Every Sunday in Toledo Ohio, the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition has a demonstration at a major intersection to protest current wars and potential future wars. The Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition has been doing this every Sunday since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003.
This Sunday we were at the intersection of Talmadge and Sylvania roads near the mall. I was holding up my sign, “NO WAR in Iran,” amidst about a dozen other peace and anti-war demonstrators holding up various signs for passing traffic to witness. It is common for passing motorists to beep their horns in support of our peace and anti-war messages. Occasionally, we get an angry rebuke, epitaph, or middle finger. On more rare occasions, someone will roll down their window, stop for a minute and have a quick conversation. Usually these conversations are supportive and encouraging, though certainly not always.
I had a drive-by conversations with a passing motorist, a middle-aged white man, in which respect he was probably not too unlike me. It went something like this:
Motorist: (sarcastically) I know what we should do. We should all become Muslims.
Me: You mean Islam, the religion of peace?
Motorist: That’s a lie!
Me: Do you mean religion or peace?
Motorist: I follow Jesus Christ.
Me: My understanding is that Jesus was a pacifist.
Motorist: Jesus was on the edge.
Me: Yes, and his way was nonviolent.
Motorist: [stumbling for words, shakes his head, and drives off]
Given the very short time-frames of these drive-by conversations, there is usually very little chance for resolution. While there certainly wasn’t closure in this particular conversation, I’m not sure the point or purpose is for people to necessarily come to some hard endpoint. I was satisfied that a self-declared follower of Jesus Christ who seemed to be advocating going to war against a predominantly Islamic nation, found himself perplexed and unable to respond, at least in a knee-jerk fashion, to the proposition that Jesus was nonviolent. Hopefully, he gave this some greater reflection later.
I am struck by the initial framing of the conversation by the motorist, in that not going to war with Iran, or Islam, somehow implies that we would eventually all be Muslims. The assumption that different religions have to war with one another is a lie that has been perpetuated for centuries. At the heart of every great religion, at least every religion large enough to potentially start a war, there is compassion, grace, and peace. It seems to me that hijacking religion for violent purposes is the bastardization of any true religion. I don’t know if the passing motorists caught my reference to Islam, which in Arabic literally means “peace.” There are many layers of irony here.
I like the line of thinking that the motorist posited, that Jesus was on the edge. Like a former pastor of mine likes to say, “If you’re not on the edge, you are taking up too much room.” I strongly suspect that Jesus’ being on the edge had way more to do with peacemaking than warmongering. I follow Jesus, but I don’t think it’s Jesus that’s leading us into war. Praise be to Allah! By the way, Allah is simply the Arabic word for “God.” I hope that people are open-minded enough to not insist that the world be English only. Of course, for good Christians this might present a problem, not knowing Aramaic, since this was the language Jesus spoke. Hmm…maybe that explains a few things that are apparently lost in translation…