Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Passion for Peace

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
- Matthew 5:9

It's no secret, we live in a world filled with hatefulness, violence an war, and at times, it seems like there's nothing we can do to make a change. Our world is heading in a downward spiral, and the cycle seems to be never-ending. But what if I were to tell you that there IS something we can do to make a difference?

In Disney's 1995 film, Pocahontas, we get a glimpse into a world where opposing forces seem hell-bent on destroying each other, but somehow war is avoided. And who knows, but a closer look might actually give us some guidance for how to look at each other and handle hostilities in this new world we live in today!

The movie, of course, is based on the legend of the real life Native American girl, Pocahontas, who crossed paths with British settlers in the early 1600s. Disney has taken a little liberty with the tale, as usual, but that does nothing to take away from the story's impact or the truths that lie within.

In the movie (as in real life), Pocahontas' tribe is worried about the intentions of the strange new white men who are invading their territory. They fear that the white men will not be friendly, and it doesn't take long for their fears to be confirmed. At the same time, the white men - in the movie, led by an extremely greedy, spiteful and paranoid Governor John Ratcliffe - have a similar fear of the Indians. They are constantly mistrusting of the local "savages" - a fear that Gov. Ratcliffe harnesses in order to get the men to follow his orders.

I'm reminded of how much fear can grip and shape our lives. Fear causes us to play it safe and stay at camp instead of going after new adventures. It causes us to accept the tyrant ruler because at least we're used to it. Fear is also behind most racism, I think - fear of the unknown, fear because of the stories of others' experiences. It's so easy to generalize and judge a whole group of people because of the actions of just a few, and we see that still happening a lot in our world today.

While everyone else plays it safe and stays at camp mining for gold, Captain John Smith rushes out fearlessly to explore the untamed land. In the movie, Captain Smith says he has encountered and traded with natives in the past, yet - perhaps influenced by others in his party - he still refers to the natives as "savages" (which illustrates how easily wrong attitudes can spread, and how much we need to fight against them!), and Pocahontas is right to be offended by the derogatory term.
Smith: "We've improved the lives of savages all over the world."
Pocahontas: "'Savages'?"
Smith: "Um, not that YOU'RE a savage..."
Pocahontas: "Just my people!"
Smith: "Look, 'savages' is just a word, uh, you know, a term for people who are uncivilized."
Pocahontas: "Like me."
Smith: "Well, when I say uncivilized, what I mean is... is..."
Pocahontas: "What you mean is 'not like you'."
"You think the only people who are 'people'
Are the people who look and think like you,
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger,
You'll learn things you never knew you never knew."
- Pocahontas sings a lesson to John Smith
The fear of the unknown - the fear of those who are different - unsettles us because that means there's something we can't fully identify with in the other person. It causes us to doubt their intentions, to jump to conclusions, to see the worst in others. It causes us to treat them as if they're dangerous, or to look down on them because they dress or talk differently. We mistake "different" for "wrong".

Fear breeds distrust, which leads to all kinds of problems. Look at the examples in our world today... and I'm talking about more than just racial issues now.

How often do we judge people just because of the way they dress? Consider the Treyvon Martin incident, or notice how many people in America react to anyone wearing a turbin or a hijab. How often do we mistrust people simply because they speak Spanish or they have a foreign accent? How often do we look down on those who have disabilities, those who hold differing political views or religious beliefs from ours, or those whose lifestyles we disapprove of?

It starts with a little distrust. Then you begin to label people. You call them by derogatory names and slurs. Meanwhile, you're sparking hatred in the other person, and when both sides fuel the fire, it doesn't take long before the little spark leads to a massive explosion! Slander, vandalism, hazings, hate crimes... it doesn't take long before both sides feel justified in staging an all-out war!

That's the situation that quickly unfolds in the movie. In his greed, Gov. Ratcliffe feeds the fear among his men. When the Indians, who are already afraid of the white men, come close to get a look at the invaders, the fearful white men assume the worst of their neighbors, and before long, violence erupts. Tensions continue to escalate until a native attacks John Smith and is killed by another settler. The two sides seem to be headed inevitably toward war when Capt. Smith laments, "Once two sides wanna fight, nothing can stop them!"

But John Smith doesn't have to be right, and Pocahontas proves that point. When John is captured by Pocahontas' tribe, her father thinks he has to show strength and make an example by putting the soldier to death, but Pocahontas realizes what she has to do to bring peace to this dangerous situation: she has to show extravagant love. Just as her father is preparing to deliver the death blow with the white men ready to attack in retaliation, the young girl bravely puts her head on top of John's, and she rebukes her father:
Pocahontas: "If you kill him, you'll have to kill me, too."
Powhatan: "Daughter, stand back."
Pocahontas: "I won't! I love him, Father... Look around you. This is where the path of hatred has brought us... This is the path I choose, Father. What will yours be?"
Look at where the path of hatred has brought our world today. Look at the lives that have been ruined. Look at the reports every day of soldiers and civilians alike who die because we cannot get along. Look at the toll that quarrels and grudges have taken on your own life!

"This is the path I choose...
What will yours be?"
So which is better - the path of destruction, or the path of peace? But if you want peace, you can't just pray for others to change: change begins with you.

What would be different if you took a moment to put yourself in the other person's shoes and looked at yourself through their eyes? What if you gave them the benefit of a doubt - even if you don't think they deserve it? What if you chose to believe there's still something good in your enemy, and you truly did your best to see it? What sacrifice could you make in good faith to show them that there's a better way forward?

What if you reminded yourself that we are all made in God's image, and that God loves THEM just as much as he loves YOU - so much that he sent his Son to die for you BOTH?! (Genesis 1:27; John 3:16)

The cynic may answer, "They'll just walk all over me!" And it's true that some people may mistake grace for weakness - Gov. Ratcliffe in the movie still wanted to fight, even when everyone else had changed their minds - but then again, you might be surprised at how many people's hearts could really change if you began to live with extravagant love and a passion for peace. In the film, Pocahontas' bravery changed the hearts of people on both sides of the conflict, and it even inspired Captain Smith to the point that he jumped in front of a bullet to save the very man who had once intended to kill him!

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear..."
- 1 John 4:18a

No, the answers to many of the conflicts of our world today are not as simple as what we see in a children's cartoon. I recognize that. But I do believe that if we are more passionate about peace and extravagant in love, we can still save lives and make the world a better place. We might even find out that we have more in common with those who are "different" than we ever thought possible!

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