The late Hip-Hop artist Tupac Shakur told the truth in the song “Ghetto Gospel” when he said: “Before we find world peace, we gotta find peace and end the war in the streets my Ghetto Gospel.” This is especially important to remember as we observe Peace Day – The United Nations International Day of Peace and Global Ceasefire – September 21. (http://internationaldayofpeace.org/) We ought to honor the day in our secular and in our faith communities and know that peace is a possibility when we understand that world peace begins inside each of us, one person at a time.
Peace Day was established in 1981 as a day to shed light on the universal ideal of global peace and non-violence. Very often when we think of world peace, our minds go to the various wars being fought between or within nations. We do not think of the daily/nightly gunfire we hear in our communities. We do think of the homicides that we read about in our local papers every day. We do not connect events such as the horrific shootings in Chicago with distant wars.
But, every global conflict is someone’s local conflict. The violence happens in someone’s neighborhood. It is local violence that disrupts daily life. Whether it is the violence of civil war in Syria or Iraq or gun violence in Chicago or New Orleans or a mass shooting in Colorado, Connecticut or Washington DC, what seems to be distant violence is up close and personal violence that happens on someone’s block, at someone’s school or at someone’s job. The violence leads to stress caused by the trauma, and it is possible that stress leads to more violence.
Now the question becomes: what are we going to do to end the violence in our communities? I say there are at least two things that we can do. The first is to think about making peace inside ourselves. Life is full of things that cause stress. We ought to learn the techniques that will help us reduce personal stress. One such technique is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Mindfulness is about living in the moment. It means that we do not rehearse the past; we do not fret over the future; rather, we live each day, one moment at a time.
Mindfulness calls us to live the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when he says: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6: 34)
The peace that is ours to make inside ourselves is a peace that requires faith. This faith believes that Divine Love, God the mother/father, will protect us and provide for us. This faith believes that when we do our best, when we strive for excellence as the love we owe to our Creator for giving us life, then we will have peace inside ourselves. The faith calls us to be still and know that there is a transcendence that is larger than the conflicts inside and outside of ourselves. This faith leads to a powerful personal peace.
When we think about the power of personal peace, the idea is that just as we bring our stress with us wherever we go, that it is possible to bring our peace with us wherever we go. I believe that it is possible for us to radiate our personal peace. This also requires a change in our value system. When we become less focused on the material things in life, we are able to see beyond sight and nourish our spiritual selves. When we are in touch with this aspect of our being, fear and hatred and greed fall away. We are able to see more clearly. This shift in values, this transcendence, is the peace we all ought to find so that we can end the war in the streets.
I propose an experiment: Can we bring down the levels of violence in our communities through personal meditation? Can we recruit an army of people willing to commit to meditation so that we can bring down the levels of violence in ourselves, in our homes, on our blocks, in our villages, towns and cities, in our country, in our world? Let us try.
The second thing to think about regarding making peace in our communities is to understand that the subjective violence that we see is a symptom of a deeper, objective violence that is more difficult to see and name as a kind of violence. Objective violence is the structural, systemic violence of a political economy that will spend more money on prisons than on schools, that tolerates high levels of unemployment in African-American and other poor communities while the rich get richer. Objective violence is the violence of a politics that is afraid of the National Rifle Association. The only way to end this kind of violence is through political engagement. We need to exercise the political power of the peaceful.
The word gospel means the good news. The good news about which Tupac raps, the good news that we remember on Peace Day is that while violence and war are all around us, we are not powerless to establish peace. Tupac again: “Lord can you hear me speak?”
I say: “People can you hear me speak?”
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.