It’s War in America
Peace in Community
Henry Koenig Stone
Isaiah 58:2–3; 6; 9b–10; 12
2 Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice? …
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? …
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday. …
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in. (NRSV)
Reflection: Today’s prayer will take the form of a poem that I wrote in May of 2020, and it requires contextual understanding of a series of events taking place at the time. The extrajudicial execution and murder of George Floyd took place on Memorial Day weekend. This came only weeks after the nighttime home invasion and killing of Breonna Taylor, also by police, in Louisville, KY. By the end of the month, protests against the killing of George Floyd had broken out all across the country — even as a video circulated in which a white woman called the police on a black man for asking her to please leash her dog. She told police that he had threatened her life — a blatant lie, and one that instead put his life on the line.
Even balanced against the need for quarantine measures to contain the 2020 Covid-19 coronavirus outbreaks that had already claimed nearly 100,000 lives in the U.S. alone, these protests were necessary. It is crucial to dispel the illusion that we are already at peace within the United States. This goes beyond the specific issues of guns and policing, to the deeper, consistent reality that there is and has been a state of war between lethally armed white folks, on the one hand, and black victims on the other — going directly back to the lynching tree, which also returned as a tool of violence in California this year. The violence of this war has been celebrated, at times, by white supremacists marching openly. At others, it has been tacitly supported through the ever-present dog whistles of “those protesters are just thugs” or “well, he should have done XYZ differently [if he wanted to not get shot]. He had it coming.”
If we are truly to make peace in America, we must acknowledge the scope of this violence and take measures at every level of society — spoken word, raised sign, passed law and risked life — to stop these killings from continuing. The fact that God chooses for us is to “undo the thong of the yoke” that our society still binds to Black America, and let God’s oppressed people — finally — walk free from fear of unjust persecution.
Practice for Peacemakers: This week, we focus on building peace in community. Start by rereading Isaiah 58, and interpreting this harsh and yet hopeful Word of God as it applies to the United States of America. Then, throughout the week, reflect on the meaning, method, and necessity of public protest in order to reach a state of justice and peace. When violence next repeats itself, will you bear witness to the change that must come?
Peace is not achieved when you stop hurting.
Peace is not a victory won from the inside.
The protest-lines for peace are drawn up in your soul, for sure
But they will always be there if you choose to hide.
Peace does not come to those who ask—not for free
It takes a greater sacrifice than war.
As every Power is violent, every Principality
Is strangling Justice beside “Others” and “the Poor.”
There is no peace between those with all and nothing
Nor even when the conflict seems subdued
The status quo of domination, in its enduring
Perpetuates the Great Lie behind each smaller ruse.
Peace is not achieved while “they” are hurting.
Peace has not been won through some past fight.
There is no peace, absent justice: in practice and de jure
to make peace is to care, repent, repair — and to make right.
Henry Koenig Stone is the editor for this year’s Season of Peace Reflections. An activist and public policy wonk, he has previously served as editor of “Unbound” in Louisville, KY, and as associate for young adult social witness to the Advisory Committee for Social Witness Policy.
This year’s Season of Peace Resources are designed to help participants explore practices for building peace on every scale. From the personal level to global issues, these reflections and prayers will help grow the faith and witness of the whole church. Throughout the 29 days of the 2020 Season of Peace, we are invited to reflect upon:
Week 1 September 6–12: Peace Within
Week 2 September 13–19: Peace in Relationships
Week 3 September 20–26: Peace in Community
Week 4 September 27–October 3: Peace in the World
Final Day October 4: Holistic Peacemaking