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Peace on Earth?

One of my favorite songs from the folksong movement of the ’50s and ’60s is “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” by husband and wife team Sy Miller and Jill Jackson-Miller. The lyrics include:

Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me;
let there be peace on earth,
the peace that was meant to be.

With God our creator,
family all are we.
Let us walk with each other
in perfect harmony.

The song first debuted in a mountain retreat setting, and Sy Miller describes this moment:

“One summer evening in 1955, a group of 180 teenagers of all races and religions, meeting at a workshop high in the California mountains locked arms, formed a circle and sang a song of peace. They felt that singing the song, with its simple basic sentiment—‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me’— helped to create a climate for world peace and understanding.” (History of Hymns: “Let There Be Peace on Earth”)

A scripture that always spoke deeply to me is the words of Jesus as he looks out over Jerusalem:

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

We write songs about peace, understanding that true peace begins at home, with us, with me. We hear the ancient cry of the prophets, proclaiming peace is rooted in justice and mercy. And we hear the cry for peace from Jesus, calling us to finally understand what is needed for us to live in peace, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Today, a song lyric and Jesus’ weeping for peace are filling my soul.

My soul is heavy because we know what does not make for peace.

Bombs and guns do not make for peace.
Human massacre does not make for peace.
Walls and barriers do not make for peace.
Hunger, lack of education, and inability to feed one’s family do not make for peace.
Throwing young protesters in prison does not make for peace.
Sacrificing Black and Brown bodies on the streets of our country does not make for peace.
Power-mongering and political posturing do not make for peace.

We know the things that don’t work, and yet, for some illogical and heartless reason, we continue to do them.

What are the things that make for peace?

Peace has to begin in each of our private and social lives. We bear our own responsibility for “peace on earth.”
Sharing meals with neighbors and hearing their stories makes for peace.
Laying down weapons of war and initiating actions for peace-making… these will bring peace.
Ending hunger, poverty, and hopelessness brings peace.
Acknowledging power and privilege that keeps us blind to others’ truth builds peace.
Tearing down walls and having No-Wall-Celebrations at the sites of former barriers will bring peace.
Sharing power for the good of the whole brings peace.

My heart grieves over the horrific escalation of violence in southern Israel and throughout Gaza in the long-standing struggle over this beloved land of two peoples and three faiths.

My soul grieves about the ongoing war in Ukraine and Russia. And my heart recognizes all the places where war is ongoing but never mentioned in the news.

And also, my soul cries for the war that exists in our very own hearts: wars of disconnection, rage, hurt, and pain that bring about a desire for revenge.

We are not God-like enough to get ourselves out of these situations. We need God’s help today. But we can do things that initiate peace in our world.

We can boldly declare violence is wrong.
We can call for our leaders to do the work that makes for peace.
We can love our neighbors, both nearby and across the globe.
We can pray and act and speak forth a new way of living in peace.

I am praying for all the people grieving in Israel. And all the people grieving in Palestine. And I am praying for us. That we would be bold enough to live our very own lives in peace, maintaining justice, equity, and the chance to freely live the way Jesus prayed and cried for.

God, be near. God, bring comfort. God, teach us how to live in peace.

Grace y paz,

Bishop Dottie Escobedo-Frank
Resident Bishop of the Los Angeles Area
California-Pacific Conference of The United Methodist Church