Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.
“Peace” is a poor, incomplete concept. In one sense it is the absence of war or violent conflict. In another it is the sense of calmness, quiet, and tranquility. Frequently, strong-armed dictators ensure “peace” through repression – state violence by the police and military and other strong action against any opposition or dissent. This brings “tranquility” but is the opposite of the ideal. Remember that during the US Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s one of the main accusations against Africa-Americans fighting for their rights was that they were “disturbing the peace.”
The Hebrew word shalom has a much broader meaning. According to the internet, shalom means “completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.” Swahili has a word from the same root, salama. As a noun it means “security” and as an adjective it mean “safe, unharmed”.
Some call this ideal the “peaceable kingdom” but I like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s terminology “the blessed community” much better. As the quote from Micah at the beginning of this Report says, “No one will make them afraid.”
Surely the absence of war and political violence is crucial, but hardly sufficient. The society must be equitable and just without corruption. Individuals and groups also must be protected from the power of the government and its forces including the courts and prisons. Sufficient food, medical care, shelter, and so on, are also important as a positive criteria for the beloved community.
Consequently my vision includes all of this. While it is necessary to oppose political violence it is also important to oppose violence by the state, rape and gender based violence, lynching, killing of “witches” and people with albinism, and child abuse.
Then there must be a healthy society. I find it appalling that jiggers is still around (see my report at http://davidzarembka.com/2016/11/17/403-a-visit-to-the-peace-center-on-mt-elgon-september-9-2016/) since it is so easy to deal with them if the right procedures are adopted. Moreover it doesn’t cost much money but many people, particularly children, suffer needlessly from jiggers. More deadly is that more than 10,000 people, mostly children, die from malaria each year in Kenya – many if not most of these deaths could be prevented. Diabetes and heart diseases are also increasing substantially, but many people do not know about or cannot afford proper care and medicines.
There is drought now in many parts of Kenya with already 1.3 million people needing food assistance – this means that they are too poor to buy food when their crops fail or their animals die. The forecast for rain in the next growing season is for below average rainfall which will increase hunger, particularly in the arid and semi-arid parts of Kenya (80% of this land area). In the beloved community no one would be afraid of hunger.
I like to read. When I was recently in the US, I bought George Lakey’s Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right and How We Can, Too. Lakey’s main point is that to bring right economic order to a country, there needs to be a vision of where the society wants to go. He finds that Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland are as close to that reality as any countries in the world. According to the book’s blurb, “He explores the inner-workings of the Nordic economies that boast the world’s happiest, most productive workers, and explains how, if we can enact some of the changes the Scandinavians fought for surprisingly recently, we, too, can embrace equality in our economic policy.” The small detail that struck me most was that in Norway all government documents, except those that are restricted by law, are available for anyone to access and read – if they understand Norwegian. Wow, wouldn’t this be great for Kenya – or even the United States.
Augustus Caesar ruled the Roman Empire when Jesus was born and
was called “son of god” and deified after he died in 14 CE.
Often I get interested in a specific topic. One of them is how the early Christians moved from being a small band of disciples in about 30 CE to a religion that by 325 CE included the whole of the Roman Empire and beyond. It probably will not surprise you to learn that I think that Emperor Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity as the state religion in 325 CE was the downfall of true Christianity because the state now controlled the church, often for its own political purposes.
There were many reasons why Christianity prospered while many competing religions from the first century fell by the wayside. The one that intrigues me most is the fact that at that time there were many gods. An individual might have a family god, a local, village god, a regional one, and of course the Roman Emperor himself was considered a god and worshipped. When famine, war, disease, earthquake, or other catastrophe occurred people only helped out their own. The early Christians, as you can read in the New Testament, helped everyone. Rome partly came into prominence because its wealthy members, many being female, supported relief when catastrophe occurred. This did not particularly lead to the conversion to Christianity of those who were helped, but rather others saw that Christians were putting their religion into concrete practice and were thereby attracted to become Christians.
I bring this up because at this time, when there is turmoil in the United States as inequality and hostility to those who are considered “different” is increasing and people are quite rightly responding with great concern, I beg Americans and others to not neglect East Africa. East Africa needs to build the “beloved community” and just because Africa is far away is not an excuse for forgetfulness. Americans are surely as blessed as the wealthy early Christians in Rome and I hope that you continue to generously support whatever programs most strike your interest. Any Africans who receive these Reports are also blessed and I am certain you can find an activity that you can support in time, effort, and funds in locally developing “the blessed community.”
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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues with his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.
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