working for peace

When I answered Yolanda’s call, I knew (from Caller ID) that she was calling from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Nevertheless, I wanted to hear what she would say.  She wished me a good day, told me her name, and asked if we might have a short conversation.  I reciprocated, and agreed.  She asked if I thought there would be peace on earth during my lifetime.  I resisted the temptation to be flip—“sure, there may have been two or three seconds of it, already, during my 39 years on the planet”—and answered her: no.  Then, did I think almighty God was concerned, and working toward it?  I replied that I didn’t conceive of God as almighty, but I did think that “he” was concerned, and was working on it through us.  Yolanda paused a second, suggested that I read the 8th and 9th verses of the 46th Psalm, and wished me a good day.  She left me with the impression that she might call back sometime, to discuss those verses.  I did look them up, after replacing the phone on its hook.

In class a few days earlier, we had been discussing the four forms of social justice work: social service, education, witness and action.  Dick Gilbert (in his book, The Prophetic Imperative) seemed to hold that social action (trying to effect systemic change) was the most valuable of the four.  Others in the class maintained that the four were all equally necessary, and that individuals should focus on the aspect to which they felt most called.  Leslie W. suggested that we UUs are relatively good at most of those modalities, but that we were not very good at social witness.  That is, we don’t often take effective public stands on issues.

So, when I hung up from Yolanda’s call, I was struck by the “witness” part in her denominational name.  She was spending her day on the phone with strangers, trying to reassure them that there was still hope for this old blue planet.  Granted, she was using a very specific language to do so, but she was at least trying.  What hope had I fostered in the previous twenty-four hours?

In a way, she was successful in her quest.  I ended up more hopeful after our conversation than I had been before.  Not because I was reassured that God is working for peace, but because I experienced Yolanda doing it.

–by Rev. Chip Roush, published in the Stairwell Wall of Meadville Lombard Theological School, in the 21 April 2003 edition.

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