“Why do we only pray for peace at Christmastime?” my very elderly mother has begun to ask me plaintively. I reassure her that some of us pray for peace year around. “Hell,” I sometimes say irreverently, “some of us even work for it.”
That usually stops her, not because I’ve answered her question, but more because she doesn’t know what I mean. It’s not a real question, anyway, but a complaint against something she can’t speak. She feels the contradiction between what we say and what we do, whether in religious communities or our culture at large. But taking steps to reduce those contradictions isn’t on her plate. Sometimes I feel that it’s been scraped off onto mine.
Although the need for peacemaking work is obvious in places like Gaza and Kiev, over the last few months I’ve begun to recognize that what we’re doing locally with our groundwater management efforts is best thought of as peacemaking. So, too, are our global efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption and the radical changes in climate we’re inducing. Both groundwater overdraft (overconsumption of fossil waters in most cases) and mounting greenhouse gases are a form of warmaking on the earth and our neighbors, which we can see in the current battles over regulation and restitution. But to win these battles requires all of us to change.
These fights may be based in ignorance of limits. We have thought in the past that there’s no end to our ability to create new sources of water with dam projects and redistributing water’s abundance from one region to another. We have thought in the past that the oceans and the atmosphere were limitless places we could put the toxic byproducts of our industrial production and consuming societies (without harming ourselves, at least.) These thoughts were so foundational to our notion of progress that we fought those who brought contradictory evidence. And that war continues to rage—against scientists, humanists, doctors and judges, anyone who speaks these new truths, regardless of credentials, competence or authority.
But listen: what many of those voices are saying is that we have to change to save ourselves.
In my mind, at least, the notion of peace is based on acknowledging limits and being willing to live within them. It includes being willing to share what’s available, regardless of who the neighbor is. “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus asked rhetorically, implying that means everyone. The principle of equality goes back to his father, YHWH, written into the Deuteronomic laws of how to live on the land. Shalom is based in equal distribution of the land’s resources; conserving those resources and maintaining the earth is keeping faith with the needs of the generations to come. It’s Peace. It’s what’s required to be in covenant with the Lord.
So when we see these battles over groundwater, which is our last recourse to staying on the land in many places, it’s important to see that the enemy is ignorance more than people. Yeah, sure, we can label some of those heavy-pumping people and hedge-fund managers as “greedy,” and I’m sure as hell not above that. But on some deeper level, the definition of greed is ignorance of the truth that any one person’s well-being is dependent on many others. The likelihood of getting that message through to the Pistachio Kings and the Jeff Bezoses of the world is less than 1% of 1%, but it may be less important to convince them of that fact than it is to learn it ourselves.
And what about Dubai? Have you ever seen a place more out-of-whack with the idea of living within your means? At first glance it’s a mockery to hold a climate conference in a place where its climate has been totally defied. But maybe that’s YHWH’s point in letting that mockery occur. Perhaps it will ram home the realization that the ways of the world, those ways in particular, need to be abandoned.
We are not alone in our prayers for peace, whether we save them for December or wail year-round. That prayer is universal, God-given, God-initiated. We have only to do our work making peace among our neighbors, defeating ignorance, living within our means. Shalom.
Trudy Wischemann is a writer still trying to learn to live within her means. You can send her your working ideas c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.