This is a good week to remember that unicorns are, among other things, a symbol of peace.
Heinrich Arnold, a Bruderhof pastor, urges for “A Gospel of Peace in a Time of Terror” this week in Plough. A taste:
The New Testament calls on us to mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:14). At a time like this, we should grieve with the people of Israel, especially the survivors of Hamas’s attack. And we should mourn too, with civilians in Gaza who are already suffering as collateral damage in the military response to it.
We must pray for peace. To say this may sound like a platitude. But if we believe in God’s power to intervene in history, prayer remains vital all the same…
But though I don’t know what governments should do, I do know what followers of Jesus are called to do.
The only thing Christians can do with absolute certainty is to testify to Christ’s gospel of peace. Our calling is to pray for peace and for all the victims of violence, to refuse to support violence ourselves, and to be peacemakers. As members of his church on earth, we are to be an embassy in the present world of the future peaceable kingdom.
I’ve thought a lot this week about how many Jews worldwide have relatives/friends/roots in both Israel and Ukraine. As we feel outrage over one war, let us not forget another. Here is an essay that London Ukrainian Review first ran in August (but I just saw it this week) by Ukrainian writer Victoria Amelina, who was killed by the missile strike that hit a pizzeria in Kramatorsk early this summer. It is appropriately titled “The Shell Hole in the Fairy Tale.” A taste:
Around 9 am, an artillery shell hit the ‘Fairy Tale’ kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska, making a hole in the wall of the children’s gym. The photo of the kindergarten is difficult to comprehend: a shell hole in one of the walls, a painted magical island with palm trees and animals on another, yellow ornamented wallpaper, which still makes the kindergarten room look cosy, and numerous footballs in the pile of broken bricks…
‘No children were killed or injured in Stanytsia Luhanska as no one was in the gym at the time of the shelling’, I read in the news. So, we’re all lucky.
I often tell myself how lucky we all are, as if arguing with the last line of the famous Serhiy Zhadan poem, which tells the story of refugees from a city that ‘was built of stone and steel’ but doesn’t exist anymore. Serhiy wrote it in 2015 after Russia occupied the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk and the Crimea peninsula. I only paid attention to the poem in 2018 when I saw it written on a wall on Peace Avenue in Mariupol.
My son is trying to see the screen of my phone. He shouldn’t see destroyed kindergartens. Not yet.
In light of the horrifying antisemitism that has popped up this week in some circles (including at Harvard!), historian Miles Smith’s essay “Southern Presbyterians and the Roots of American Philosemitism” is a good reminder that some Americans—especially some American Presbyterians—have historically been friends to the Jews. A taste:
Southern Presbyterians displayed an early and pronounced streak of philosemitism in an era when Jewish life in the United States could still be precarious. Palmer, and South Carolina Presbyterians in general, lived and worked among Charleston’s sizable and vibrant Jewish population. James W. Hagy’s This Happy Land: the Jews of Colonial and Antebellum Charleston explained how Jews in the South enjoyed relative inclusion compared to northern cities of the same eras. In 1800, More Jews lived in South Carolina than anywhere else in North America. Philip Morgan of Johns Hopkins, in an endorsement of Theodore and Dale Rosengarten’s A Portion of the People Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish Life, reminded audiences that “until 1830 Charleston was the capital of American Jewry; Christians in South Carolina elected the first professing Jew to office; Reform Judaism first came to the United States in the Palmetto State.”
It is unsurprising then that Benjamin Palmer spoke so admiringly of Jews. Their chief trait, he wrote, was “almost superhuman tenacity.” Their national life had been nearly destroyed time and time again through slavery, conquest, and a variety of other national calamities. Even as Jewish national life was seemingly destroyed, “the Jew is not.” Palmer evoked a nearly mystical tie between the Jewish diaspora and the Holy Land, and in this regard seemed to posit a form of proto-Zionism.
In my Anxious Bench post this week, I discuss journalist Dion Nissenbaum’s book A Street Divided: Stories from Jerusalem’s Alley of God. A taste:
… our viewpoint—perspective—changes entirely with such a narrow focus. A large picture perspective leads researchers and observers to try and take sides: someone in this horrific conflict must be in the right or in the wrong. Someone will be the winner or the loser in the war. But this kind of narrative that generalizes the character and agency of nations wholesale is misleading. Nations are made up of individual people, and those individual people may have entirely different sorts of preferences and views. Put simply, individual people would usually prefer peace over war.
When we zoom in to consider the wars and conflicts through just the history of “one 300-yard, dead-end street in one little city,” we learn instead that the history of Arab-Israeli wars is not just a history of state violence, but is made up also of the stories of real people who wanted to live regular lives—raising children, taking care of elderly relatives, celebrating birthdays and weddings and religious festivals, pursuing an education and career, and looking for that best bread recipe. These are the “normal” things of life that we all crave, but war disrupts them. Larger narratives of war that focus merely on national guilt or innocence ignore their existence altogether, reducing civilians to “necessary collateral damage,” when they suffer as a result of these wars.
In other words, when we look at a 75-year cycle of war and violence from the perspective of a single street, something different becomes clear: this conflict is an external force imposed on residents who would much rather prefer peace.
Shifting gears to education, Zachary Cote reminds everyone, as we get ready for another elections season, that “The Future of Democracy Depends on a Quality Civics Education.” A taste:
When teachers, administrators and legislators talk about history education, we must consider it an exercise in civics. Typically, civics is synonymous with learning about overtly political topics such as government structure and voting, but what if good citizenship goes beyond our nation’s history and political processes? To reach every student in the U.S., we must reprioritize history education as a whole, not just in parts.
Good history education empowers students to actively engage with the past they study, rather than being passive receivers of historical narratives. When students learn to ask deep questions, analyze texts and construct evidence-based arguments, they are equipped with skills that reach far beyond a history classroom. Thinking historically is at the root of those skills.When I was a full-time history teacher at Stella Middle Charter Academy in Los Angeles, my eighth graders had just finished a Socratic seminar discussing several questions about race and immigration in 19th-century America. During the class reflection, one girl said, “Going into the seminar, I planned to write one argument for my essay, but after this, I think I’m actually going to argue the opposite.” Immediately, I heard some excitable boys in the class shout, “Flip flop!” but I quickly posed a key question to ponder: “Isn’t one of the reasons we engage in these conversations to learn to base our arguments on evidence rather than our intuitions?”
Thinking back on this moment in class, I wonder, can we imagine a political atmosphere where it’s okay not to be dogmatically glued to our own presuppositions, but are willing to be swayed by quality evidence? This is at the heart of thinking historically.
To conclude with another excellent essay on education, I highly recommend Cassandra Nelson’s “Who’s Afraid of the Still, Small Voice?” As she explains it, this essay is “an attempt, necessarily partial and incomplete, to understand how most of the fun and many of the people have been squeezed out of education, and whether these might in fact amount to the same thing. And also to think about how Christians — who are called to be as light and salt to the world — can, in ways both large and small, possibly help set things right.”
This essay is worth reading in full. I suppose my own answer to the concerns Nelson raises has been to homeschool. But that is not a sustainable solution for a society as a whole, although the growth of the homeschooling movement shows the rising number of parents who opt for this approach.