Living the Beatitudes: Building Peace One Person at a Time

July 12, 2017 by

Today, as Rebekah Domer continues her series on the Beatitudes, she asks what it means to be a peacemaker. Catch up on the rest of her posts here.

mural on nonviolenceI get emails all the time signed, Peace. But sometimes I wonder how the signee can be perpetually peaceful; at least there are times when it would be hypocritical for me to sign off with Peace. Jesus speaks of peace often, naming the peacemakers among those he beatifies. But how many of us are authentic peacemakers?

Looking back at humanity’s history, as well as our world’s current state of affairs, there’s not much peace to be seen. Biblical and ancient histories relate the ongoing struggle for control over territories, resources, and even peoples. We Christians also carry a poor track record when it comes to demonstrating peace and harmony, divided as we are by doctrines, traditions, and opinions.

While few of us have opportunity to wage peace on a national – or international – scale, each of us can and must be peacemakers in our homes and communities. Australian author Jay Kristoff points out that “an avalanche starts with one pebble. A forest with one seed.” What kind of avalanche or forest am I generating as I live my life, I wonder? Am I serving as a catalyst for good, or do I – through apathy and compromise – perpetuate the cycle of misery on this planet?

The media for the most part fails to acknowledge the numerous individual efforts toward peace, but I know of many people who work tirelessly for it. They receive little honor, but I believe they are storing up for themselves “treasures in heaven” as they strive for peace that’s real.

Read more of Rebekah's writings on the Beatitudes.

A friend of mine recently introduced me to a teacher in Rhode Island whose efforts toward peacemaking have had statewide effects. Robin Wildman is a fifth grade teacher at the Broad Rock Middle School in South Kingstown. She was unwittingly drawn into peacemaking when local law-enforcement officers conducted a team-teaching “Community Works” program at her school sixteen years ago.

One day, the police captain brought a visitor to the program. Dr. Bernard LaFayette, a civil rights coworker of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was deeply impressed by the students’ enthusiasm and returned many times to share his life experiences with Robin’s class. Dr. LaFayette, then the director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island, trained Robin, her students and their parents in “Kingian nonviolent conflict reconciliation.” This practice, Robin explains, is a way of life in which kindness and peace lead to the realization of the “beloved community,” Dr. King’s vision of societal justice and peace.

Robin and students with Dr. LaFayette
Robin Wildman, Dr. LaFayette, and student nonviolence trainees.

In his historic book Stride toward Freedom, written after the Montgomery bus boycott, Dr. King laid out six principles of nonviolence, which he advocated as the fundamental tenets of his philosophy. Following King’s death, Dr. Lafayette compiled an adult training manual based on King’s principles and methodology. Inspired by Dr. Lafayette’s story, Robin’s students raised funds for a five-day class tour of civil rights landmarks in the south. Acknowledging the positive effect of Kingian nonviolence on her students, Robin proceeded to adapt Dr. Lafayette’s training manual into a school curriculum and began conducting nonviolence trainings in her classroom.

Since the inception of teaching Kingian nonviolence in her school in January, 2001, Robin’s curriculum has been incredibly successful and is now taught in several schools throughout Rhode Island. Kingian nonviolence is now recognized nationally as well as internationally, with participants from around the globe attending training sessions at the University of Rhode Island. These people then return home to train parents, educators, law enforcement officers, and government officials in the basics of peacemaking.

Might this, perhaps, be a growing avalanche toward world peace, loosed by a single “pebble?”

Robin’s efforts toward creating Dr. King’s “beloved community” are remarkable. She is leading the Nonviolent Schools RI group, whose goal is to train all students in the state in this nonviolence philosophy. Broad Rock serves as a model of a Kingian nonviolent public school, with thirty-six trained staff, many who serve as “peace coaches” for the students.

To be true effectors of peace we must first be at peace in our own hearts.

The school has revolutionized in-school suspension; what was formerly the detention hall is now called the “Reconciliation Room.” A student charged with poor behavior is now assigned to a peace coach who reteaches him or her positive behavior, working through four ingredients to reach reconciliation. Students must acknowledge their errors and show that they are sorry for their misbehavior. They must repair damaged relationships by seeking forgiveness and justice. Any student relegated to the reconciliation room then continues to work long-term on nonviolence skills under the guidance of the vice-principal. Staff volunteer their free time throughout the school day as peace coaches, talking to wayward students and encouraging them that, despite whatever wrong students have done, the teachers are at their disposal, offering support. Last year the school had no repeat offenders among students who engaged in nonviolent reconciliation training, which – ask any teacher – is an astounding statistic.

Robin began by simply applying the principles of nonviolence to herself and to her students. She then enlisted the support of Broad Rock’s principal who, impressed by the change in Robin’s students, offered unconditional support for the program. Inspired by Dr. King to generate a movement, the Nonviolent Schools RI group has created a task force to train all teachers in the state in Kingian nonviolence. A movement, after all, is built through the cooperative efforts of many, united in a cause.

Robin, a non-Christian with a conservative Jewish background, would never claim to be living out Christ’s Beatitudes. But her example challenges us who seek the characteristics of Christ in our lives. John Piper writes: “To be blessed by God we must be changed. One after the other the Beatitudes tell us that the blessings of eternity will be given only to those who have become new creatures. From beginning to end the Sermon on the Mount cries out, ‘Get yourself a new heart! Become a new person!’” Through her enthusiasm for reconciliation, Robin has allowed herself to be transformed and molded into an instrument of peace.

Both Jesus and his forerunner John the Baptist exhorted the people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). Repentance implies the total remaking of our lives, a radical turning away from evil toward good. To be true effectors of peace we must first be at peace in our own hearts. In my experience, this peace is won through battle; every time we overcome the evil within us, when we seek forgiveness and pardon those who have wronged us, our hearts are flooded with God’s peace. This peace may be threatened – repeatedly – in the course of a single day. But if we patiently strive for it within ourselves and in our relationships to others, we can contribute to the realization of the “beloved community” and God’s final kingdom of peace.
Check back in two weeks for my next post in this series. Comments

About the author

Rebekah Domer

Rebekah Domer

Since Rebekah’s upbringing at the Woodcrest Bruderhof in New York, life has taken her on many diverse assignments, from the...

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  • How wonderful would it be if a Nonviolent Schools RI group could start a task force in all the Parliaments around the world! Imagine the ripple.

    Jacquie Watson
  • Rebekah, As someone who knows both Robin and you, I tell you unequivocally that you caught a star that for a few years now has enlightened my lifelong struggle to become nonviolent like Jesus and, in this my seventh decade, in my life to share this Beatitude of the peacemakers somehow with every child I meet. You tell the story well and I humbly thank you both for inspiring me all over again. Robin's life and work and your telling of it guide my next steps on the Way.

    Jane F. Morrissey, SSJ
  • I just read again the story about Nonviolence training in RI schools and contrast it with a story I read in last Sundays NY Times Magazine about training recruits for the Marines at Parish Island, SC. The Drill Instructor stated that the training is to effect the recruits to be lethal. The story was about the intense brutality and violence used to mold the recruits into Marines. It is alarming to see what goes on as we train young people to kill while at the same time there are efforts at peacemaking around the globe. I feel it essential to break the bonds of violence and fear and embrace the God of love. Anytime we build bridges between people we are mirroring the bridge the Lord extends to us even in our sinfulness.

    Tom Rowan
  • Hi Rebekah, As always, I absolutely enjoyed your article and have shared it with many. Keep up the inspiring work that you do! Suzanne

    Suzanne Weiss
  • I have read all your blogs and find them deep and thoughtful and encouraging and often helpful and also something I can (and do) recommend to others as well.

  • Dear Rebekah, Thank you for sharing. I wish the program was countrywide. Or at the very least, if it could be introduced to problem areas like Chicago and some other inner city schools throughout the country that regularly experience violence. God bless Ms Wildman for taking it to a much higher level than a simple one time training. On-going training started young is brilliant. ~ Rosalie

    Rosalie Gambino
  • Dear Rebekah, Thank you for sharing. I wish the program was countrywide. Or at the very least, if it could be introduced to problem areas like Chicago and some other inner city schools throughout the country that regularly experience violence. God bless Ms Wildman for taking it to a much higher level than a simple one time training. On going training started young is brilliant. ~ Rosalie

    Rosalie V Gambino
  • Thanks Rebekah for sharing Robin's journey and in particular the Link to six principles of non violence. So much there to really think about. Great Blog.

    Rose Ann D'Angelo
  • As always, a insightful work. I have always tried to teach my children and grandchildren to always think of 3 things before they speak or act: Be kind, be helpful, be truthful. Thanks Rebekah Chris

    Chris Armstrong