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How to Achieve Lasting Peace
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Last week I wrote about the March for Peace and the idea that in order to achieve true and lasting peace, we must first learn to love our neighbors.

So the question becomes: who is my neighbor?  This was a question posed by an expert in the law to Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus answered him with the familiar story of the Good Samaritan in which a man was beaten up and robbed by highway thieves on his journey between two cities.  As he lay dying by the side of the road, first a priest and then a lay preacher passed him by and did nothing.  Finally, a Samaritan passed by, gave the man immediate care and then brought him to an inn where he paid the innkeeper for the stranger’s care.  The point here was that a Samaritan – a hated foreigner in the land of that day – was the one who went out of his way to help a man who would normally be his enemy.  Our neighbors, as the story tells us, are not just those living next to us, but strangers as well; they could even be our enemies.

Violence, wars, criminal activity and many other ills of human nature occur when we reject this principle and when we place our needs, our wants and our desires – both legitimate and illegitimate –above those of our neighbors and fellow human beings.  When we focus on ourselves and not on our fellow man or woman, we reject one of the reasons why we were created in the first place – to love God and to love our neighbors.  And when we begin to love ourselves more than God or our neighbors, we are willing to go to all lengths to satisfy those needs, wants and desires. Violence, wars, criminal activity and many other ills of human nature then take over.  And this of course leads to clashes between cities, countries, and civilizations.  But first it leads to clashes between….neighbors.  Because it is neighbors (or others, if you prefer) who make up those cities, countries and civilizations.

However when we focus on loving God and our neighbor, our attention is focused not on ourselves, but on others.  Many of those involved in the March for Peace and the peace movement in general like to talk about the “other.”  When we focus on our neighbor’s (the “other”) needs, wants and desires – the legitimate ones – only then can we begin to see our neighbor and recognize our neighbor as another individual – equally created like us – who deserves not only dignity and respect, but our love.

American football coach Vince Lombardi once famously said “I don’t necessarily have to like my players and associates but as the leader I must love them.  Love is loyalty, love is teamwork, love respects the dignity of the individual.  This is the strength of any organization.”

When you stop to consider it, all of life is relational, both vertically to God and horizontally to our neighbor, the other.  Each of us has to make choices about those relationships.

The ancient Greeks used the noun agapé and the corresponding verb agapaó to describe a unconditional love rooted in behavior toward others without regard to whether they deserved it or not.  That unconditional love is the love of deliberate choice.  When Jesus speaks of love, the word agapé is used, a love of behavior and choice, not a love of feeling.  Love is not how you feel toward others, but how you behave toward others.  Too often we think about love as a noun, a feeling.  But unconditional love is a verb, it is an action.

We cannot always control how we feel toward people, especially bad people, but we can control how we behave toward them.  And this is not easy.  These behaviors require us to serve and sacrifice for others.  We may have to sacrifice our egos or even our bad moods on a particular day.  We may have to sacrifice our desire to verbally berate someone rather than be assertive with them.  We will have to sacrifice by loving and extending ourselves for people we may not even like.  We have a choice to make about whether or not we will choose to behave lovingly.

We are all created with the capacity to love.  But that love takes work and it is manifested in how we behave toward others.  And if we love and behave rightly toward others, then and only then can we achieve the peace, tolerance, mutual respect and understanding that we all talk about – despite our differences.

Let me leave you with these thoughts: the individual is sacred, a spiritual being and created equally.  When we focus on the other individual and love our neighbors as ourselves, we can live at peace, understand each other, tolerate each other – maybe we can even enjoy each other!  Despite our differences, when we focus on the legitimate needs of our neighbors, the “other,” when we love our neighbors as ourselves, and when we love our God, we can learn to live together in peace.

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Jason Miko
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