Peace In the Midst of Others

This is part 8 of a series of posts: onetwothreefour, five, six, seven.)

Trying to find a peaceful song
To sing when everything goes wrong
Till the peaceful valley calls me home
-“Peaceful Valley,” Ryan Adams

I want a peaceful soul.

But there are others who surround me. I am not alone. And they make it hard to have peace. Not only because of their actions against me. Though some are vengeful. And hurt. Though some do not know the way of peace. Nor care. Wherever I go, they are there. But they are not really the problem so much as my own self in dealing with them.

I know what can be in me in relation to them.

And I am prone to take up arms. Arms like jealousy and envy and self-absorption. Like a child I am absorbed with my own cares and expect the same of them. When they are not absorbed with my cares, violence. I can wield the weapon of selfishness. And flippancy with skill. Arrogance and pride are part of my arsenal.

I am without compassion. So peace is really impossible. Their problems are in the way. I wonder how it is I alone understand the way things should be. So I become angry. My mood is fixed by how things are in my own stratosphere. I grieve for those who grieve if by those you mean me.

How is peace with others possible if those others are pawns to move and problems to be moved out of the way?

They pull in front of me in traffic. They mess up my order. Are loud in the library. They are dirty. Ugly. Uninformed. These others do not like what I like. And dislike what I like. They are loud and quiet. They ask me to feed them and play with them. They ask me to help them. They have problems. Issues. They send me emails wanting me to fix problems.

Worse. I invest in the idea that the removal of the things they do which I do not like will give me the peace I want. Deep down I know this is not the peace I need. In fact this is the peace of a mirage.

What I need is a peace in the midst. I need a peace that will stand between me and the others – a peace taking away my habitual desire for weapons to use against them.

The Already/Not Yet of the Soul At Peace With God

White Tree by Makoto Fujimura

(This is part six of a series of posts: onetwothreefour, five.)

I want a peaceful soul.

And in the already/not yet of the world I find myself in, this is no mean feat. When Jesus was facing a cross-faced dawn and confessed, “Now my soul is troubled” it was the cathartic echo of every soul on both sides of golgotha. I think he mumbled it.

The forces in this existence which scheme to construct a life without a peaceful soul are legion. And the spheres where the battle is fought are four. For I need a soul at peace with God, with others, with my own self and with the Universe.


Already, I enjoy the peace that passes all understanding in a sense. The wrath of God has been turned back. The Prince of Peace, himself has turned it away and taken it on himself. It is a real peace. God is no longer angry with me. Peace. And despite the systematic theologies we have written and now fillour libraries, it is beyond understanding. I don’t get it.  All the horror for the sake of me and the beauty resulting. Is it Ok to be so blown away by not fathoming this peace we throw our hands up in confusion? Surely.

But I do not enjoy it fully. If I did I would not want a peaceful soul. It would be fully realized. This is part of the ‘not yet.’ Because I still have this frame which is so prone to sin, I still strive against the God who has already declared ‘peace’ by meeting all the demands himself.

Imagine that.

A soldier who once fought tooth and nail, war upon war, against the king is now an enemy no more. The King has met all his own demands of punishment for the insurrection. The soldier owes nothing. Peace is had. Real peace, not imagined peace that is defined by space, time and mass. This peace breaks those bonds completely. But the soldier forgets and strives against the King. In fits of rage he unsheathes his sword. In lust he grabs what is not his. And in impatience he demands.

But it’s peace he wants most. He wants to experience what is really his. He feels this peace he has with the king is a inheritance in foreign land he cannot yet get to. But he hears of its beauty and pastoral scenes. He gets word of the yield of fruit from the fields he will one day behold. Face to face.

The longing of his very soul.

The Path of Peace Is A Violent One

(This is part five of a series of posts: onetwothree, four.)

I want a peaceful soul.

And after thinking about it, maybe peace does not look like anything particular. Or better, it looks like all things reconciled. No friction between any two things. And maybe this is why Jesus is the picture of peace itself. One so at peace with himself, with God, with the Universe itself and with people – it would make sense that he would be peace personified. He created us. He is the one we rebelled against from tree to tree. He is the One in Whom we gain peace with God, the Father. No wonder he is called our Peace, the Prince of Peace and consistently bids us peace.

So, as I watch this Jesus – this man of peace, I see the need for peace in four particular spheres of my life that spill out onto the banks of everywhere else.

Peace with God.

Peace with others.

Peace with the Universe.

Peace with myself.

None will come without a fight. In fact, I assume the path to a peaceful soul is a violent one. There are no frictionless relations. The Universe has yet to bend to my will fully though I fancy a center place. And I know full well my own battle-ready self. No, the shores of a soul at peace must know the waves will crash again and again.

Is there a bulwark hardy enough to withstand the relentless pulsing sea of war on my soul? Yes. And it wields it’s strength in a story. Not a formula. But a story, where I come in late but am found in nonetheless.

Nonetheless. And knowing this is the beginning of the very peace I am after.

Louis Armstrong, Miss Marple and Jesus: What Does A Peaceful Soul Look Like?

                                                                 Christ in the Storm – Rembrandt

(This is part four of a series of posts: one, two, three.)

When my children ask me what something is, a textbook definition will not do. It may take them deep into the meaning of a word or action, but they will not understand. Before the definition is meaningful, they need a picture or a story. So, like a child, before I even try to define ‘peace’ I wanna get at what it looks like first. In other words, I need a picture.

I want a peaceful soul. But I cannot seem to get there. Today I railed at my kids. Granted, I’m getting over a cold, I slept little and they had pushed that button approximately 4372 times too many. But it showed what I lacked – a soul at peace.

I am not entirely sure I know what it would look like. Or even sound like. Maybe a cross between my father and Eugene Peterson with a little Miss Marple thrown in? Maybe its the color of the sea and hues of an early spring day. Maybe it sounds like late-night Louis Armstrong. In mono.

But mostly Jesus.

All these stories I’ve grown up with and know by heart and never have noticed how at peace Jesus is throughout. He is at peace in the midst of a storm, enough to sleep. He is at peace with God, his Father, doing his will. He is at peace with his enemies even. I mean, the peace which he exudes during the Last Supper – I would have railed at Judas. And everyone else because of what is coming. The pressure would have been too much. I would have cried out in anger against the very nails whose stuff I dreamt up in the dark recesses before time was. And yet Jesus without being an emotionless stoic, is at peace while the created order conspires against him, the Creator.

Also, I never noticed how at peace he is with himself. Maybe because I never thought about such a thing. I think about myself a lot. Too much. But Jesus is at peace with himself. He is certain, fixed like a flint on his mission –  his way of doing things. I question every move I make. Sometimes for years on end. Arguing with myself – justifying myself even as I accuse myself.

You do it too.

I never noticed how much Jesus talked about peace. I never even once noticed. It’s thematic. And not just in the red letters. Throughout the NT, the Spirit of Christ through the writers seem to have ‘peace’ always at the ready as a subject. Of the NT literature only 1 John has no mention of peace. This tells me something – it is not silly to want a peaceful soul. If the soul is so serious a thing as to be told I should not want to trade the world for it and peace is thematic for the Christian life…then I just may be onto something.

Maybe this is not a divergence but an insurgence into the very heart of God, himself. Maybe this is what we were meant to pursue. And perhaps the strangeness of it is calling us to see how we have not cared for such a thing as we ought.

The Disappearance of the Soul

I want a peaceful soul.

This may…probably sounds a little strange to you. If you thought it sounded strange the first and fifth time I said it, I would understand. It sounds strange to me. And I am the one saying it. The words swim in my brain and come out of my mouth regularly now. But they still sound strange to me.

On Monday I was in class with my ninth graders. I love them but they are not the recipe for a peaceful soul. I told them to stop talking while I am talking because when they talk while I am talking I get upset and I don’t want to be upset because being upset is the most well-trodden path to an unpeaceful soul and I do not want an un-peaceful soul but a peaceful soul. It sounded strange to them too.

And even though I wanted it deeply, it all sounded strange to me.

Maybe this is because I never talk about my soul. I have a soul but I never really talk about it. In fact I rarely talk about the soul at all. And the Christian community I am surrounded by doesn’t either. Well, that’s not entirely true.

We talk about saving souls a lot.

Souls are something needing to be saved. And once they are, they just…actually I don’t really know what they do. Or don’t do. Or need. Or even are.

Because I never hear about them. At all. Ever.

So I laid in bed last night wondering why this is the case. “Why is the concept and language of the soul not in the front of the Christian mind?” My mind immediately went through the Scriptures in my head and – now this is going to sound weird – I actually thought, “What I am talking about sounds old, KJV old.” And I was right.

This morning I got up early and did some comparing of Bible translations. The following is how many times the English word “soul” shows up in each of 14:

Douay-Rheims (1582 – 1610) – 660
KJV (1611) – 498
Darby (1890) – 536
ASV (1901) – 495
NAS (1960) – 289
NKJV (1975) – 341
NIV (1984) – 136
The Message (1993 -2002) – 163
21st Century KJV (1994) – 501
NLT (1996) – 73
ESV (2001) – 269
HCSB (2004) – 58
NIV (2005) – 96
NIV (2011) – 95

Three things I noticed right away:

1) The newer the translation the less ‘soul’ shows up.

2) The Catholic Bible uses it the most and the Southern Baptist uses it the least.

3) I didn’t even know there was a 21st Century KJV.

Maybe we don’t talk about the soul very much because our Bibles don’t talk about them very much anymore. Or maybe our Bibles don’t talk about them very much because we don’t talk about them very much. Maybe it’s a cycle which will eventually end in there being no talk of the soul.

I don’t assume this is a bad thing. Maybe it is nothing. Actually nothing is nothing.

Maybe it is no big deal. But that cannot be the case. Because we often talk about not losing our soul so as to gain the world. So the soul must be valuable. It must be something if we do not want to lose it. You don’t warn people to not lose something unless it has some value.

Am I right that evangelicals are not talking about the soul? And why aren’t they? Is this a blind-spot in the evangelical sub-culture?

My first guess? Churches are more and more becoming just like businesses. Businesses do not talk about souls. They talk about how many people walk through the door. They talk about investment and return. The bottom line. Pastors are managers. As soon as they have managed to see that the soul is saved from hell, the soul is left alone. And then people are organized into groups to do things and see things done. We advertise to gain market share. Souls are not even on the radar for businesses.

Heck, it wasn’t even on my radar till I heard Charlie Crews say, “I want a peaceful soul.” And I thought, “Yeah, me too.”

What do you think? Why do we never really talk about “the soul” except in relation to it’s need to be saved from hell?

Zen And The Art Of A TV Show

“I want a peaceful soul.” – Charlie Crews

Last week, we – my wife and I –  finished Life, a show lasting only two seasons. Charlie Crews (Damien Lewis, Maj. Winters in Band of Brothers) is the central character. He is a police officer. But he is unlike any police officer in any television drama. He – as a cop – was accused of killing his friend and his friend’s family. He spent 12 years in prison and when the show starts he has been made a detective and is living in the lap of luxury after receiving a sizable settlement for being wrongly convicted and receiving a life sentence.. All of this made me very interested in the show. All of this makes the show interesting. But not all that distinctive.

What makes the show different is his interest in Zen.
He listens to cassette tapes of a very peaceful voice whispering Zen teachings through the speakers of his Mazaratti squad car. Every episode is filled with his learning of Zen and the case they are working on somehow represents the teaching he is learning. Throughout he’s working out and working himself into the contradictions of what he is learning and his ‘life.’
A cop learning Zen.
(I wish someone would write about fifty detective novels with Charlie Crews as the principal character. I would read them all. Every one.)
But his partner, Reese, is not all that interested in his Zen. She is jaded. She rarely smiles. She is yin to his yang. Not only in being female. But in every disposition.
Crews: It’s all connected, Reese.
Reese: What is?
Crews: It is.
It’s a serial drama. So every episode is connected. He is trying to find the killer who is responsible for the killings he spent time in prison for and lost his now re-married wife for. Every episode is connected. And it all culminates in the final episode of season two. I won’t give you all the details in case you want to watch it. But there is one scene I cannot get out of my head.
He is in a prison to see a prisoner and get some info. He is severely disappointed in his quest. His friend asks him, “Charlie, what do you want?” Charlie turns away from the prisoner he has been talking to and is now maniacally laughing at him. He stands up. He closes his eyes. He breathes deeply. And he says:
I want a peaceful soul.
Justice. Revenge. Love. Loss. Mercy. Life. Death. Loyalty. Power. Greed. Fear. Hate. Disappointment. 
All of it is converging in the moment. And he has the wherewithal to desire such a thing. It was so foreign and refreshing, I have yet to get out of that scene. Why? I want a peaceful soul. I don’t even comprehend what that means. But I want it more than anything right now. For myself. My family. The souls of my family. I want a peaceful soul.
Maybe I will stop wanting it. Maybe in a few days. But as of now, I want it more than anything, even though I have no idea what it will require. But I assume it will be the convergence of peace and my own soul. Two things, as follower of Jesus I should always be thoughtful of.
So If you ask me why I am doing something. Be prepared to hear me answer, “I want a peaceful soul.”