This column previously appeared in 2003 as a feature of the Barclay Press Conversation Cafe. I’ve reprinted it here as a follow-up to last week’s blog about Iraq:
I woke up Monday to news of further war. Israel staged an air strike inside Syria Sunday in response to the latest suicide bombing. Syria protested to the United Nations Security Council. President Bush said Israel has a right to defend itself. “I made it very clear to the prime minister, like I have consistently done, that Israel’s got a right to defend herself, that Israel must not feel constrained in defending the homeland,” Bush said.
The President is operating on the idea that self-defense is a natural right, and many agree. American dads teach their kids to stand up for themselves in a fight. American moms argue with referees at Saturday soccer games. What are our rights? Nowadays, the list starts with life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and ends somewhere around eye for eye and tooth for tooth.
When I moved to Idaho, I had to take a test to get an Idaho driver’s license. I’d been driving for five years, but I was nervous about failing the test, so I spent hours memorizing the Idaho Driver’s Manual. I remember a piece of wisdom I discovered in the section on 4-way stops. The manual explained how the sequence of turns takes place. And then I read these words at the top of the next page. “Right of way is something you give, not something you take.”
That day, I recognized the core message of peacemaking. It’s a difficult message. It’s a message we ignore at the peril of increased conflict.
Since that time I’ve pondered these questions:
What about people who talk behind my back and slander my reputation? I should hold them up in love, noting their positive traits and building their reputations every time I get the chance. What about those who threaten or manipulate in order to get their way? As far as it is within my power, I must give them what they need, not what I think they deserve.
The only way to make peace, the only option for diffusing conflict is to refuse engagement. If they grasp, I let go. If they accuse, I refuse to argue my defense. When they break in, I make them welcome.
Jesus lived and died this truth. I pray for courage to follow.
As far as it is within my power, I must give them what they need, not what I think they deserve.