My taxi driver last night was from Pakistan. He’s expecting to get permanent residency in a couple of weeks – all going well. He’s a practicing Muslim and we talked about faith and life and the nature of God for forty minutes or so as he got me to the airport.
We also talked about the violence that has so badly affected parts of Pakistan in the last decade or so – including the region he comes from. The loss of life has been truly shocking – caused especially by attacks from the Taliban on the one hand and American drones on the other.
I described my visit to the western front in northern France earlier this year and the way it reminded me that for part of the 20th century the European nations had been tearing each other apart with blockades, invasions, chemical weapons attacks, carpet bombing and atrocities of every kind. I said it made me grateful to realise that peace is possible even when it seems unimaginable. And I said I prayed for peace in Pakistan.
The young driver replied, “That’s the thing. The only way to end the violence is peace.” It was obviously something he’d thought a lot about and had become a kind of principle for him. So he said it again, “The only way to end the violence is peace.” He was telling me that peace isn’t only the goal, the hope. It’s also the way to get there.
I’d heard that before, but I couldn’t quite place it. Then I remembered it from an experience Heather and I had in 2011. At the time I wrote about it like this:
“Peace is our journey, not our destination”, sang the Palestinian women’s choir. We were a gathering of Christians and Muslims praying for peace in Bethlehem.
The service was being held in a grotto at the foot of Beit Sahour (the “place of the night watch”) which is one of the three locations purported to be the field in which the shepherds “watched their flocks by night”. It was the International Day of Peace. It was also the week in which the Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas submitted the request in New York that Palestine be recognised as a member state of the United Nations. There was tear gas and a few gun shots at the check point into Bethlehem that day – although we’d been taken in by another way to avoid it – but nothing too serious or exceptional for the rest of the people gathered here.
So there was a lot to pray about in that stony field. And although a queue of middle-aged church leaders (and one imam) took turns at leading the prayers and making statements. In the event it was the joyous huddle of singers who delivered the message: peace is our journey, not our destination.
They sang what they knew from their own lives. Peace, the shalom of God, is a promise to be lived every day, moment by moment, incident by incident. Peace isn’t to be put off until the end of the conflict, but claimed and lived in the midst of it. It’s not a reward for when the struggle’s over but a way – the Christian way – of struggling now.
It’s a way of living in the promise that “the kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 17:21).
And now I was hearing that insight reinforced by a young Muslim taxi driver in Melbourne – who also knew what he was talking about because of what life had taught him.
Just thought I’d share that.