Sometimes it sounds like a dream.
As we watch organised murder take place in places like Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, and Somalia and we know that terrorist movements continue to wage a more subdued kind of warfare. As we worry that the tinderboxes of Egypt and Lebanon and others might soon erupt into open conflict. As we endure year after year of stalemated hostility in the Middle East...
Peace.... Sounds like a dream.
Human beings seem to have a terrible flaw in being drawn quickly from insult, to anger, to hostility.
As we've grown more technologically and organisationally sophisticated, that flaw has only been given more tools to exert its terrible damage.
Where a club can only kill a few, a gun can kill dozens, a grenade can kill hundreds, a bomb or a missile can kill thousands - perhaps many thousands - perhaps more.
We are not so very far from the foolishness of the whales and sandpipers - from small affronts into anger and thence into hostility. We seem blind to the damage we cause to our own side. Compassion for the other side evaporates in the heat of our anger and the vacuum of our fear.
Over the thousands of years of religion, we know that our many world religious traditions have had to wrestle with human violence. How have they responded? What have they learned? What can we learn from them?
One impulse might be to dismiss religion altogether for learning about peace. After all, it was religion that drove the Crusades. It was religion that fuelled the sectarian violence in Northern Island. It was religion that created the Inquisition. It was religion that stood by and even collaborated in one of the most inhumane times in human history - the Nazi Holocaust.
It is religion that today continues to be responsible for the heat in many conflicts - Jews and Muslims, Muslims and Christians, Shiites and Sunnis, Hindus and Buddhists, Muslims and western culture... the list goes on and on.
Virtually every religious scripture includes sections that glorify war and violence.
But religion is among the most complex of human institutions. It's content has been driven by too many disparate motivations for us to expect any consistent approach, but we can still look there for the instances when effective approaches to peace have arisen.
One of the factors that most confounds our search for peace in the religious traditions is that most often, religions have been about seeking peace for the insiders against the outsiders. "Love your neighbour as yourself." Neighbour - not the foreigner - not the alien - not someone with a different colour skin or a different belief system.
In the formation of most religious traditions, the world was much larger and our notion of family much smaller. Our kind - our family - meant our clan, our tribe, those who believe like us, look like us, speak like us, and live right near us.
We didn't have planes to drop bombs or intercontinental ballistic missiles or drones to bring violence half-way around the world. We didn't know the people there. When we did encounter them, we thought of them as something as foreign as another species.
The world is very different now. Peace depends not only upon loving your neighbour, it requires loving and having compassion for your brother or sister on the other side of the planet - recognising that we are all one human family. In this light, the very idea of fighting to bring about peace becomes nonsensical. Fighting to bring peace to our kind is meaningless when all are our kind.
The lesson we must learn then is to extend our vision of compassion and relatedness far beyond its old, outdated bounds.
So expanded, the teachings of peace - limited by their time and context - become relevant once again.
Words from the Taoist tradition, attributed to that faith's great sage, Laotzi:
"If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart."
The place to begin making peace is within our own hearts - and the hearts of everyone we reach. A heart that is not at peace can never act with peace.
These words have echoes throughout the world's great traditions:
Christianity's Francis of Assisi;
"While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart."
Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza:
"Peace is not the absence of war; it is a virtue; a state of mind; a disposition for benevolence; confidence; and justice."
Sufi Muslim mystic, Hafiz:
"I have come into this world to see this: the sword drop from men's hands even at the height of their arc of rage because we have finally realized there is just one flesh we can wound."
The Dalai Lama:
"If we ourselves remain angry and then sing world peace, it has little meaning. First, our individual self must learn peace. This we can practice. Then we can teach the rest of the world."
Having peace within - having compassion and love for others - is where religion has been a great technological innovator. Pray. Meditate on loving-kindness. Chant words of love. I won't go into the great list of practices for growing our compassionate hearts.
The thought will certainly arise that being nice - being loving - having peace in our hearts - is not enough. No - it is not. Our love cannot stop at the boundary of our skins or the boundaries of our nations.
Today, we may contend with great evils borne of a world with too little niceness, love, and compassion. In such a world, the love we build within must also be brought to bear actively and externally.
Remember the image of a man standing in front of a tank in Tien an men square - Mahatma Ghandi leading peaceful loving actions in the quest for Indian independence - Martin Luther King, Jr. leading peaceful action in the US civil rights struggle - the women of Greenham Common, their hands joined encircling a vast place dedicated to killing...
Love and compassion does not mean being a pushover, but without peace and love in our hearts, we are battling to stop battles - fighting to stop fighting - warring to stop war.
Only love can do that.
To echo Larry Jaffe's poem from earlier:
"One morning he wakes—
realizes he has the gift of peace"
Let's change that just a little...
"One day we wake, realize we all have the gift of peace."
May it be so