The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
I look at my class, expecting affirmation, recognition—something. Bewildered, blank faces stare back at me.
“You have seen the Peace Sculpture Garden, right?” I continue. Nada. Zilch. “The one you’ve passed probably 300 times this school year?” Netflix zombie eyes. “All right, let’s take a field trip. Follow me.”
The Conflict and Peacemaking class rises dutifully and trails me out of room 204, down the stairs, into the cold February night air, marching toward the Union College Ortner Center.
It’s not a long journey if we’re merely counting steps, yet the path to our destination stretches millennia. Through gardens in Eden and Gethsemane. Beneath Francis of Assisi, Leo Tolstoy, Ellen White, Mohandas Gandhi, and Desmond Doss. Winding alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. Under the current Adventist Peace Fellowship.
The path has also slogged through enveloping landscapes of blood. World and civil wars, all of them uncivil. Innumerable acts of revenge, venom, horrific atrocity. Beheadings, lynchings, rapes, brutal tortures. Add to these the daily emotional violence of slurs, taunts, neglect, shaming, shunning.1
The winged angels weep.
Entering the Ortner Center, we turn right immediately and pause.
I say, “Here it is.”
Seventh-day Adventists are meant to be people of peace. This peace is not timid or tepid. This peace speaks and acts boldly for justice. This peace walks with humility and loves mercy. This peace does not shrink from important conversations, however tense. This peace heals ruptured relationships and restores trust. This peace works as fervently and persistently as does any inciter of violence and disharmony.
Peacemaking is active—not passive—engagement, as light is more than the mere absence of darkness. I pray unabashedly for peace. The difference between a peace lover and a peacemaker is the difference between loving money and making money.
Jesus promised, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”2 The spirit of peacemaking is simple: We must be followers of Jesus.
Union College’s Peace Sculpture Garden features four sculptures. On the far left, “Peace Plow” carries the scars of past weapons. Isaiah 2:4 proclaims, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into fishing hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Next, “The Wall” is an actual piece of the Berlin Wall. This wire symbolizes walls that stand between people—barriers of prejudice and hatred. Like that wall in Berlin, these barriers can be broken down and peacefully removed.
“Prince of Peace” by Victor Issa, 1980 graduate of Union College, shows Jesus of Nazareth, the Lion and Lamb paradox who brings gracious harmony to our weary, hostile, strife-torn world. “Love your enemies,” He commands.3
“Liberation” depicts the power of education to lift all people above prisons of superstition and ignorance. Every person is endowed by the Creator with the freeing ability to think and to do. To depict this liberation, Amanda Clark, Union College 2010 graduate, welded doves rising from an open book.
A marker accompanying the sculptures declares, “While nations and people will often try to defend themselves by responding militarily—which sometimes results in short-term success—violence does not build enduring solutions. From both a Christian and a practical perspective, any lasting peace involves at least four ingredients: dialogue, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation.”4
Hopeful and clear
Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”
Like his Master, Dr. King preached that violence breeds violence. Revelation 13 announces, “If you kill by the sword, by the sword you will be killed. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.”5
It is also a call for a just balance. R. C. Sproul admits, “Social ethics must never be substituted for personal ethics. Crusading can easily become a dodge for facing up to one’s lack of personal morality. By the same token, even if I am a model of personal righteousness, that does not excuse my participation in social evil. The man who is faithful to his wife while he exercises bigotry toward his neighbors is no better than the adulterer who crusades for social justice. What God requires is justice both personal and social.” Without a balanced approach to peacemaking, Adventists appear as clueless as a Kardashian without a camera crew.
An art contest was once held with the theme of peace. Entries poured in, paintings of mist-veiled waterfalls, barefoot lovers strolling along endless sand, sublime sunsets, suckling babies, and azure mountain lakes mirroring snow-capped peaks. However, the winner was none of these.
The winning entry depicted a terrific storm at sea. Rain like liquid bullets fell in torrents. Ferocious winds whipped towering waves. Dark, heavy clouds pressed down while lightning stabbed the sky. In the very midst of this turmoil, along the curl of a wave, a seagull glided serenely.
The gull’s progress did not require tranquil surroundings. Its happiness wasn’t dependent on circumstances. It carried inner peace.
“Peace I leave with you: my peace I give you,” says the Savior. “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”6 This prescribed courage is a commandment of God just as clearly as is the Sabbath commandment. Such defiant optimism appears dozens of times in Scripture: Do not be afraid. Peace be with you.
“There is no way to peace,” writes A. J. Muste. “Peace is the way.” Lacking the vision and resilience of peace, the future appears fierce, sad, and bewildering. We can fail to recognize the ancient path even though it bends right beneath our feet.
— Chris Blake teaches writing, editing and film critique at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Unless otherwise noted, Bible quotations are from the New International Version.
1 Robert Louis Stevenson writes, “The cruelest lies are often told in silence.”
2 Matt. 5:9
3 Matt. 5:44
4 From the official Seventh-day Adventist Church statement “Call to Peace”
5 Verse 10, Revised Standard Version. See also Matt. 26:52.
6 John 14:27