Peace is not the absence of violence. It is not a lack of anything – it is the presence of love, of acceptance, of faith and of hope. Over the last few days I have felt anxious about the tensions in my local area following damage and looting round the corner on Monday night and then the killing of three Muslim young men less than three miles away on Tuesday night. Apart from the Police helicopter overhead late Monday and Tuesday nights, the streets have felt strangely quiet, and this quiet has generally felt more like uncertainty and nervousness rather than peace.
Peace has come when people have taken a different kind of action. The vigil at the petrol station on Dudley Road last night could have turned violent, but people including the father of one victim, Tariq Jahan, and other respected community figures had argued powerfully against retaliation. This footage from the Guardian shows the group weighing their options and choosing not to march on the city centre, avoiding possible violence and making positive moves for peace. Local songwriter CaseyRain has also promoted measured updates on his outstanding tumblr site, interspersed with considered summaries and personal pleas for people to stay safe and have compassion for one another. Peace has come when others around the country have united to clear up the mess left on our streets.
The verses that came to mind when thinking about this blog were from Romans 12,
Do not repay anyone evil for evil… If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I am heartened by the work of many unsung heroes within my local community, building relationships and offering hope and somewhere to belong for young people who feel disenfranchised or directionless. It is possible to condemn harm and criminal activity without writing off young people who have been involved. Short custodial sentences will not do the job of rebuilding lives and communities, and I’m not convinced that the Big Society will do that either. The choices of individuals and the actions we take can make such a difference. We need to be setting a good example, as parents, as neighbours and as responsible citizens. This includes promoting tolerance and understanding, arguing against prejudice and stereotypes and actively pursuing peace.
Peace is not here by default, just because looting or riots have ended. Peace is not here because Police officers have made their presence known, important though good policing is within our cities. Peace is not here because it rained, or because people got fed up and went home. Peace is here when we reach out to our neighbours and pray for our communities. Peace is in the friendships across cultural or other divides. Peace is in each message of support, of condolence, of wisdom. Peace is something we need to work at, with God’s help. Peace be with you.