Introduction: What Is a Peacemaker?

From the cover of Blessed Are the PeacemakersIn these pages, you will meet heroes.

The world is troubled now and has been troubled in many earlier eras. In these pages, you will meet men and women who were not afraid of the worst that humans can unleash through ignorance or ill will. Like all of us, the people in this book agonized over the tragedies they encountered in the world. Sometimes they were terrified, too, but ultimately their faith in a wide range of religious and ethical traditions won out in their lives. They summoned the courage to make peace. Depending on your own spiritual tradition, you might call many of these men and women saints.

What you will discover in this book is that their heroism did not depend on the qualities our popular culture celebrates in heroes. As a group, they were not exceptional in muscle, martial arts, great beauty or wealth. Their gifts lay in the way they communicated their love, hope and wisdom—through teaching, preaching, organizing, mediating and protesting. Some shared their great visions to move millions. Some communicated through music and the arts. Some gave their lives and were martyred in the pathway toward peace.

Inspiring you to evaluate your own life …

This book will inspire you to evaluate your own life, your own response to the world’s troubles. But inspiration is not all you will experience.

In these pages, you will find world-famous names, including Gandhi, King, Tutu and Bono. You will rub shoulders with Nobel Peace Prize winners. But in most cases, you will be meeting men and women unknown to the larger world. Flip through the chapters. You won’t recognize most names. For each King we celebrate standing on a mountaintop, there are thousands of nameless peacemakers changing the world. In reading this book, you will learn that generations of peace activists—each building on the work of others—have been circling the globe for many years. This book makes visible for the first time networks of peacemaking that are invisible to most people in our needy world. By reading their stories, you become a carrier of those stories and spread their light. You become a part of the unfolding network. As you read, you will find ideas in these pages about acting on your new wisdom.

These ideas are potent! In 2007 on the island of Trinidad, a 13-year-old girl had been reading about the life of Gandhi and decided to act on his teachings. Choc’late Allen was concerned about the high levels of urban violence around her, so she began 12-hour-a-day fasts at local libraries, reading books about peace aloud to children. Her actions drew widespread attention and soon she was traveling around the Caribbean, especially to urban centers such as Kingston, Jamaica, where her message reached thousands. Choc’late declared: “We have the power of making the right choices! We have the power of accepting responsibility for our action! We have the power of doing anything!”

So, brace yourself! Join me in these true stories—and this true journey. The world needs us.

The world needs you.

What is a peacemaker?

A peacemaker is not necessarily a “peacekeeper.” Peacekeepers (except for the U.N. Peacekeepers) try to stay out of trouble. They keep the peace by not making any waves and not causing any disruptions. The white clergy in Birmingham urged the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to be a peacekeeper—to stay out of trouble. King responded in his Letter from Birmingham Jail that the trouble was already there in the society, not something created by those engaged in civil disobedience. Through entering nonviolently into a confrontation with a violent and unjust system, “We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with.” A peacemaker is willing to wade into the trouble, into the conflict, even into the violence to transform the situation. The peacemaker goes into the war to forge peace rather than staying safely at the fringes hoping things get better someday.

What does a peacemaker need?

Two words: Inner strength. In the violent struggles viewers see every night on television, people need to be physically strong, but in nonviolent struggle, an inner strength is needed. And here is the good news: Anyone of any age, size or gender may find that inner strength.

King described the nonviolent army as open to anyone: “In the nonviolent army, there is room for everyone who wants to join up. There is no color distinction. There is no examination, no pledge, except that, as a soldier in the armies of violence one is expected to inspect his carbine and keep it clean, nonviolent soldiers are called upon to examine and burnish their greatest weapons—their heart, their conscience, their courage and their sense of justice.”

Gandhi said, “In nonviolence the masses have a weapon which enables a child, a woman, or even a decrepit old man to resist the mightiest government successfully. If your spirit is strong, mere lack of physical strength ceases to be a handicap.”

Where can peacemakers be found?

Peacemakers work at the highest levels of government—and deep in the almost-invisible grassroots. They are people who strive to overcome violence, bitterness and division wherever they live and work. Any one of us can become a peacemaker.

One such person is Joseph Githuku who lives in Kiambaa village in Kenya. His wife and four-year old son were killed in a massacre during ethnic and political violence in 2008. The church in which they sought refuge was burned down on top of them. Githuku says, “I can forgive, but I cannot forget that they did bad things to me.” Githuku, an ethnic Kikuyu, lives in a predominately Kalenjin area. In spite of his own profound personal losses, he seeks to forge reconciliation doing what he can do. He packs a drum of anti-mosquito spray on his back and travels to his neighbors to help in malaria eradication. “We are trying to show them how to live together to make peace between the Kikuyus and the Kalenjins.” Joseph Githuku is a great example of someone who takes what he has at hand to make a substantive contribution to building peace.

Most peacemakers don’t begin with a grand vision. Like Joseph Githuku we each can see conflict around us in the world—and we are each marked by those conflicts. We can each act transformatively, taking what we have at hand, just as Mr. Githuku used his anti-mosquito spray for reconciliation. Each of us can act for good, for justice, for healing, for hope, for peace. It’s as simple as that.

Will you like all of these peacemakers?

No. Truth be told, some peacemakers can be obnoxious people to live with. Personality traits that make some people bold enough to stand up to repressive powers can intimidate the average person. Some prophets have clusters of traits that are hard to live with and work with if you are a family member or colleague.

Not all peacemakers are saints—and not all saints are saintly every day. Humans are frail and flawed. If you’ve read about the lives of recognized saints—perhaps St. Francis—then you know that even the greatest of saints don’t always have sweet personalities. The same is true of peacemakers. Sometimes grit, stubbornness and even anger motivate people to take on the entrenched forces that spawn violence. Peacemakers can force us to deal with conflicts we would rather avoid, problems we would prefer to sweep under the rug. They try hard to speak the truth and that can make us squirm under their challenge to make us act better than we often do.

I don’t agree with everything that was done by every peacemaker in this book. Some of them made political decisions I don’t like. Others shifted in their politics throughout their careers, perhaps because they changed, or their context changed, or both. Some people acted in one way while they were leaders in nonviolent opposition movements, but then when they came into political power their values seemed to shift. I had to wrestle with whether to include some people in this listing, but in spite of my reservations there was something that nagged at me about how they worked for peace. If I was nagged about their witness, then I knew there was something in their life and work that was a challenge to me, something stretching me in my thinking and action.

At some point in their lives, each peacemaker in this book did something that simply will not let us go. Once we’ve encountered their stories, we must remember those great moments.

How are the peacemakers organized in this book?

The true stories of more than 60 peacemakers are organized in sections, based on one aspect of their genius, a particular gift or emphasis in their work that is relevant to us today. Most of these men and women cross categories.

King’s story appears in a section on prophets and visionaries—but, of course, he was far more than that. He was a nonviolent activist, a theoretician and a martyr. The theoreticians are also practitioners. Most of the organizers are also nonviolent activists. As you read this book, you will see how these lives connect across all of the sections, but clustering these peacemakers around one aspect of their gifts helps us to see more clearly the wide range of ways people can engage in making peace.

The list of individuals in each category is not a ranking, rather a representation. Outstanding peacemakers have not been included in this book for a variety of reasons: Someone similar is already in the book; I’ve told the person’s story in one of my other books; or I selected a story for the sake of balancing the range of examples. The range runs from household names to people you will meet for the first time in these pages. The range includes men and women, young and old, people from around the world, people from different religious traditions.

Our popular culture is a terrible window into the real world. Judging by TV ratings and best sellers, our heroes are comic-book crusaders and contest winners, athletes and movie stars, crime-fighting cops and gun-toting warriors. By reading this book, you’re entering a world of heroes who live by a different code. The good news is: You may never become a super hero or the star of a TV series, but anyone can follow the path toward peacemaking.

Helen Keller said, “Although the world is very full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” Peacemakers know the suffering of the world well, and sometimes they pay the price for their work with their own lives. But these peacemakers have found ways to overcome and transform conflict, violence and war. They have not limited themselves to the rules of the troubled world as they found it—but through courage and creativity they brought into being new kinds of communities, outposts of a new kind of world.

Wherever there is bad news there are people of good news, even if their stories are seldom told. As you read, start retelling these stories to family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. You’ll be spreading this light and, even in those first steps, you’ll be strengthening all of us for the work of making peace.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email