Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Proverbs 16) transports me to a tiny recording studio in Buckingham Palace on September 3, 1939, the eve of World War II. King George VI, the reluctant and stammering sovereign, is there with his speech coach, Lionel Logue, to give the now famous speech to the prepare the British Empire for war with Germany. Over and over again, we have tried to find a peaceful way out of the differences between ourselves and those who are now our enemies; but it has been in vain. We have been forced into a conflict, for we are called, with our allies, to meet the challenge of a principle which, if it were to prevail, would be fatal to any civilized order in the world. . . For the sake of all that we ourselves hold dear, and of the world order and peace, it is unthinkable that we should refuse to meet the challenge. . . We can only do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God. If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then with God’s help, we shall prevail. May He bless and keep us all.
Kim and I finally got around to going to see The King’s Speech last night, a fabulous movie for sure, and I couldn’t help but make a connection to today’s passage in Proverbs, which reads like a collection of pithy sayings Geoffrey Rush (as Lionel Logue) might have given Colin Firth (as King George). Listen to me Bertie – To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue. The lips of a king speak as an oracle, and his mouth does not betray justice. . . Repeat after me Bertie – Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value the one who speaks what is right. . . Sing it Bertie – The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction. Waltz while you say it Bertie – Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. And then comes the moment, the fateful moment in that grave hour, and the light blinks four times and everyone is pulling for poor old Bertie through every hesitation and with every halting word.
I was right there, hoping against hope that His Majesty could get through the speech, but there was something halting inside me as well; there was a bit of a stammer in my cheering. Something inside me said, here I am, a committed peacemaker, a believer in the way of nonviolent direct action and transforming initiatives, being swept away by a call to war. There is something of that same stammer in the advice to the King seen in the passage today – Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city. . . There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. But wait a minute, we’re talking WWII here. Whenever committed practitioners of peacemaking and nonviolent response to enemies get into serious conversations with proponents of just war, Hitler’s evil aggression invariably comes up. What was the alternative? The short answer is, there were alternatives to violence in the face of Hitler’s aggression. Check out an article by Karl Meyer of the Catholic Peace Fellowship for an example. Today’s passage gives a foundation for the kind of faith that believes there are alternatives to violence: When the LORD takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies to make peace with them. It’s not a question of violence versus doing nothing. It’s a question of pursuing a different way, a different set of plans of how to respond. The Proverb tells us, Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. One reason I’m supportive of groups like the Catholic Peace Fellowship and the Baptist Peace Fellowship, is that they are filled with folks who have been attentive to strategic peacemaking plans established by God, consistent with Jesus’ way. It makes me wonder and ask one of those great “what if” questions of history – what if King George VI had been active in an Anglican Peace Fellowship during his life prior to 1939? He was no doubt a great man, both bright and brave. But what if he had applied his intellect and his courage to meet the challenge of his time with nonviolent strategic action? My stammering supposition, my halting confession of faith, says that his efforts would not have been in vain.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “World Peace.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.