The church I attend in Knoxville pledges itself to a “just peace covenant.” One part of the statement is “to seek the elimination of the causes of war by building a world that is free of poverty, of oppression, and of the violation of human rights.” Click here to read the whole statement. What I particularly like about the covenant is that it defines peace as more than the absence of war, which is the definition you will find in most dictionaries. Not everyone who attends my church is a pacifist, but I believe everyone would agree that they try to live their lives in a way that promotes a culture of peace. Elise Boulding, a Quaker sociologist, defines a “peace culture” as:
[A] culture that promotes peaceable diversity. Such a culture includes lifeways, patterns of belief, values, behavior, and accompanying institutional arrangements that provide mutual caring and well-being as well as an equality that includes appreciation of difference, stewardship, and equitable sharing of the earth’s resources among its members and with all living beings. It offers mutual security for identity as well as kinship with the living earth. There is no need for violence. In other words, peaceableness is an action concept, involving a constant shaping and reshaping of understandings, situations, and behaviors in a constantly changing lifeworld, to sustain well-being for all.
I love the idea of peaceableness as an “action concept.” Pacifism is too often equated with passivity. Living a life of peaceableness is proactive and deliberate. The peacemaker seeks not just an end to war and other hostilities, but an end to all the injustices in the world that make those hostilities possible. Here are a few favorite books of mine depicting people actively engaged in peaceableness.
- McPhail, David. No! Roaring Brook, 2009.
- The word “No” repeated three times is the only thing said in this otherwise wordless book that speaks of profound courage. On his way to mail a letter to the president, a young boy witnesses planes dropping fiery bombs from the sky, tanks attacking homes, and soldiers breaking down doors and beating people. When the boy confronts a bully at the mailbox, shouting “No!” to the bigger boy, the entire order of the universe is reversed. Walking back, he sees the soldiers bearing gifts, tanks plowing fields, and planes dropping down a bicycle, which the boy and the former bully use to ride together. A beautifully illustrated fable with a powerful message.
- Meltzer, Milton. Ain’t Gonna Study War No More: The Story of America’s Peace Seekers. Random House/Landmark, 2002.
- Originally published in 1985, this updated edition offers an authoritative and readable history of the peace movement and nonviolent resistance in America. Meltzer raises interesting questions, such as how the early Christian church turned from pacifism position to just war doctrine. Meltzer also discusses the evolution of anti-war arguments and discusses various moral conflicts that split anti-war movements, such as abolitionism vs. peace.
- O’Brien, Anne Sibley and Perry Edmond O’Brien. After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance. Ill. Anne Sibley O’Brien. Charlesbridge, 2009.
- This book chronicles the history of nonviolent resistance through profiles of significant adherents from 1908 to 2003 including individuals such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, César Chávez, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Wangari Maathi and groups such as the student activists of Tiananmen Square and the Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Disappeared) in Argentina. Illustrated with handsome black-and-white drawings. The authors have an excellent web site featuring downloadables and other extras.
- Radunsky, Vladimir. Manneken Pis: A Simple Story of a Boy Who Peed On a War. Walker, 2002.
- In Brussels, there is a bronze statue of little boy peeing called Manneken Pis. Several legends are associated with the statue and Radunsky offers his own entertaining take on it in this story about a distraught little boy who loses his parents in the midst of a raging battle Scared, sad, and needing to urinate, he climbs on a wall and pees on the combatants. They stop and stare, then break into laughter. Fear and anger turns into giggles and guffaws, and the war is quickly forgotten. The boy finds his parents, a legend begins, and, eventually, a statue is cast.
- Suvanjieff, Ivan and Dawn Gifford Engle. Peace Jam: A Billion Simple Acts of Peace. Viking, 2008. 30-minute DVD included.
- The PeaceJam Foundation utilizes Nobel Peace laureates to model for and motivate youth to improve our world. This book profiles how some of these figures work with young adults on issues related to human rights, peace, the environment, and equity. The book is a wonderful introduction to social activism, showing young people that they can make a difference in their world.
- Winter, Jonah. Peaceful Heroes. Ill. Sean Addy. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, 2009.
- This collective biography profiles peacemakers from ancient through contemporary times from all parts of the world. Better-known figures include Jesus, Gandhi, and King, while less well-known activists include Islamic leader Abdul Ghaffae Khan, who led a nonviolent protest against the brutal British colonizers of Pakistan, and Paul Rusesabagina of Rwanda. The detailed portraits never deny the horrifying realities that the peace-seeking leaders are fighting against. The stunning illustrations nearly overwhelm Winter’s chatty, interactive text. The stirring profiles are great introductions, but Winter offers no suggestions for further reading.