They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. -- Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3
Last month, news headlines called the shooting in Las Vegas the “deadliest mass shooting in US history.” That’s the fifth time in my life that such a tragedy claimed that title — and I’m only 36. The U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but we own more than 42 percent of civilian guns in the world. Our death rate from guns far exceeds any other in the developed world and we see, on average, 93 people killed with guns each day.
Fiery rhetoric out of Washington, D.C., and Pyongyang, North Korea, threatens to bring another deadly war to that region. My grandparents watched as a bloody conflict on the Korean Peninsula in the 1950s claimed the lives of about 5 million people before ending in a draw. During that war, the U.S. and our allies dropped more bombs on Korea than we did during the entire Pacific front of World War II, helping lead to the deaths of ten percent of the Korean population. A nuclear war today could make that earlier war seem like a minor skirmish.
In this context, the peaceful vision offered by the prophets Isaiah and Micah seem like an unrealistic dream. But the task of a prophet is to employ what the brilliant Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann calls “the prophetic imagination.” Prophets are poets and artists trying to shake up the people by saying the unsayable, thinking the unthinkable, imagining the unimaginable. Rather than the caricature of the fire-andbrimstone yeller, Brueggemann instead offers a portrait of prophets that is “more cunning and more nuanced and perhaps more ironic.”
We live in a violent age desperately in need of imaginative prophets. We need individuals who can help us see that another way of living is actually possible. We need churches that offer hope for a future that can actually be attained. Brueggemann argues that with this prophetic vision, “The church can articulate a version of reality that subverts the dominant reality of power and wealth.” The question facing us remains the same as that for the Old Testament prophets: Will we defend the interests of those profiting off the pain and misery of people, or will we push the agenda of God’s love and justice?
Consider the prophetic witness of RAWtools, a group of blacksmiths who take guns and beat them into garden tools. With this project, they update the dreams of Isaiah and Micah to fit our culture. Now these weapons of death can instead sow peace, as well as peas and tomatoes and strawberries. Who knew prophetic work could taste so good?
Or, consider the prophetic witness of Raise the Caliber, which works with police departments to collect illegal guns to turn into jewelry. After shredding and melting guns to make bracelets and cufflinks, the proceeds help future efforts to get guns off the streets. Prophets today can look quite a bit nicer than the wild John the baptizer.
Or, consider the prophetic witness of From War to Peace, which recycles copper once used in the U.S.’s nuclear weapons program to make jewelry, bottle openers, keychains and more. The “peace bronze” comes from copper originally mined in Montana, refined in Illinois and then shipped to Missouri to be turned into cabling for nuclear missile silos. After some of the silos in Nebraska and North Dakota were disarmed, From War to Peace obtained the material and uses profits to support organizations advocating for peace. Created to send signals to launch nuclear weapons, this metal now signals a stylish prayer for peace.
Or, consider the prophetic witness of Peace Parcels, which makes Christmas ornaments out of tear gas canisters shot by Israeli soldiers. Started by a student at Bethlehem Bible College, an evangelical school in Palestine, the canisters are collected, painted and decorated. It’s a Christmas present that symbolizes the reason for the season better than plastic junk.
These artistic efforts may not offer more than a drop in the bucket toward transforming our culture of violence, but they work to help us imagine a world like the one Isaiah and Micah saw to be possible. As followers of the Prince of Peace, may we repent from defending companies and politicians profiting off weapons of death. Then we can discover that peacemakers are blessed, for they shall be called children of God.
Brian Kaylor is editor of Word&Way.