The police force in our country is called An Garda Síochána, which literally means “Guardians of the Peace.” Their job, like most policemen, is to patrol our communities, arrest ne’er-do-wells, and keep us safe, and they do all of this unarmed.
For a girl who grew up the daughter of a Kansas policeman, who knew where the gun was locked and put away, and spent more than one occasion observing dad at the shooting range, this initially seemed strange to me. How can you police without a weapon? How can you keep the peace without the threat of force?
Soon enough, though, I grew used to it; proud of it, even. Oh sure, we do have the odd bit of dissident and gang-related activity which might require an armed response or bomb disposal unit. But our run-of-the-mill Gardaí — our Guardians of the Peace, our next-door neighbor and the one who drives by the school a couple of times a day and your man who checks the lads making trouble outside the shops — they keep the peace, our peace. And most times, we are none the wiser.
As a lifelong people-pleaser, keeping the peace was the price to pay for a conflict-free existence. Perhaps it was my parents’ early divorce or that pleasant Midwestern spirit, but I learned to play nice early on. Seeing things from both sides came easily. And though I often felt torn between two sides and two worlds on any number of issues – and still do! – I couldn’t help but feel that same bit of pride in being able to maintain a somewhat peaceful lifestyle despite difficult circumstances.
But… one time I drew my weapon instead of playing nice. A group of young boys were traumatizing my little sister, assaulting her with cruel words as we played in the park by our community swimming pool. It was summer, so kids like us often went unchecked for hours in our safe neighborhood patrolled by cops who knew me by name. It’s possible I told my sister to ignore it. I could’ve told her to run along, or changed the subject, or maybe I even tried to broker a peace treaty between these messers and my sister.
But I didn’t. Diplomacy with an eight-year-old would get me nowhere.
Instead, I picked out the ring leader, gave him a swift kick in a sensitive spot, threw some of my own indelicate words their way, and ran hand-in-hand with my sister back home to safety.
Immediately a painful anxiety filled my chest and I couldn’t figure out if what I’d done was right or wrong. I knew a knock would come on our door at any moment from an angry parent, and indeed it did, but I was filled with such righteous indignation that an apology would not do.
I did not keep the peace. I’m not even sure I made peace. But what I did do was confirm my status as mighty defender in the eyes of my sister. She could count on me. If I couldn’t keep the peace for her, I would broker it in the only ways I knew how.
With 30 years’ hindsight and a bend towards pacifism, I no longer kick and hurl immature insults. The truth is, I don’t have many weapons at my disposal to spare. And while I still long to please, still squirm in situations of conflict, I’m not sure I want to be a peacekeeper anymore. I’m not even sure “guarding the peace” is what any of us should be doing.
In fact, I’m starting to think we should be disrupting it for the sake of making it.
I think we – this glorious community of women who have travelled far and wide, forsaken home and family, for the sake of a world in conflict, grief and fear – are making space for a new peace, a better one. Not with arms, but with the Spirit and a prophetic word. Not with hushed bargaining, but with Jesus overthrowing some tables and chasing off the moneychangers.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” (Matthew 10:34)
That verse is not one I would whip out in case of emergency. And it isn’t one I’d use to describe our Prince of Peace, that precious newborn baby boy, the subject of Mary’s Magnificat. We’d never see Jesus wield a sword, and in fact he chastised Peter who brandished one in defense of our Savior in his greatest hour of need.
And yet, as the Restorer of Justice, the One who would bring down the mighty and uplift the meek, the Prince of Peace does just that in the wake of the violent cruelty of others. Persecuted, executed, forsaken.
He did bring a sword, but not His own. And while others may shackle our faith, He asks that we lay it down.
Blessed are the peacemakers, He said. We will be called children of God.
I suppose we could be called worse names.
Do you feel torn between keeping the peace and making it? How has peacemaking brought risk or sacrifice to you or your ministry?
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