From my bedroom window, looking southwest through low clouds, the wintry sun seemed to be splashing its pale beams on an immense, cold Pacific --with little or no warming effect. A break in the in-rushing series of storms had only created a clearer scene of desolation; perhaps in these lulls between attacks we often see more clearly the power of an enemy. But after all, an important man in New Testament times, called Simon by Paul, and Cephas or Peter by Jesus, seemed to have gathered much needed strength during just these times; between the spiritual and worldly storms in those days, he may have had to look back several times to reassess his purposes.
New storms, --a sea of troubles --can wreak terrible havoc. Is it time to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them? Peter proved early in life to be quick to take arms. He had been devoted from his early Galilean years to await the advent of a Messiah with power to overcome persecution and suffering, the two biggest enemies in the only life with which he was familiar. Or should we rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others we know not of? Much of the time Peter had apparently expected a messiah who would strike down the cruel and aggressive Roman legions. The examples set by Jesus to bear the persecution, to undergo the suffering and agonies brought by others without protest, put Peter in a maelstrom of conflict and doubt. Through new storms of opposition and persecution, however, he became one who did in fact learn how to bear those ills.
Peter developed a powerful hope in the face of an imperfect world. It is clear that he did not regard it as a kind or friendly place; he must have often felt as if he were “a stranger in an alien land”, and his hope clearly could not come from there. As we see the hardship wrought in our own time by nature and by man in all parts of this globe it is just possible to see his point of view. Through violent insurgency, or reports of prisoner mis-treatment by all factions, or the tsunami-ravaged towns, villages and people who lived there, we also know this present planet and its ways all too well; from where did hope spring?
How does one find new ways in place of old ones? In the New Yorker, January 17, 2005, Dan Baum writes a piece entitled Battle Lessons, What the Generals Didn’t Know. Mainly this is a military-oriented article describing ways our fighting force can be deadlier to the enemy and more protective of our own --features which are invaluable in conducting a war. Baum notes that learning is taking place in the field and soldiers teach one another as they go. The first example he gives is, to this writer, awe inspiring and clearly unlearned behavior: “ Watching TV,” he recalls “On the morning of April 3rd, as the Army and the Marines were closing in on Baghdad, I happened to look up at what appeared to be a disaster in the making. A small unit of American soldiers was walking along a street in Najaf when hundreds of Iraqis poured out of the buildings on either side. Fists waving, throats taut, they pressed in on the Americans, who glanced at one another in terror. I reached for the remote and turned up the sound. The Iraqis were shrieking, frantic with rage. From the way the lens was lurching, the cameraman seemed as frightened as the soldiers. This is it, I thought. A shot will come from somewhere, the Americans will open fire, and the world will witness the My Lai massacre of the Iraq war. At that moment, an American officer stepped through the crowd holding his rifle high over his head with the barrel pointed to the ground. Against the back drop of the seething crowd, it was a striking gesture---almost Biblical. ‘Take a knee,’ the officer said, impassive behind surfer sunglasses. The soldiers looked at him as if he were crazy. Then, one after another, swaying in their bulky body armor and gear, they knelt before the boiling crowd and pointed their guns at the ground. The Iraqis fell silent, and their anger subsided. The officer ordered his men to withdraw.”
The officer “was trying that day to get in touch with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a delicate task that the Army considered politically crucial. American gunfire would have made it impossible. The Iraqis already felt that the Americans were disrespecting their mosque. The obvious solution to Hughes (the officer), was a gesture of respect.” (p. 42).
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hughes is at this writing rotated home and attending the Army War College in Pennsylvania. On the day in question he did something unexpected; “shortly before the invasion the Army had (despairingly) concluded that it’s officers lacked the ability to do precisely what he did, innovate and think creatively”. He had responded with insight --and courage.
But this, I am sure, must be similar to the way Peter had to learn patience and hope. He had a great leader who was unhesitating in his submission to the cross, which was God’s plan. Peter, who had such great expectations for a strong, aggressive arm of the Lord had to learn that it was not only the despotic Romans, but he himself, who had to submit to God in the person of His Son. Throughout the rest of his life after Calgary, Peter followed in the steps of Jesus and finally, we are told, died the same death as his Lord and Master; all that takes great patience, faith, determination and courage. Cesar Chavez, a great non-violent leader in our time said it well: “Sometimes nonviolence takes more militancy than violence.”