Fred Neidner: We pray for peace, but don’t have a plan
December 9, 2011 5:32PM
Updated: January 11, 2012 8:05AM
We have entered once more the season of peace, musically and rhetorically at least. Choir directors everywhere busy themselves at transforming earthly sopranos and altos into heavenly hosts singing, “Peace on earth, and glory in the highest!” Greeting cards circulating these days also bear messages about peace.
Earlier this week my gentle, peace-loving daughter sent via email one of those wry, StoryPeople greetings that come from somewhere in the cyber-world. Next to a scrawny, hand-drawn plant, the caption explained, “This is a cactus that thinks there’s enough violence in the world already so it’s taking correspondence courses in being a cabbage.”
“Good one,” I responded. Then I couldn’t help wondering whether an indignant American Cactus Association might issue a retort claiming defamation. After all, cacti have needles only for defensive purposes. They never leap from hiding places to stab or prick someone. Moreover, cabbage heads protect themselves, don’t they? Have you smelled one lately?
In any case, this cactus that would re-engineer itself is another expression of a cherished, universal dream articulated in various ways within the sacred writings of all the great religions. In words borrowed from Judaism’s ancient canon, the inscription on the side of the United Nations building in New York proclaims hope for a day when nations will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks ... and not learn war any more.” There wasn’t room for the rest of the vision, the part about the wolf relaxing with the lamb, the lion eating straw like an ox, and a human toddler playing unharmed beside a snake pit.
Sweet. But to pull this off, the wolf and lion will need more than on-line courses in vegan cuisine. Dentists skilled at reconstruction will have to provide them teeth suitable for snacking on radishes, not rabbits. Then, of course, they’ll have to compete with rabbits for the radish crop.
Alas, the rivers of blood that nature sheds in the relentless drive to survive will never cease flowing. But do we two-legged critters have to follow the same principles, the law of the jungle?
We long for peace, pray for it, and sometimes even have a plan. In the bad old days of the Cold War we called our plan “Mutually Assured Destruction.” In an age of suicide bombers and sleeper cells, we labor night and day to kill them before they kill us, expecting that eventually we’ll chop off the head that will dishearten and disable our nearly invisible foe. Thus far, however, the end of the game never comes.
Soon after Christmas, the last of our troops will come home from Iraq. Have we laid there an adequate foundation for peace, bought with the price of thousands of lives? I truly hope so, but for now I doubt we’ll see western tourists flocking to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in my lifetime.
The fellow whose birthday comes at the climax of this peace season had a plan. He told his closest followers it was all right to have swords, although he had no use for one himself. Instead of whacking enemies, he advised loving them, seeking their welfare as though it were your own. Pray for those who persecute you, he urged.
My inner cactus bristles at this, not so much when I think of enemies on some far off continent, but those down the street, or in the next room. That’s where the plan begins, I suspect.
As for the correspondence course, I reckon if I tried, I could learn to sing my enemy’s peace song. Perhaps we could sing it together.