If I’m honest, raising a son is hard. His constant motion, excited yelling, incessant questions and natural velocity try me. Every day. Keeping up with his curiosity, appetite and homework wear me out. But it’s not what keeps me up at night.
How do I mother my spirited son toward peace in a world bent toward violence? This circles round me like a small but ever-present, ever-determined mosquito. Spending summers in Africa I know something of determined mosquitoes – get one trapped under the bed net and despite its tiny appearance, you’ll be hounded all night and robbed of all sleep. That’s how I feel these days –hounded by violence.
Our world’s over-populated with violence. Everywhere we turn we see images of weapons, combat, hostility toward others. We’re taught that wars produce heroes, only fighters can be declared winners and strength is displayed as fists flying and body blows, leaving enemies bent over groaning while the victor emerges full of pride, full of swagger. My culture says this is what the mighty look like – and my son believes them.
But my culture is wrong. Strength doesn’t belong to the one who brandishes a gun or throws the first punch. Strength isn’t about breaking the other person. Our Gospel reveals true strength as the power to heal, mend, restore. According to the Jesus it’s the peacemakers who inherit the earth, not the warmongers. The strength to forge a sustainable peace is the real deal. And how do I mother my son toward that reality?
Not too long ago, my son launched into tantrums almost weekly. These loud, ugly, door-slamming episodes pushed me to the brink of my sanity. When I sought counsel I learned how to better manage the tantrums. I also discovered that tantrum prone children, if well parented through the season, grow into deeply compassionate adults. When all that angry energy can be addressed and harnessed, the result actually is a person capable of understanding and empathy toward others. And so that became my long-term hope as a mother, to get my son from tantrum to compassion.
When Isaiah and Micah sing that ancient song about people who lay down weapons, who dismantle guns and reshape them into gardening tools, it’s a picture of deep hope. The song imagines a world where metal has better uses, instead of fighting – feeding. We’re given the picture of a world where animosity and angst get extinguished, melted by welders with calloused hands and repurposed by artisans. Skill, creativity, hard work all combined to defuse violence and turn human energy and ingenuity toward peace.
This image, of swords into plowshares, helped me articulate my hope for the world but also my son within it. I want to see him move from violent tantrums toward true empathy, a deep transformation into a man of character and compassion. I’ve done my share of character welding, to be sure, and it’s hard, sweaty work. Now I take another turn. How can I help my son move from the blood lust of my culture to a man who hungers and thirsts for peace?
One night we spoke swords and plowshares together. We began a list, spears into pruning hooks is like… fighting to feeding, bread not bombs, guns to garden tools, guns to grain, machetes into shovels, military school to agriculture training, etc. His imagination took over and he kept thinking about transforming weapons into farm tools or food to feed people. If he can think it now, can he dream it later? If his imagination can whirl with peaceful possibilities now, will he be a man to implement innovative ideas toward a sustainable peace in the future?
I know the tide is against me. People say, even studies say, ‘boys will be boys.’ But the prophets say we must stretch our imaginations and not settle for the rhetoric of any empire. We must summon our creativity, courage and energy toward a big, wild kind of peace. So I’m determined to mother my son in that direction. I will be, to quote Walter Brueggemann, a testimony to the otherwise, showing my son a better way.
This week I’ve been thinking hard, scribbling in my journal – how do I create a peace curriculum for my kids? It’s dawned on me that the world’s violence is everywhere and it will be the default message and the only message if I don’t get serious and intentional about cultivating his imagination for peace. So I’m making a list of my own.
We’re going to talk about better stories of peace. We’re going to dream big and often about what peace might look like. We’re going to look for evidence in the Jesus stories about the world He’s shaping, what He’s creating and what He’s dismantling. We’re going to talk often about the move from fighting to farming, from hurting to healing, from war to peace. While his imagination is pliable and porous we’ll soak in the prophets big dreams about ample food for everyone, homes for everyone, liberation and protection that comes from dismantled weapon systems. We will celebrate the truth that God is in the deliverance business, and so are we.
We’re going to develop a strong vocabulary. Words like justice, equality, restoration, building, fixing, hope and healing will be discussed and practiced. We’ll find better definitions for strength, victory and winning. We will investigate the connotations of war, gun violence and beating people. We’ll widen the context and disarm some of these cultural metaphors and myths.
We’re going to celebrate true heroes. My kids need better heroes – and so do I. We need to celebrate the strength of Martin Luther King, Jr. who stood firm for civil rights because He was energized by the example of Jesus. We should learn about men like Gandhi who brought down an empire without weapons, or Desmond Tutu battling injustice unarmed. We must read of women like Wangari Maathai who confronted the full force of the government to protect the land, the trees, the future of Kenya. These men and women had courage to face empires, strength without weapons, creativity set into motion to diffuse injustice and confidence beyond what most could see. This is what bravery looks like. We need to study modern peace activists and even explore the holy moxy of the martyrs. People who are unafraid of death possess a courage and conviction we must applaud. Heroes work for deliverance in the face of danger, staring down death to forge a lasting peace.
We’re going to learn new skills. We’re going to try activities that will unleash new competencies, new challenges and greater creativity. What about welding to be ready to dismantle? What about farming to feel the joy of growing food and feeding people? What about making bricks and building homes? What about kneading and baking bread – since God is in the bread business, after all. And maybe living in impoverished neighborhoods in the summer months cultivates compassion and allows true friendship with the poor to sprout. Maybe time in Burundian schools ensures multiple languages for a boy who one day can broker a peace. And walking the rural landscapes alongside his father, a community development practitioner, allows him to see what shalom can look like and how to be an advocate, agriculture engineer, a repairer of the places people live.
Mothering my son toward peace will require me to stay steeped in the prophets and the gospels, the wild ways of Jesus and technicolor visions of Isaiah and even the deliverance stride of Moses. But this kind of mothering will require me to risk my comfort zones to equip my son to get into the family business… the deliverance business that breaks the back in injustice and ushers in the peaceable kingdom. Mothering is more than raising a son for a good life, its raising a revolutionary to will join with Jesus to turn some tables and turn the world right side up.
Saddle up, son, we’re about to learn about the wild ways of Jesus who makes a peace you’re gonna want to get in on! This is the adventure you’ve been hungering for all along…