Is President Obama our Prince of Peace? Whether you think the President deserves the 2009 Nobel Peace prize or not, the award sticks to him like bees drawn to nectar. Expectations about him as a peacemaker or the dismissal of the award coming too soon in this young presidency both miss the point. The more significant question is how we are each peacemakers in our own spheres of influence.
When the Obama’s attend church on Christmas they will be among the hundreds of millions reminded of the birth of a child revered as the Prince of Peace. The Christ of the Christian tradition speaks about peacemakers being “blessed”. The juxtaposition of the peace prize being awarded within days of a deeper commitment to the war in Afghanistan is an irony reflecting the precarious nature of what we understand as “peace”.
In the time of Christ peace was widely understood to mean the absence of conflict for the Roman Empire. The Hebrew tradition of Christ viewed peace as the “well-being” of all. This was a social construct. It was about the well-being of economic, spiritual and social relationships. Quite different from an absence of conflict. The Prince of Peace’s peace is proactive and engaged. It is a peace that celebrates our inter-connectedness. We are part of one human family in which our own well being is only possible when the well-being of all is actively pursued.
Obama is not the Prince of Peace. Time will tell whether he is an active peacemaker or not. But he does bring a refreshing understanding of what it means for Americans to be part of the human family that includes all, not just some. If he becomes an activist peacemaker his successes will reflect how we each understand ourselves to be about peace, about well-being for all.
From his Hindu tradition Gandhi believed swaraj, the concept of self-restraint, meant that all of the necessities of life should be enjoyed alike by all – the wealthy, poor and comfortable. Gandhi said, “I give you a talisman: Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself is the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own fate and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj for the hungry and starving millions? Then you will find you own doubts and yourself melting away.”
What a talisman for us and the newest Nobel Laureate! Although Gandhi was never awarded the Nobel, even thought he was nominated for it five times, he is the spiritual and moral leader of the non-violence movement. Gandhi, like the Noel Peace Laureates Muhammad Yunus, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela, understood that without the well-being of all, peace is an illusion.
Leaders can’t do it alone. Leaders need the encouragement and participation of others. No wonder Mr. Obama paid homage today to the organizations and legions of people working for peace and well-being around the world. The President has the moral leadership and capacity to engage and invite us to each to support the well-being of all.
While congratulating the President on becoming a Nobel Peace Laureate, it is we who are invited to be re-engaged with the entire human family. Then peace will begin to break out.