- that peace is more about justice than order. He defines a positive and a negative peace.

Let’s explore the difference between the two. What many consider the idea of peace is really negative peace -- the absence of tension while a positive peace is the presence of justice. Let me repeat. A negative peace is the absence of tension while a positive peace is the presence of justice.

Negative peace is the comfortable status quo. Don’t rock the boat. It is tempting to interpret this as a desirable peace. We can look the other way and pretend that all is well. As a country and a world we can no longer afford this negative peace -- a peace of denial, a peace of submission, a peace of silence, a peace of resignation, a peace of hopelessness, a peace of oppression.  

Positive peace on the other hand, is loud, messy and uncomfortable, but necessary to move forward. Lately, we have heard the refrain “No justice, No peace.” on the streets of the United States. When I first heard it, I thought it meant that the people chanting it were really saying if you don’t give us what we want, there will be trouble. Now I see it in a different light. Without justice there can be no true peace. “No justice, No peace.” We need that tension between the power and the people to make positive peace. Tension is an essential ingredient when it comes to peace and justice. When that tension is not there, when the tension is not allowed or not tolerated, or when the tension is not desirable, then there can easily be an abuse of power. Without that tension, we humans can easily grow into nothing but corrupt power structures on one side, and on the other, silent suffering. We need a positive peace which is the presence of justice. We need a way to hold the tension that exists between the power structure and the people so we can find our way toward justice

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.

There is hope that peace is being born from the racial tension right now in our own country. Peace is being born through the street memorials, the protests, die-ins, marches, and traffic blockades. Peace is being born through the black community which is confronting the status quo saying: “Enough!” Enough of mistaking order for peace. Enough of saying peace, peace, when there is no peace.

This tension is real and we must wrestle through it, led by visionary activists around the country. The tension may sound like progress to some and civil disobedience to others. Many wish all the tension would just go away. But if we are to know true peace, we need to work through the tension, uncomfortable as that may be.

Desmond Tutu says. “If we are neutral on situations of injustice then we have chosen the side of the oppressor.” In other words, we have chosen negative peace. So let us not be neutral. Let us actively wrestle with racism and other injustices. Let us wrestle until we are living on the right side of history, wrestle until we overcome, until we make injustice and division into beloved community. Let us be hungry for peace and worthy of the blessing.  May it be so.

Peace, Positive and Negative, a sermon delivered by Judy Bonner at 1stUUPB on Sep 21, 2015.

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