This is part four in our continuing series about outcomes. These are changes in behavior based on a change in perception, causing us to repent (to turn around and go in another direction) of our former practices.
Challenges about the spoiling of our natural resources led many of us to adopt a discipline of recycling paper, metal and certain plastics as a remedial effort to mitigate the carnage. The evidence changed our thinking, which in turn changed our behavior; the outcome of a campaign to save the earth for the benefit of future generations.
One of the most successful campaigns of this type was the Great Smoke Out of the 1970s. It was a one-day challenge to stop smoking in light of medical research linking smoking to lung cancer. Held annually, it is now a forgotten relic of persuasion due to its magnificent success. Smokers went from being the suave majority with considerable economic clout, to being pariahs of a zombiesque stature, proving that outcomes can create meaningful paradigm shifts.
My own purpose for writing about outcomes, though, is personal and not commercial or political and thereby far less likely to make the network news than a stop smoking campaign. I am using a list of nine outcomes proposed by a radical thinker of a different era, the Apostle Paul of New Testament fame. For the sake of full disclosure I will gladly admit to being an adherent of the one who caused Paul to flip his affiliation from avowed Pharisee to a pie in the sky zealot. So I cannot deny a bias in finding these outcomes to possess a certain potency in favorably shaping our lives and benefiting the people who are closest to us.
So far I have done my trifling best to expound on the merits of love and joy as drivers of our behavior. This week’s message is about peace, which for the Greeks – on whose language we are dependent for knowing what Paul meant – was the absence of division. To be at peace is to be joined together. Unity is the hallmark of peaceful relations. I stress this because it is evident in the items that do make the network news that we are not at peace with one another in this country or elsewhere.
Paul’s advice about peace from a Christian perspective is that it is to govern our lives. His application was solely to that first generation of believers for which he held a proprietary concern as their spiritual father. His admonition pointed out that they were members of one entity he termed the body of Christ and therefore they were to be united by being at peace with one another. His fear was that the composition of these early home-church groups would cause the members from otherwise disparate economic and ethnic castes to be at continual odds with one another to the point of eventually destroying a pacifist movement before it even started. We see such a cultural disintegration in our own social fabric today.
That Paul could also write that the peace we feel within surpasses all understanding indicates to me at least that it is not a naturally inherent part of being human. To borrow – ironically – from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the outcome of peace in our lives leads to actions that mark us being superhuman. I follow the theory espoused by another first generation Christian that “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:18
The “R” word is not a term we readily use in today’s world. It smacks of having a Pollyanna attitude in an otherwise cruet and pessimistic society. But righteousness is merely a word indicating correct moral behavior. For James, the author of this statement, that would mean the morality of the Old Testament as he was a Jew by birth. He is also believed to be the brother of Jesus, the perpetrator of all this subversive religious fervor. But here we find a value in the concept of peace that would benefit our own wellbeing in the midst of our national conflicts today.
The Old Testament writers, particularly those designated as prophets, claimed that Israel’s problems stemmed from the lack of justice among its political and religious leaders. The measure of the injustice they witnessed was to be found in how widows, orphans and aliens were treated. Applying that concept to the issues of our day, we could restate James’ proclamation to read “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of social justice.”
A recent article in a national magazine bemoaned the perpetual conflict within the U.S. and targeted certain profiteers of divisiveness as the culprits. The article’s subtitle, however, served to undermine the article’s well-intentioned premise as it promised to provide an antidote for how we might “fight” this type of destructive influence. The subtitle brought to mind a popular anti-war slogan of the Viet Nam era: Fighting for peace is like balling for chastity.”
Peacemaking, not fighting, is the solution. The promised outcome of a harvest in what is morally right portends another one of those paradigm shifts for the benefit of future generations. May that prove to be true.