Peace in our Time?


Over the past 4 weeks, each Tuesday morning a significant proportion of Northern Ireland has had the unfortunate experience of waking up to my dulcet tones (with the notable exception of our own house where, mysteriously one Tuesday the clock radio reset itself to Radio 4 and I awoke to the much more appealling and perceptive words of Joel Edwards). Over those weeks I've been pondering on various anniversaries (I think it's a function of my time of life)... my own 20th wedding anniversary, the 40th anniversary of our local church, the 30th anniversary of Pope JP2's visit to Ireland, and finally, last Tuesday, the 30th anniversary of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama...

But that was before the bombshell of this year's Peace Prize announcement. Now many already know that I lean towards Obama politically, but I'm not convinced... Many suggest that he is effectively recieving it as a reward for not being George W. Bush... others suggest that is simplistic and patronising and that if nothing else he deserves it as the first African-American incumbent of the White House... which frankly strikes me as a whole lot more patronising. Others consider it as an encouragement to Obama, his team and the US in general to keep heading in the right direction, but given that the right wing in the US regard Europeans in general and peace organisations in particular as deeply suspicious, this will not win Obama much support back home.

Ruth Gledhill suggests that we may as well award the Strictly Come Dancing award to Obama as the Nobel Peace Prize, and there is a certain extent to which she could be right. I want to see the US use its global authority as a peacemaker; but that needs to be peace in its fullest sense, that is peace with justice, not simply an imposed peace... Pax Americana taking the place of the Pax Britannica or Pax Romana of previous imperial powers... And for that to be the case it cannot simply flow from the barrel of a gun. The fact that Samuel Colt's famous 45 revolver was known as the "Peacemaker" deeply inhabits the American psyche, and, through the magic of cinema, has been woven into the mythology of the western world... But the peace that such weapons brought about then and now, was the peace of "Boot Hill" and should never be lauded by Mr Nobel's successors.

But as well as public peace there is also the issue of personal peace, which is often hard to track down. And that is what I was reflecting on in this week's Thought for the Day, below in its amended text form. Strangely it isn't available on BBC's iPlayer... I hope that isn't due to anything I said! The lawyers haven't been in touch... yet...

30 years ago on Tuesday, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is one of my few claims to fame that I actually met him. That was when he visited Belfast in October 2000, and I hosted a meeting for church and community workers at Forthspring Inter-Community Group where he spoke… The sad thing is that I remember so little about the whole event or what he said. It all went by in a haze… My wife was expecting our second child in less than a week, and because her first birth had been particularly traumatic I was more than a little anxious on that point… Then I had been negotiating with local community leaders, paramilitaries and police on either side of the peaceline for weeks beforehand to make arrangements for the visit of the Dalai Lama and everything had looked like unravelling on the eve of the event… But after a Iot of phone calls through the night and some straight talking on the streets, the whole thing went ahead.
All the people present were delighted… while I was simply delighted that it was over and hadn’t been a complete disaster. Indeed I was feeling so grotty that I had to go to the doctor to get checked out… only to be told that I had become diabetic… The Doctor explained that while stress doesn’t cause diabetes it can sometimes be the final straw…
So, occasionally I make the outrageous claim that the Dalai Lama made me a diabetic…
But I do find it ironic that there he was, a Nobel peace prize winner, and peace was a million miles from my heart and mind… I had allowed it to become the most frenetic and fraught few weeks of my life.
Jesus told his disciples, in preparation for the most traumatic days of their lives, with his upcoming arrest and execution, that he had come to bring peace… a peace that this world can never offer…
A peace that it not the absence of trouble but a peace that sustains us in the face of trouble… even when a peace prize winner comes to town.


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