Learning to plow — a New Year’s resolution

Jan 2, 2017 by

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Ever since the second week of Advent, I had planned to write a piece. Some brilliant little nugget about beating swords into plowshares, wolves and lambs, and children leading us. I wanted to write something about the present reality of the kingdom of the Prince of Peace, and the end of violence. You know — that sort of thing. But instead I spent my day arguing with and threatening my middle child. Then I decided that perhaps I wasn’t the right person to write such a piece.

My son has a beautiful soul and a bigger heart than nearly anyone I know of any age. I love him, am proud of him, and we’re great friends — who fight… a lot! And lately, I’ve found myself more and more resorting to sword-rattling behavior that gets immediate results at a terrible price. It works — we get through the day. But tomorrow is inevitably worse.

So I’m not the guy to teach you how to beat your swords into plowshares. I clearly don’t know the first thing about it. Sure, I can condemn the violence of others with the best of them, and pontificate on the perpetual nature of blowback, etc. But if I can’t engage peacefully with my own loved ones, what business do I have commenting on how others treat strangers across the globe? I get to look my victim in the eye and feel my heart break when I see my own eyes staring back.

And yet I do believe that the kingdom of peace is here, and I generally consider myself its citizen, albeit a rather disappointing one. A kingdom is the domain of a king, and anything contrary to his rule is therefore outside his kingdom, including my quarrels with my son. I have to deal with this. I have to give up my sword or quit pretending the Prince of Peace is my Lord, and the latter is not going to happen.

Fortunately, I’m not really left disarmed in this fight. I’m simply forced to transform my weapon from the expedient and destructive sword into the laborious yet constructive plowshare. But what does this mean practically? What does it mean tomorrow when another fight breaks out? This is the perpetual challenge accompanying any progress into the unknown. Our progress is stalled by a thousand questions, and we fear that uncertainty portends failure. The pacifist libertarian knows this better than most — who will build the roads and keep crackheads from murdering your family in the middle of the night? (Some of these questions aren’t that hard: construction workers and I.) But let’s be honest, we know violence and how it works — brandish a weapon and people freeze; shout at the small and the weak and they submit. But how do we end a fight with a pruning hook?

A sword is a swift and simple solution — use it right, and you’re done in seconds. A plowshare and a pruning hook take time. You don’t strike once and see neat, ripe crops springing from the ground. You need a vision, you need to commit, you need faith, and you need to stay the course. A sword shuts your kids up. A plowshare grows a successful, respectful human being with whom you may have a real relationship. A plowshare requires sweat and time. A sword requires very little but frustration and a target. A sword takes a moment. A plowshare, a season. They are very different tools. I need to learn to use to the latter, in order to lay down the former.

I wish I had 10 easy steps to living in a kingdom of peace for the year 2017, but I don’t. I’m a descendant of Cain trying to figure it all out along with the rest of us. But I’ve looked in the eyes of my child, and broke down and hugged him and I knew in that moment that my sword had become a plowshare. I looked into his eyes and I saw myself staring back, equally weary and longing for peace. The thing is, his eyes are the same as everyone else. We’re all Cain’s broken children, waiting for a hug, longing for peace, and just unsure of the way.

Jon Butterfield is a writer with an Evangelical Christian background who attends Oasis Community Church (Conservative Mennonite Conference) near Lexington, Ky. This post originally appeared at Altar & Throne.


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