Making Peace with War

By Rudi Harst

Perhaps it would have been different if I'd been living in New York or D.C. at the time. But on 9/11, the events seemed fairly far off and surreal to me. As violent and destructive as the airplane attacks were, I was much more affected by my fellow Americans' fearful reactions than by the terrorists' actions. Two days later the swirling storm of stories and images really began to penetrate my heart. Then it became very personal, taking form in a moment that still echoes through my soul today.

On September 13th, I was desperately hurrying to get to the Mennonite Church to perform at an interfaith peace service sponsored by the PeaceCenter. I'd agreed to sing at this particular event two months earlier, fully expecting it to be another uplifting, yet depressingly familiar peace rally attended by the same small group of faces I've been seeing at such events for years. But 9/11 changed everything. I was pretty sure the church would be packed, giving our community a much-needed opportunity to explore alternatives to the belligerent flag-waving and chest thumping which had engulfed our nation for the past two days. In short, I was very eager to get there and speak my piece about peace.

Unfortunately, our two-year old son, Mateo, didn't share my enthusiasm. He didn't want to stop playing, finish eating or have his diaper changed – and he sure as heck didn't want to be rushed into leaving the house. My wife, Zet was busy elsewhere, we hadn't found a baby-sitter, and the only option was to take Mateo with me, whether either of us liked it or not. He began crying as soon as we got in the car, accelerating into a full-blown temper tantrum before we'd driven two blocks.

In keeping with our long-term family policy, I pulled the car over to the curb, turned around in my seat, tried to stay calm and distract him. No luck. More screaming. Time running short. To heck with our family policy. I drove on, tempers running high on both sides of the car. Then Mateo threw a toy at me. I immediately slammed on the brakes, pulled into a parking lot, jerked open the back door and started screaming at the top of my lungs, demanding his cooperation. All my frustration came spilling out, filling the car with rage. That sure showed him. Scared him quiet, lips quivering, eyes fearful, not another peep.

Mission accomplished, I slammed the door shut and headed back to my side of the car – when suddenly the violence and foolishness of my actions tore through my heart. I stood stock-still, stunned by the realization that I'd verbally beaten and bruised my beloved boy into submission just as certainly as if I had attacked him with a baseball bat. And why? Because I was in a hurry to get to a peace rally where I could urge others to explore non-violent responses to violence!

It was pretty silly, and I would have laughed, but I was feeling far too foolish and pathetic. Climbing into the back seat, I begged Mateo to forgive me. But looking into his beautiful, dark sad eyes I could immediately see that remorse and apologies wouldn't suffice. He and I were both hungry for the experience of peace. So we simply sat there together in silence for a long minute or two. Feeling our feelings, looking at each other with love, finding what peace we could. Not for long, but long enough, I suppose. The storm passed.

The service was well underway by the time that we'd finally found a parking space and wound our way through the overflow crowd. Just in time for me to take my turn at the microphone, where I introduced my song by relating the incident with Mateo. I was able to make light of it, and the audience laughed with me.

But the lesson was plain to see, and there was nothing funny about it, then or now. In that painfully transparent moment, it became clear that somehow we must learn to change our ways, first as individuals, then as nations, and then as a planet.

We cannot make peace by subduing others with threats, jets, or bigger better bombs. Whether a war breaks out in the family car or on a far-off battlefield, everyone always loses. Peace is far more than just the absence of violence—it is an active, ongoing process that requires mutual respect, reconciliation and communication instead of confrontation. Anything less is just another mess waiting to happen in the form of the next shouting match, the next car bombing, the next big international crisis.


Rudi Harst is the Minister of the Celebration Circle of San Antonio, an interfaith congregation focussed on experiencing spirituality through the Sacred Arts. Rudi, who is also a professional writer and recording artist, has spoken and sung at countless New Thought churches, conferences, corporations and schools throughout the country. Contact him at


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