I don’t personally take a lot of life advice from the movie Rent, much less one of their bigger song numbers, “La Vie Bohem.” However, there is one line in that song that packs a lot of punch for me:
“The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.”
When people think of peace, their thoughts can be summarized as such: the absence of war. No massive fighting and constant fear of death. This is because “peace” is a relative term. True, our country may not be fighting another country at some point or another, but when there’s widespread poverty, unemployment, ill health, or massive unrest, life can be anything but peaceful.
I’m going to put on my Captain Obvious cape for a second and say this: War is destructive. It destroys lives (physically and otherwise), homes, families, buildings, cities, even whole countries. Peace, by that standard, is when nothing is being destroyed. It’s the calm between storms.
Do you see the despair there? Just waiting quietly for the next thing to come. Despair in peace…it happens way more often than you think. When the war ends, not everybody jumps up and celebrates because war costs something. It costs a lot. So, you see the proof of the song’s truth: the opposite of destruction is creation. And I don’t think we as humans truly grasp that. Instead, we settle.
We settle for “peace and quiet,” with an emphasis on the quiet. After all the costs of war, we just want to settle down into a chair and rest in the silence of peace. After disaster strikes, you see the simple joys of the world anew. When you’ve been without a car for a week, you suddenly realize the importance of driving. When you’ve been unemployed for too long, you love your new job all the more. Heck, my internet was down last night and I appreciate it all the more today!
Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the “silence” after the disaster. In fact, I’d say it’s necessary to take a good breather. But too many people (myself included) fall on their backs and they never get up. They just stare at the ceiling with glassy eyes because they’ve become drunk on the quiet. When nothing stirs, you feel relaxed, content, and, yes, peaceful.
But sooner or later, it’s only peace because you close your ears.
The widow cries because her husband is still gone and she has no one to comfort her. The worker cries because his building of employment has been destroyed and no one has rebuilt it. The children cry because they’re hungry and no one will feed them. The whole world cries in the peace because of what they lost in the destruction.
You can’t just stop a peace. Sooner or later, you have to rebuild.
The worker needs a place to work, and we as a society must help him find it. The parentless, childless, and widowed need family, and we must be that family. The weak need protection and we must guard them.
But we don’t, do we?
Creation takes effort. It takes resources that have already been stretched, if not depleted. But I would say that it’s not only crucially important, but absolutely necessary, because peace doesn’t cut it. Only when life returns do we feel the war leave us. When death is overcome by life and restoration, we finally feel that TRUE peace.
But the only way to do this is together. We live in an increasingly individualistic society. We’re pushed to think of ourselves and better ourselves and look after ourselves, and it’s driving us further and further into complacency, laziness, and self-pity. I don’t WANT to work anymore. I’m TIRED. I’m WEARY. I’m, I’m, I’m, me, me, me. We’re ALL tired and weary. But what would happen if we all stood up TOGETHER? We could each pick the other up and be picked up ourselves.
You see, when the society works together, the individual is taken care of, too. But when the individual is taken care of first, the less fortunate or unable are left in the dirt to rot.
Let’s not be a lazy, self-centered society that just wants “peace and quiet.” Let’s strive toward creation. Let’s not just solve a problem, but let’s fix the source of the problem! Don’t just cut the weed, pull the root! Because “peace and quiet” does not last. But creation actively counters destruction and war, and seeks to end it once and for all. Then, you have TRUE PEACE. The Jewish called it Shalom.
Now for my Christian audience: the Bible does tell us to be content, but when it does, it’s either a counterargument to greed or as evidence of God’s joy in our trying circumstances. But if you want to see true peace, look at the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The Jews had been exiled for years, but were finally allowed to return home to Jerusalem. And what did they do? Did they sit down and say, “Thank God we’re home?” No, because it wasn’t home. War had destroyed their home.
So they started creating. In Ezra they rebuild their temple and in Nehemiah, they rebuilt their defensive walls. In both books, they do their work with passion and fervor. Yes, there is weariness and suffering and opposition, but the good leaders rile up their fellow men and everybody worked together to rebuild all that was lost in their lives.
And there was no peace and quiet. No, look at Ezra 3:10-13. They had just finished the foundation of the Temple of God–just the foundation, mind you–and the people went ballistic. They shouted with joy, they screamed in jubilation. “…and the sound was heard afar off.”
If you only want quiet in your life, you clearly have nothing to sing about.
Enough of the quiet. Enough of abusing the times of rest. Enough of the overrated peace for which we settle. Let’s get back on our feet. Let’s build, let’s restore, let’s create. Let’s have justice even if it’s noisy. Let’s have love, even if we’re tired. By the power of God, let’s push forward and push upward.
And let us sing.