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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Peace Be With You" (David Carlson)

TITLE: Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World
AUTHOR: David Carlson
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, (288 pages).

Terrorism and September 11 has occurred. Reactions have been many, and the most visible form is a retaliation. Yet, is that the best kind of response? Has the opportunity to instill peace, goodwill, and alleviate suffering been lost? For David Carlson and many of the people he has interviewed, the answer is yes. The opportunity has not only been wasted, it has been lost. Instead of trying to find out answers on how to respond to terrorism and 9/11 from the world of politics, military, sociology, or cultural experts, Carlson opts to learn from the monasteries. Three door knocks over a period of time started the author's quest for a more meaningful response to 9/11.

Two questions drive the author's quest in this book.
  1. What the monastic community did in the aftermath of terrorism and 9/11?
  2. What would the monastic community have done in the aftermath of terrorism and 9/11, in particular?

Part One of the book is a reflection on a series of interviews conducted with monks and nuns in different monasteries, spread out across the nation. In "Voices from the Desert," there is one common refrain, that the West has largely lost the opportunity to learn how to respond appropriately to violence. The formula of violence for violence, a tooth for a tooth has not only failed to stop terrorism, it has made the world a more dangerous place. Interview after interview, the monks repeatedly say that 9/11 could have been better used as a way to learn, a way to forgive, and a way to work toward true lasting peace. From Katy, the author learns that love is more a discipline of the mind rather than a feeling. The words "hope, peace, and love" have long being misunderstood by the world at large. Most people use religions more like an "X-Ray" to solve problems rather than a drummer calling people toward a higher purpose, in this case, peace.  According to one Father John, the answer to the world's void lies not in answers to the "what" question, but the "who." This and many more points readers to the key theme of peace. Peace is not found outside, but needs to begin inside us, manifested through acts of love and peace. An interesting thought is that some of the best teachings we can ever learn from are from enemies.

Part Two dives deeper into this idea of inner peace leading toward outer lasting peace. Carlson spends a considerable amount of time and space trying to lend some relevance of Thomas Merton's spirituality to the modern world of violence and terrorism. Even though Merton has died many years ago, his teachings still live. One of which is the idea of heaven and hell being in one and the same place. The difference lies in our own choice.

"We cannot choose the time in which we live, but we must choose between heaven and hell in life."

Wisdom continues to shine bright from the clear minds of the monks. One Abbot Damien reflects on why we tend to focus too much on our retaliation instead of asking ourselves, "Why are we attacked?" Instead of using violence upon violence, maybe the way is to learn humbly about the reasons behind the attacks, and to make adjustments to our own lives. The big question is: "How do we counter hate?" One Brother Christopher warns:

"When our gospel is reduced to patriotism and political payback and we're the instruments of violence and retribution that God lights on the world, give me a break. That's a simplistic, easy way out, and I think  that when we take that bait. . we forfeit the power of the gospel, the radicalism of the gospel, and Jesus is very sorry, very sad."

Prayer. Forgiveness. Humility. Charity. These are elements of love that continue to be the common response of the monastic community.  Part Three is one short chapter to bring together a possible way to readjust our sails. Comparing man's response to 9/11 to the Cross, there is much to learn. How did God respond to the violence done to Christ?

My Thoughts

This is a bold book that touches on a sensitive topic of 9/11 and the need to forgive one's enemies. I can already hear the public retort: "Easier said than done!" I agree. It is easier said than done. Having said that, it makes me curious why the monastic community are so united in that this way of peace and forgiveness is the better way. Even the Amish community practices forgiveness. I remember the Lord's Prayer that forgiveness remains at the very core of the prayer. Yet, even those of us Christians in the world, have more often than not agreed with the war proponents, the negative public sentiment with regards to Islam and terrorism, the trigger-happy leaders that prefer to use bullets and bombs over all other approaches.

It reminds me all over again how dangerous the world is. One wrong move leads to another. One bad retaliation leads to another. One act of violence breeds more violence. Is peace really possible? With man it is not. Only with God. This is my conclusion after reading this book. May readers be convicted, that the ways of God cannot be done by the strengths of man. The ways of God has to be done in God's strength. Only in God's strength, can we authentically say, "Peace be with you."

Rating: 4.8 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Thomas-Nelson and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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