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12 April 2013

Shalom, Syria and me

Shalom, Syria and me

Between the lines of rhetoric covering everything from Thatcher’s hairstyles to her music playlist to her controversial ideology this week, you might have missed that political wars of a very different nature continue to rage on around the globe.

Squashed under the reams of photos spanning the Iron Lady’s 11 years in power lurks the minor news story that North Korea have a ballistic missile with a 2,000-mile range fuelled and ready to launch. A test in the next few days is imminent.

Slightly closer to home, the civil war erupting in Syria sends cold shivers down my spine any time another clip of its news crops up on the radio. When I saw that Sunday marked the 19th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, I couldn’t help but immediately equate it to the dire situation in Syria and the seeming inertia from the international political community. With the civilian death toll rising daily and intense fighting that appears intent on blazing its country to ashes, it appears to be happening all over again; and I feel totally helpless.

Without wanting to sound too much like an entrant to a Miss World competition, what I’d really like is world peace. As over-simplistic and ideological that sounds, it is a genuine desire.

Peace on earth – it’s become something so ethereal and removed, we can forget that it also applies to us. And this is where things start to become uncomfortable. Jesus makes it clear in the Sermon on the Mount that murder is not just a physical act but something that can also happen in our hearts when we hold hatred against someone else. I suspect Martin Luther King was drawing on Jesus’s words when he said: “Non-violence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” The radical path to becoming a peacemaker begins with examining the violence in my own being towards myself, others and even God because this is where war begins.

Then, of course, we really start to see how difficult peace is because – actually – people have hurt me and it’s hard to forgive when the pain is still raw; people have taken things away from me that I wanted and it feels too hard to release them. Peace isn’t always a warm feeling of tranquility in our bodies – it can be something that pulls at every part of us. Peace and what it requires, hurts. It strips us back to a place of humility where we have to lay down our pride if we are to move forwards in our relationships. Sometimes it can feel that one of the most difficult asks of the Christian walk is “to settle our relationships with one another” and “drop our differences” (2 Corinthians 5). Yet this is the route to that striking Old Testament word shalom which is “to live in right relations with God, oneself, one’s neighbours and the whole of creation” (Global Dictionary of Theology).

Among the titles prophesied about Jesus before his birth, it is not insignificant that one of them was Prince of Peace. Born into an occupied nation as the underdog and a subsequent refugee, he would have known the earthly grittiness of conflict. His very incarnation was an act of reconciliation; his life and death shattering the no-man’s land between God and humankind.

As overwhelming and depressing as the statistics coming out of Syria are, we must not lose interest. Let’s keep as engaged as we can; read the newspapers, ask difficult questions, donate to the DEC appeal, and pray unceasingly for mercy to prevail, lives to be saved and the country to be restored. We might not all strap £2,000 around our waist to hand out to the refugees in the camps as Gill Newman did, but we could help her to fill 1,000 school bags to ensure that the displaced children of Syria can continue with their all important education.

We won’t all be involved in diplomatic efforts to curtail the violence and pave the way for a ceasefire; but taking the great reconciler as our inspiration, we will play our part in bringing peace on earth by ushering it in, and out of our own hearts.

Katherine Maxwell-Cook, freelance writer and multimedia co-ordinator & writer at the Evangelical Alliance