Sunday, February 28, 2010

Abigail: Peace and security

"Peace is confused with safety. There is no way to peace along the way to safety. For peace must be dared. It can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I've been thinking about this Bonhoeffer quote and how true it seems to me. Why do we so often confuse security with peace? If we could understand that security and peace were two different things, would that change everything? Would we become less fixated on "security?" (Of course, Bonhoeffer is talking about worldly security, not religious security.)

On the largest level, we believe that if our borders are "secure" no "enemies" can get through and we will have peace.

We believe--some of us--that if we have a big enough arsenal of weapons, we will be secure from the mayhem of a "home invasion."

In our private lives, perhaps we think if we have enough financial security--enough money in the bank--we will have peace of mind. We won't have to worry in case something "happens". But the lesson of history is that you can never have enough.

These "securities" separate us from our fellow humans. Instead of making us more secure, they make us more fearful of the people who might want what we have.

Achieving peace means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to other people. It means sacrificing some of our security.

One of my favorite Bible stories is the tale of Abigail, a peacemaker.

David--later to become Israel's king-- was fleeing Saul, who was trying to kill him. David sends some of his men to ask Nabal, a wealthy landowner, for a present, presumably food, because David and his men have been guarding Nabal's vast flocks. Nabal dismisses David's men empty handed, referring to David as a "slave." David tells his men to buckle on their swords and vows to slaughter Nabal and everyone associated with him.

Since Nabal is more or less worthless, Abigail, his wife, acts without consulting him. She has raisins and bread, figs and wine, loaded on donkeys and with these gifts and some sheep goes out to greet David. She falls down in front of him and begs him not to slaughter her people, appealing to his peace of mind. When he is a great king, he won't want to have innocent blood on his hands.

David calms down, accepts her gift and blesses her for preventing him from shedding blood out of anger. He vows not to harm anyone and he doesn't. Shortly thereafter, when Nabal, who appears to be an alcoholic, dies of a seizure, David marries Abigail.

What do we learn from this story?

First, a conflict can be resolved without killing. Nobody dies through violence in this episode. This is somewhat remarkable for the Old Testament, in which violence is the normal way to solve conflicts. Abigail does not feel any inclination to, for example, hammer a tent peg through her husband’s skull—and David doesn’t ask her to.

Second, no treachery is involved. Abigail approaches David without consulting Nabal but she does it to save Nabal, not betray him. Further, David doesn’t ask her to betray him or her people.

Third, to attempt peace, Abigail has to act courageously. She has to become vulnerable. She has no guarantee that David won’t murder her and her party, and good reason to think he will. She also has no guarantee that David won’t kidnap and rape her or sell her into slavery. Peace making means risk taking.

Fourth, here the patriarchal male is not the savior of the people. In a crisis, a “young man” turns to Abigail. Her earned de facto leadership rights trump Nabal’s gender and de jure headship, undercutting the notions of “anointed” leadership emphasized in the previous story, in which David protects Saul--even though Saul wants to kill him-- because he’s a king. This dovetails with the Quaker notion that anybody can be chosen by God to be a leader, messenger or peace maker.

Fifth, Abigail appeals to David’s honor and imagination, telling him he won’t want to wake up one morning as king with a massacre on his conscience. She talks him down from his anger—and he’s grateful. He even admits the slaughter would have been wrong. From this, we learn of a yearning to be released from the endless cycle of violence. Thus, this story undercuts the heroic narrative of David as warrior king, at least raising the question: Is military leadership the right model of kingship or has it been forced on David? And how many people wish an Abigail would step forward at the right moment and prevent a bloodbath that seems inevitable?

Finally, we learn that vows can be broken. Minds can change. David, like Jesus in the story of the Syro-Phoenician women, listens and learns. This shows that we have the ability to break cycles of violence through empathy. We’re not required to be rigid.

I love Abigail. While the men are posturing, she's peacemaking. I love her story, because it shows we don't have to resort to violence.

Is there anything you'd like to add?


AbiSomeone said...

Diane, I love the story of Abigail as well. It is always a challenge, however, to resist taking one example of a successful attempt and making it the rule.

I recently posted on something along this line concerning confusing blessing with approval.

There are a variety of situations which require a variety of responses. It requires significant discernment (a discipline sorely lacking in many arenas these days) before action. Knee jerk or head in the sand won't do.

So, I agree with bold risk-taking. But it does have to show wisdom. I am generally a peacemaker ... but I think there are times when poor peacemaking is a greater danger than wise war. It is a shame that we don't have more examples of wise war....

Jael, if I recall, in slaying the general of the opposing army, was blessed in song by Deborah as speeding the peace that lasted 40 years.

...just sayin'

AbiSomeone said...

...and for anyone else who may be using Google Chrome, you can't post comments in blogger with I had to log in with IE. ;^(

kevin roberts said...

Diane, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis for attempting to bring peace through treachery and murder. In my opinion, the lesson he has to teach us is that even compassionate and deeply sensitive people can be led astray when they decide they know better than God what it is he wants from us.

Diane said...

Hi Peggy/Abi,

Jael is blessed for killing Sisera. The Bible does offer us a menu of creative options for dealing with enemies! Because the Old (or First) Testament is so often used to justify violent responses--and because I'm a pacifist :)--I do like to highlight the stories in which conflicts are resolved peacefully. But I agree with you that unwise peacemaking is a problem, as in Chronicles, when the cowardly leaders try to buy off the Babylonians.