Five things Friday roundup: unexpected things that made peace

Students at LCC International University in Lithuania, hailing from more than 30 countries, filled their dormitory windows with national flags. The act of solidarity took place in 2015 — a year after Russia occupied Crimea — when a local newspaper suggested the school’s Russian students were spies.

While peacemaking may be a core tenet of Anabaptism, I’ve witnessed many folks struggle with knowing when and how to step up and build shalom when the time comes. I suspect this may be in part because we tend to fix our gaze on a peacemaker pantheon filled with folks like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, and we struggle to see ourselves alongside them. However, like the Kingdom of God, peacemaking often happens in the most unforeseen, common moments.

Srdja Popovic, a leader of the nonviolent movement that toppled the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević in the 1990s, explores creative and simple peacemaking in Blueprint for Revolution. This book teaches readers “how to use rice pudding, Lego men, and other nonviolent techniques to galvanize communities, overthrow dictators, or simply change the world.” It’s a book that gets the creative juices flowing, and it’s caused me to reflect on times I’ve witnessed and participated in creative and unforeseen peacemaking and nonviolent resistance. The following are five things that unexpectedly made peace. As you read, may you also be inspired to find simple and creative ways to make peace.

1. The perfect snowbank

It was a cold, winter evening in Klaipėda, Lithuania, when Alisha and I (Josh) decided we’d head out to a pub to play some card games after a long week working at a local university. Before long, one of the regulars called me over and began to berate me for “stealing a nice Lithuanian woman from the local menfolk.”

For context, challenges resulting from Lithuania’s steadily decreasing population led to a xenophobic reaction from some folks. Alisha and I would both be labeled “white” or “caucasian” in most U.S. settings, but that was only true for Alisha in Lithuania, allowing her to pass as a local whereas my relatively darker features and complexion often marked me as an outsider.

Not wanting to get punched, I excused myself and we departed. Emerging from the pub, I saw it: the perfect snowbank. As years of living in Arizona’s desert have made me very excitable in all matters of precipitation, I enthusiastically ran over to the snowbank and shouted for Alisha to push me in. She did so with gusto and, almost immediately, we noticed someone else had joined our laughter.

Turning around, we realized the regular had followed us out of the pub. Holding his side from laughing so hard, he exclaimed he had just witnessed the funniest thing he’d ever seen and insisted we come in and join him for a drink so he could get to know us better.

From that time forward, my new friend always greeted me with an enthusiastic handshake and chuckle whenever Alisha and I would stop in for a game of cards.

2. Bonding over our kids’ love of math

Earlier this month, our family was on a walk in downtown Phoenix when we came across a disturbing scene on the patio of a neighborhood brewery. Apparently, one of the patrons had overindulged and decided to let a nearby family know exactly how much he disapproved of their mixed ethnic background.

While other folks attempted to address the man, I leaned over to one of the parents and, in an attempt to diffuse the tension, said, “Wow, I didn’t realize they still made people like this.” The father’s response told me that, despite his calm exterior, he was very much contemplating violence.

Noticing his daughter was sitting there, taking it all in, I asked the father what grade she was in. He said second grade, to which I said, “So is my kid!” I asked him what homework she was working on, and he replied math. I said my kid loves math and called him over. Moments later, we fathers were awkwardly encouraging our kids to make friends, distracting them from the hateful rhetoric.

In time, the unruly patron left and, while many on the patio were still riled up, it was clear the pressure building in the parents had been released.

3. Phone call with a teacher

Last year, our son’s music teacher called. She explained Asher was struggling during patriotic song sessions which, it seemed, were part of every music class. Whenever the songs would start, he would either ask to leave the room or lie on the ground.

His refusal to participate puzzled the teacher, but it all quickly made sense to me. Asher, who was born in Lithuania and raised in Barcelona, has a unique global perspective and feels very disconnected from American patriotism. In a gentle exchange, I clarified our family’s stance on nationalism, advocating for respect for diverse backgrounds. Ultimately, the teacher agreed that so long as Asher was respectfully standing, he wouldn’t need to sing the patriotic songs.

Asher’s response when we talked later was poignant: “They keep wanting to pray to America . . . . Don’t they know God created the whole world?” For Asher, national zealousness is a massive obstacle to peace. From then on, Asher stood silently during patriotic songs, his voice soaring during other melodies — a protest echoing his belief in unity beyond borders.

4. Singing hymns

In January, a group of Mennonites went viral on social media when nearly 150 were arrested on Capitol Hill in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. Their form of resistance: singing hymns and praying for peace in a federal building. Mennonite Action, a movement of Mennonites taking public action to stop war and end the occupation of Palestine, is a present reminder that peacemaking is an active process that best pulls from what Walter Brueggeman describes as “the prophetic imagination.”

5. Rejecting the system

I (Josh) teach in a juvenile detention center (see my post from January 26). I often find myself offering a message of redemption and reconciliation through my actions and words that is in contrast with the prison system’s general vibe. One area in which word and action intersect is in my refusal to incorporate the prison’s punitive disciplinary system into my classroom.

The system, which utilizes different shirt colors and the giving and taking of points, is often weaponized by detention staff who believe the kids need to suffer while incarcerated so that they don’t return. Aside from high recidivism rates clearly illustrating this approach is ineffective, it doesn’t lead to  healing, restoration, and shalom. These are desperately needed by the kids who, with virtually no exception, carry some form of trauma that is connected to why they were locked up in the first place. Refusing to participate in an inherently violent system of “taking shirts” has been a line I’ve drawn in the sand. It has led to valuable conversations that both encourage colleagues and confront detention staff.

Alisha and Josh Garber

Alisha and Josh Garber are in a season of discernment. After over a decade of mission work in Europe, they Read More

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