Given our world’s needs, who is doing the most important work?
Some might vote for the scientist seeking a cure for cancer. Others might vote for someone who can inspire the rich to sacrifice a bit of their wealth to combat hunger and poverty. Another person might vote for a poet. Yet another might vote for a captain of industry or the manager of the Chicago Cubs.
There is no single right answer to the question, but how a person answers that question says a great deal about what that person values.
“Value clarification” was a buzz phrase in the seventies and eighties, and one of the first classes I taught at Franklin College was on that topic. In that class, students were asked to think critically about the values they inherited from their families and communities. Students were also required to identify and share with others what were, for them, the most important values to live by.
Value formation and clarification are not concepts that originated in the 20th century. As long as they have existed, religions have advised us to choose our values wisely. Choose the wrong values, religions warn, and we will become lost in life. Opt for the right values, religions promise, and we will have a meaningful life. Of course, choosing the right values isn’t as easy as it sounds.
In the New Testament, Jesus offers his own version of values clarification by proclaiming the Beatitudes. As I read over the Beatitudes recently, I noticed that most were attitudes that Jesus recommends. But one of the “Beatitude values” is a task, and that is to become a peacemaker.
Imagine if people around the world could weigh in on whom they considered was doing the most important work. It is not hard to conclude that “peacemaker” would be near the top of the list for areas such as Syria, Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, Nigeria, or Somalia.
Mexican villages controlled by the drug cartels, as well as Charlotte, North Carolina, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Chicago would also long to have a skilled peacemaker in their midst. No community is hungry for violence, but all starve for peace.
We have had notable peacemakers in recent history, such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Dalai Lama. Their wisdom continues to inspire millions whose names will never be famous but whose efforts are vital to defeating hatred and ignorance.
The Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana is one such person who you’ve probably never heard of, though you can find him on the Internet. Dr. Premawardhana‘s story began in his native Sri Lanka, but after receiving advanced degrees at Northwestern University he remained in Chicago, where he was a pastor and the founder of a Christian ministry that served immigrants from South Asian countries.
From there, he has held key interfaith positions in the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches where he has brought hostile religious groups to the table for dialogue. He is presently the Director of SCUPE, Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastor Education in Chicago.
Why do I mention Dr. Premawardhana? I mention his name because he is a peacemaker who in upcoming days will lead a workshop on peacemaking in nearby Columbus, Indiana.
Titled “Come to the Table of Reconciliation,” his presentation will focus on overcoming divisions in religion, politics, and economics as a way of promoting social justice. That sounds timely. His talk will be at Donner Park in Columbus on Tuesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The event is free.
A wonderful aspect of peacemakers is that they not only make peace. They also make peacemakers. The brokenness of our country, the stubborn racism, the fear of people of other faiths need not be our future, even as the warfare in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere in the world need not be the world we leave to our children and grandchildren.
Peacemakers are not born with a different genetic code or higher intelligence. They are quite ordinary people who have offered a simple response to the brokenness of the world. As they see the problems of our society and world, they do not look away, but rather say, “If not I, who will care?”
Is that person me? Is that person you?
David Carlson is a professor of philosophy and religion at Franklin College and the author of “Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World” available in bookstores or on Amazon.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.