Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
From a guitar song by Mohr/Gruber, 1818.
Despite financial success the Mel Gibson & Helen Hunt comedy, What Women Want, has failed to communicate the titular secret to inquiring minds. Last-minute shopping sprees command a convoluted sense of want and need, gift-certificates for a nasal rinse and trim are tempting, and I often chuckle at our dissimilar desires. The FBI wants James J. "Whitey" Bulger in the worst way, Osama bin Laden is wanted by Interpol, and President-elect George W. Bush probably wants to toss back a few cold ones to celebrate his conquest. I wanted to pitch a Paula Jones & Monica Lewinsky photo-shoot before Inauguration Day, but I've now decided it might possibly offend the junior senator from New York, Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton. What we all want is peace, isn't it?
If everyone on the planet were asked if they wanted peace, the majority answer would be a resounding yes! Further questioning should reveal this answer to be attended by such severe qualifications as to make any reasonable investigator conclude most people lie too much. Sure, peace after this or that is accomplished, or peace after a perceived wrong is righted, or even peace for some, but not for all. Peace shouldn't be an ambivalent term, yet many misuse it and believe qualified peace is just as good as the real thing. It's not. So, real peace; what's it like?
Matthew 10:34-36 (King James Version) reads: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against the mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household."
The same passage in the Scholars Version (The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, by Funk, Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, New York: Polebridge/Macmillan, 1993) reads and explains: "'Don't get the idea that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. After all, I have come to pit a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A person's enemies are members of the same household.' Peace or sword. The saying about family feuds is based on a passage in the prophet Micah (7:5-6), which reads: 'You see, a son dishonors his father, a daughter stands up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A person's enemies are all members of the same household.' The claim that Jesus deliberately creates conflict would seem to contradict other sayings of Jesus in which he recommends unqualified love (for example Matt 5:43-48). In this saying, Jesus also refers to himself in the first person, something the Fellows [of the Jesus Seminar; RDF] doubt that he did. For that reason, and because the saying is based on something the prophet Micah said, the Fellows concluded that these sentences were formulated by the Christian community."
The scholars of the Jesus seminar correctly point out the incongruous nature of the above quote when considered with other sayings of Jesus. The mention of "unqualified love" is most interesting, as such a goal is, I believe, related to real peace. As Christians generally apply the spiritual sobriquet from Isaiah 9:6, "Prince of Peace," to Jesus, and his birthday is being celebrated this week, one could assume "peace" would be on many a Christian mind. Right… Unfortunately, Christian peace (whether Catholic or Protestant) remains conditional on antiquated, insincere, and unrealistic qualifiers. Though events at the Vatican last week make me wonder…
As head of an Austrian delegation presenting the Vatican with a Christmas tree for St. Peter's Square, the racist and radical isolationist, Joerg Haider, met with Pope John Paul II. The Pope continues to surprise and inspire me. How like a Mohandas Gandhi or a Martin Luther King Jr. to meet with the enemy! Really, John Paul II boldly practices unqualified love and deserves the high sales figures of comic books, recordings, personal writings, and life stories about or by him. I wish I could be as charitable. Haider is a punk and were I within physical proximity to the scum, my spit would strike him scant seconds before my fists. Okay, I have "peace" issues…
Turning from gory Good Friday and mysterious Easter, Christmas is the time we celebrate baby Jesus-Dude and consider the potential for peace in all children. Adults, especially those involved in the recent voting fiasco in Florida, are usually self-aware of social and political consensus and resign themselves to espousing someone else's dogma, party line, or opinion. Peace with adults is apparently conditional, but children possess the capacity for real peace and not some hyped poser-peace. Chanting "Poe! Poe!" (Peace On Earth! Peace On Earth!) at Christmas is powerful magic.
Unqualified love is often confined to a parent/child relationship. We seldom question the depth of such feelings, as most experience it directly. The miraculous non-violence practiced by Gandhi, King, and John Paul II comes closest to applying unqualified love in a non-parent/child relationship. Ah, they must have been great kids! Filled with peace, hope, and diligence, they were probably indistinguishable from the millions of other children around them. The Christian celebration of Christmas, with its thematic prompts of birth, peace, and possibility, works with kids and adults, yet it shines with the providential parent/child relationship. Extending the concept is sometimes successful, but often Christmas celebrated without the dynamic of parent and child (or a significant secondary association, as with siblings or other relatives) is difficult and somewhat exhausting. So, where does peace at Christmas fit in? In socks… No, not the ones hung by the chimney with care, but rather the ones we wear on our feet. Us! The promise of peace is within all of us, existing unqualified and ageless. If only we could honor the possibility better.
This Christmas I want peace on earth. Fine, I've wanted this before and didn't get it. The promise of peace should be with us 365/24/7, but …it's a wonderful, albeit hectic, life and most are too busy to focus on peace unless blood or starvation is involved. The previous suggestion of Christmas everyday remains ludicrous, as we can barely manage being civil one day a year. Hugging Republicans all year long? I speak only for myself and admit I don't have the convictions of Gandhi, King, and John Paul II. It would be my Christmas wish (apart from Poe) that others hug Republicans throughout the coming year. Hug them real tight…
Hoping for more than six and a half hours,