Allowing What Is Already In You To Swell Up

The other day my Facebook memories reminded me that it had been a year since I took the girls to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade. The photo is of us bundled up, huddled together in the freezing cold. Elle is leaning over a cup of hot cocoa, too cold to hold it herself.

The caption reads, “We did it! It was cold, there were tears. But I brought a thermos of hot cocoa and we marched with our community. We talked about the work Martin Luther King Jr did and the work that still needs to be done. On the drive home, after we warmed up a bit, I asked if they’d do it again. Elle said no, she’d rather go to a park. But Bea gave an enthusiastic green light, check, yes! I’m remembering that raising activists takes time and that hot cocoa makes the coldest moments bearable.”

The memory was well timed because just a couple days earlier, Bea had asked when the Martin Luther King Jr Day Parade was happening again – she cannot wait to create a tradition. (I haven’t heard the same questions from Elle. Maybe she’s sticking to her park plan…) It doesn’t take much for Bea to create an annual event – she loves planning and traditions but it still made me glad that this is one she looked back on with fondness and hope for reprisal.

As we’ve settled back into our routine and I’ve had a little more space in my days to reflect, I’ve been thinking that it’s been two months since I returned from the RubyWoo Pilgrimage. That first month was filled with thoughts and ideas and hopeful next steps, even if those were a ways away. But now, with more time and more routine between me and that journey I started to feel a little discouraged. What have I done in those two months? It doesn’t feel like much.

I’m reminded of a paragraph from one of my favorite childhood books, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. It’s at the end of the story after a great mystery has been solved. Mrs. Frankweiler says,

I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside of you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.

E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing enough to create young activists. Shouldn’t we be going to more marches, reading more books, digging deeper into the injustices around us? Yes… and, we need to let these experiences swell up and touch our lives. I love knowing that Bea still holds the memory of her first march dear – that she wants to continue this tradition. Who knows? Maybe we’ll expand to more. Maybe this will spark an interest in justice down the road.

For now, I’m remembering to give life time. To choose the activities that make sense for our family in this moment on the journey and to trust the process. I want to be careful as I raise my girls – that they will want to continue this new narrative as they grow older, without burning out at a young age.

I want to remember this for myself, too. That I’ve been given a whole lot of new information in these past two months. I’ve continued to read books, to dig deeper, and to question more. But I also need to let things sift and settle, to create time and space to allow all I’ve learned to swell and grow.

On Monday, we’ll likely join the march again as we start to set down roots and traditions in activism. And like last year, my biggest goal will be to stay warm and have fun. There will be plenty of time for deep conversations and grappling with reasons it’s so important to show up and march. For now, we’re gathering information and letting it grow.

What are some ways you are leaning into facts and ideas you’ve accumulated? How are you holding space for them to swell?

From Homemaker to Social Activist

Recently I found out that Frank had been putting my career as homemaker on our tax forms for the past six years. When I found out, I did not love that title. In his defense, apparently, this is an accepted phrase that won’t get your return flagged by the IRS. I pushed back against this antiquated term – I’m so much more than a simple homemaker!

51BEYPk-dtLWhen asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my childhood answers ranged from nurse to missionary to artist to teacher. I wasn’t limited by the realities involved in pursuing a vocation and I loved dreaming of all the things I could do. I always assumed I’d be a mother because that’s what most women in my life were.

And yet, when I read books, I identified with the characters who dreamed big dreams and pursued artistic careers. I wanted to go on adventures and live an exciting life. I never connected with the quieter characters, even if they more reflected who I was – and am.

When I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, I, of course, imagined myself to be most like the character of Jo. Partly because she’s the story’s protagonist and partly because she’s the sister who accomplishes it all. She travels (though not as she imagined she would), she pursues a career, and she gets married in the end. Unlike housewifely Meg, sickly Beth, and flighty Amy, Jo seemed to grapple with all the things I could imagine myself working through those same issues.

I look at my life now and see myself most in the character of Meg, staying home with the girls, struggling with my own high expectations of these years, trying to figure out what it means to live a domestic life well. In the story, Meg is the responsible oldest sister who follows the path laid out for her. Though she doesn’t marry a wealthy man, she does marry someone who befriends her parents and is approved by all. She is content living close to her parents and figuring out life as a wife and mother.

As I reflect on these characters, I suppose I have a bit of each sister in me. These days, I do identify most with Meg. When I was living abroad, Amy’s homesickness and exploration resonated with my experience. As I dabble in the world of writing and pursuing creative dreams, Jo’s experience of finding her own story hits home in so many ways. And, though I love to venture out and explore, I also love creating a safe space for our girls, just as Beth dreamed of.

Reflecting on these characters makes me want to go back and reread this story before my own girls are old enough to experience it. It’s been years since I’ve read this classic and I wonder how my perspective would shift if I read it as a mother. Would I see the world through Marmee’s eyes more clearly? How would I respond to Jo’s hopeless romanticism?

Frank just filed our taxes again and told me he changed my occupation to unpaid social activist. Maybe I have a little of Jo’s feistiness and desire to change the world after all.

Have you read Little Women? Which sister did you most identify with? Is there a character you imagined you’d grow up to be like?

A (1)This post is Day 4 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the A Literary Life. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Ruby Woo Pilgrimage: Will You Help?

Last year, I remember seeing a trending hashtag on Twitter about a lipstick that empowered women. Stories were told about wearing this bright red color to help boost confidence. The shade was just right for a variety of skin tones and I loved seeing women share the impact of this cosmetic. As the thread grew, women started dreaming of a pilgrimage and, from my view as the ultimate Twitter lurker, I saw a movement take shape.

Untitled designAs the story unfolded, I followed the hashtag and saw a powerful group of women make their way from Seneca Falls (where the American suffrage movement began) down to Washington, D.C. to meet with representatives. Those photos prompted me to buy my own tube of Ruby Woo lipstick and all winter I wore that bright color and indeed, felt much more confident whenever I wore it.

Fast forward to this past spring. A peacemaking trip I had been dearly looking forward to fell through and I was letting myself feel disappointed about it. Right at that same time, I saw a friend post something about applications being open for the 2018 Ruby Woo Pilgrimage. On a whim, I decided to fill in the application. My heart was tugging toward something I could do to learn and participate in reconciliation work.

I’ll admit, when I got the email in June telling me I had “made it on the bus,” I was shocked and started second-guessing my place to ride along. My platform wasn’t big enough; I’m “just” a mom; why would my presence be needed?

But that’s the point. This bus of 40 women will represent seasoned activists, women of color, women who are just dipping their toes into this world of reconciliation; and women like me, who are here to listen and learn.

So, here’s the part where I’m asking you for help…

When I signed up for the pilgrimage, I knew we had the money set aside for this other trip. I thought I would just quietly pay my own way, quietly sit on the bus, and quietly learn from women more experienced than I.

Then I read the email. The organizers are asking us to fundraise for two other women who may not have the resources or the platform to ask. I’ve been thinking a lot about the work of reparations lately and when you look at the root, it means “repair.” By asking for help in fundraising for others, I’m using my own resources and privilege to help repair gaps that systemic injustices have created.

I’m also remembering that I’m part of a community and doing things on my own just isn’t how life is done at its best.

So I’m asking you, this little online community, to help. Would you donate a few dollars to this journey? I’d love for you to be part of it with me! Here’s the GoFundMe Page.

Here are some other details:

The Ruby Woo Pilgrimage is convened by Freedom Road, LLC.

Freedom Road’s founder, Lisa Sharon Harper wrote an article about the origins of Ruby Woo for Religion News Services: Hear the Pulpits Roar

Will you join my GoFundMe efforts? Our deadline is October 1, 2018!

I appreciate your consideration!

Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? What is a life-changing journey you’ve experienced?

I’m a Small Part of A Big Story

I’ve been in a bit of a blogging slump lately. Part of it is that my mental capacity is going toward this last push to the tax deadline. (Which is over tomorrow!!) Part of it is that I’m working on a Top Secret offline writing project that is taking up time and energy. (I’m nowhere near talking about it more, but if you want to be in the loop, sign up for my monthly newsletter: The Compost Heap.)

The universe isunder no obligationto make sense to you.Whenever I get in these slumps, I look for other small ways to spark my creativity. Just in time, Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy posted a #12daysofbookstagram, celebrating all the bookish things over on Instagram. I needed a distraction and this has been perfect. Day 4’s prompt was “favorite quote” and while there are many quotes that have inspired me over the years, this one from a recent read of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson jumped out. The epigraph reads,

“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”

-NDT

I need this reminder. As a typical ESTJ, Maximizer, One, Type A personality, I love making sense of life. Reading nonfiction, learning about other experiences, expanding my horizons are all things that are lifegiving practices. Figuring out the universe over a cocktail with friends is one of my favorite things.

But I can get trapped in the discontent of figuring things out. The universe is a vast mysterious place. In a lot of ways, there’s great comfort in knowing that we know very little. The unknows of the cosmos help put the heartbreaking news I read every day in perspective. It doesn’t dimish what we deal with on this planet at all but it helps me remember that we are a small part of a big story.

I need people like DeGrasse Tyson, with such a different perspective, to broaden my gaze. When I couple books about astrophysics with memoirs that deal with issues of the moment like, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir I keep one foot in the important details of today that impact my actual neighbors while keeping a bigger picture perspective that lets me breathe.

As I read the news about a Black boy getting shot by his neighbor, about two Black men getting arrested for sitting in Starbucks, about the idea that the best way to combat war is with more bombs, I am overwhelmed but the injustices of this world. I read comments scoffing at the idea that anyone would actually want refugees in their homes as I imagine opening mine to Sara and Mona and Nagham, women who have become friends. My heart breaks for the disconnect we have between wanting the Ten Commandments posted in public buildings and actually living out the directives of having no other gods or not killing.

I keep reading the news because I have to. Because, if I take a break or turn it off, I’m choosing my own privilege over the reality of those who cannot turn off these policies and decisions that impact their everyday lives. I keep reading books that are hard and make me uncomfortable because these stories are not my own and I must remember and listen. I keep looking for ways to stand beside and learn from those whose voices have been ignored or dismissed.

But I’m also remembering to lean into the mystery of faith; the mystery of the cosmos. God doesn’t promise us answers; the universe owes us no explanations. Just because I’m not promised answers doesn’t mean I won’t keep searching. That’s part of how I experience God and love my neighbors – by digging into to stories and being present. But I’m also not going to get bogged down. I’m remembering that justice is slow but that doesn’t mean we stop; I’m remembering that my actions won’t make sweeping changes but that doesn’t mean I don’t model activism to my girls; I’m remembering that there is something powerful in being a small part of a big universe.

How do you balance perspectives of making a difference and being a small part of a big story? Which end of the spectrum gives you more comfort?

Books Referenced:

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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

A Gradual Journey of Activism

I’m honored to be over at SheLoves Magazine today, thinking about activism and what a long journey it is toward doing it well. I’m learning to look ahead at those who are doing it well and remembering to look back and help others along their path. Here’s an excerpt and I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

annie-rim-a-gradual-release-3In sixth grade, we had to create a “mousetrap vehicle.” As I remember, we were given very little instruction beyond the requirement that our creation was propelled solely by the snap of a mousetrap for a certain distance. In the days before YouTube, I still remember struggling at home with my parents, trying to figure out how to engineer this incredible feat. I finally was able to make mine snap and move just enough to get a passing grade, all the while amazed at my classmates whose parents had engineering degrees and had been able to make their mousetraps do tricks while gaining momentum.

Maybe my teacher had done a whole unit on propulsion but I just didn’t retain any of it. All I remember is the feeling of overwhelming frustration and defeat as I tried without resources to engineer a small vehicle across a masking tape line.

Years later and armed with a degree featuring new educational methodologies, when presenting new content to my second grade students, I would first model a lesson to my students, showing my thinking process using large chart paper. Then, they would practice it in small groups with me so that I could offer immediate feedback. Next, we’d do a guided practice as an entire class. And finally, my students would be able to implement the concept independently into their own learning. It’s essentially an intentional way of holding the hands of my students as they mastered a new idea.

Sometimes this would take a week or a month. Some concepts took the entire year, like learning to write a multi-paragraph essay. But we would keep working at it. The release didn’t always go in order. Sometimes, we’d have to go back a step or two until a student was ready to move on. Some kids got some concepts quickly while others took more time and guidance. It was rarely a linear process.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’ve dipped my toes into the world of activism. I love following activist parents on Instagram and Twitter. These families may have kids who are a bit older than my own, so I can learn from their journey. They often are farther along in their own awareness of activism and practices of inclusion than I am. Read the rest over at SheLoves and join in the conversation!

What about you? Who do you look to for guidance and inspiration on your journey?

Learning Leads to Action

I’ve been thinking a lot about activism and how I want to model being active in our community, in politics, and in our world to the girls. At first, I was intimidated by SheLoves’ theme, “I keep showing up” because so often, I don’t show up. It’s easier to hide behind ideas than it is to bundle up and get outside. I hope today’s thoughts about showing up encourage you to put your learning into action. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the discussion!

annie-rim-learning-leads-to-action-3After weeks of temperate weather, we woke up the morning of Martin Luther King, Jr day to snow and temperatures well below freezing. I debated canceling our plans to attend the march. It seemed like a lot of effort to bundle up my two girls, find parking, stand in the cold, and march for four miles. Would they really remember this moment? Shouldn’t I wait until they are older, when they would appreciate all the effort that went into an outing like this?

As I scrambled eggs, I looked over to see my fleece pajama-clad girls reading sweetly by the fire. I grabbed my phone, intending to text our friends and say that we were opting for a cozy snow day. Instead, I listened to a Vox from another friend who said, “Just bring a thermos of hot chocolate!”

I finished making breakfast, we bundled up in layers, I made a big thermos of extra chocolaty hot cocoa, and we headed out on the icy roads to City Park. We found parking just a block away. There were tears, mittens got wet and the hot cocoa was spilled and refilled. We ran into friends from church. We walked for a few blocks before my friend and I were faced with a mutiny of five cold children, five years old and under.

After we carried our wailing children back to our cars, switched out wet socks for dry, and headed to a nearby McDonald’s Play place, my friend and I talked about the need for collective memory. I took a picture of me and the girls in a brief moment of smiles. I want them to remember that we did this and it was good.

On the drive home, I asked if they’d do it again. My two-year-old said no, she’d rather go to a park. But my five-year-old said yes! Green light checks! Read the rest over at SheLoves and join in the conversation!

How do you put your learning into action? Would you label yourself an activist?

Reading One Star Reviews as an Act of Peacemaking

I’ve read so many articles in the past few years on the need to step out of our comfort zones, to see and hear experiences from “the other.” That our nation and world wouldn’t be so divided if we just know people from different backgrounds. That our churches would come together if we were able to bridge opinions over a meal.

Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 1.51.35 PMI fully agree with these sentiments. Until we sit down with people whose life experiences and worldviews are different from our own, it is too easy to vilify those who think differently. It becomes second-nature to characterize an entire group based on what we see portrayed rather than what we know through relationship.

This is so much easier said than done. How many of us look up people of extremely different political views and ask them out for a coffee? How many of us actively seek out neighbors whose views on immigration, on gun safety, on religious freedom frighten us? It’s hard to do. When I look at my close group of friends, we mostly think alike. We see the nuances as differences but to an outsider, we are pretty homogenous.

I was talking with a friend about how I love to read one-star reviews of books I’m enjoying. Usually close to the halfway point, if I’m really connecting with a book, I’ll check out the really low reviews on Goodreads. It’s always interesting reading why people don’t connect with aspects of a book I love.

Some of the time, low reviews are based on dislike of writing style or format. Those aren’t as interesting as the ones who don’t connect on a personal or moral level. I look for the reviewers who are offended or who just don’t get the point of the book. Recently, I read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and was impacted by his thoughts and perspective of apartheid and oppression. As I read through the one-star reviews, I noticed quite a few people called Noah racist or anti-Semitic. Reading their reviews gave me a new lens for why Noah’s book is so powerful and necessary.

As my friend and I talked about this practice, she pointed out that this is an easy entry into the world of peacemaking. Reading an entire book from an opposing point of view may be too much right now. Sitting at a table and having a meal with someone on the opposite side of an issue may feel too threatening. But reading a review? It takes less than two minutes.

Some reviews totally reinforce my stereotype of certain groups. But I’ve found that the more opposing reviews I read, the fewer people seem like a stereotype. I still may not agree with them. I may even still roll my eyes at the reasoning for dropping a book by a star or two. But my mind is opening up to different sides of an idea.

Maybe this practice will help me when I meet those folks in real life, whose ratings of books and political views are so much different than my own. By exposing myself to one star reviews, I’m taking baby steps toward the everyday peacemaking and activism I long for.

Do you read one-star reviews? What are small ways you practice everyday peacemaking? 

We’ll be digging deeper into this idea of reading one-star reviews as an act of peacemaking over in The Red Couch Book Club’s Facebook group. If you’d like to join this discussion as well as other conversations about faith and social justice, I’d love for you to join!

Kindness Takes Courage

The way to Elle’s heart is sharing. When Bea gave her a cinnamon cracker, leftover from her school snack, Elle beamed the entire walk home, showing me the cracker and exclaiming, Bea shared with ME!

IMG_7052I don’t know when I started changing my language, but when the girls do things for each other, I use the word kind instead of nice. So when Elle showed me her cracker, I responded, That was so kind of Bea!

When I think about our family’s values, kindness goes much farther than niceness. Sure, I want my kids to be nice but I would rather that they are fiercely kind. One one level, these words seem interchangeable so I decided to look them up.

It’s no wonder I prefer kind over nice. The origin of nice comes from the Latin word nescire or “ignorant,” which evolved to the Old French word nescius or “foolish.” It wasn’t until the 1700’s that nice became synonymous with pleasant. (Merriam-Webster dictionary)

The word kind has a much different story, originating from the Old English word cynd which has evolved to kin, or family. (Merriam-Webster dictionary) If you Google kind, one of the definitions that comes up is “each of the elements (bread and wine) of the Eucharist.”

No wonder kind has so much more depth and substance! To be kind is to treat someone like family, to love them as kin.

I know that the ancient Hebrew text wouldn’t have used the word kind. In fact, the New International Version of the verse translates it as, “to love mercy.” The Message paraphrase reads, “be compassionate and loyal in your love.”

I suppose it’s a reminder that words and translations matter and that how we read a text depends on the lens in which we view it. However, I think I’m going to stick with “love kindness.” Kindness feels accessible to my everyday life. This doesn’t mean it’s easy or natural; but it’s a word I use naturally and one I can understand easily.

To me, kindness means sharing. Not just sharing our cinnamon snack cookies, but sharing life together. Sharing a meal, sharing in silence, sharing in heartache and joy. When I scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feeds and read countless women (and men) saying, #metoo, I sit in kindness, sharing their grief. When I read the news of natural disasters both here and abroad, I sit in kindness and sorrow for nations who don’t have the infrastructure to rebuild or assist quickly.

Sitting in kindness isn’t passive; it’s not sweet or gentle. Kindness takes courage to not shift into the more tepid niceness. Kindness might look obstinant or threatening to the status quo. Kindness might push back against oppression. But I don’t think kindness is aggressive or mean. Kindness is remembering the humanity in all sides of an issue or disagreement.

I’m learning that kindness looks like listening to both sides, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion or that I don’t stand with the oppressed. I beleive this fierce kindness can change the world, activiely bringing restoration.

How do you interact with words and translations? (Which Bible translation is your favorite?) How do you see active kindness in your community?

BackyardThis post is Day 18 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Actively Loving My Neighbors

We sat around two tables, ten women, a teacher, and me. Five women wore a hijab or some sort of covering. Four women were from Mexico. Two women relied on their friends for translation. We sat in a mobile classroom with a broken air conditioner, though during the morning class the heat wasn’t all that noticeable. We played a few name games, I helped a woman fill out a registration form, and after the coffee break we practiced leaving a voice message to let the teacher know if there was an absence or tardy.

school-375976_960_720Earlier this year, after the travel ban was enacted, I looked for ways to tangibly show my immigrant neighbors that they were welcome and a necessary part of our community. I reached out to a few different organizations but they were flooded with volunteers and yet had a lack of refugees who needed help. An acquaintance advised me to wait – that school would provide a more organic opportunity to help.

When I saw the poster at the Welcome Open House for Family Literacy, I immediately put my name down as a tutor. As a teacher, it was so hard to watch parents whose primary language wasn’t English try to decipher homework, forms, and school expectations. I knew that helping in the classroom was important, but if I could help parents help in their kids classrooms, that seemed exponentially more important.

Part of this program is English acquisition – practicing daily conversations and situations. Part of it is school specific – filling out forms, doing homework, understanding the new math curriculum. Part of it is teaching the parents how to volunteer in the classroom and give back to the school. It’s teaching them the cultural expectations and norms of American public education.

Our little class has just started meeting and already I’m excited for this year ahead. I look forward to the opportunity to get to know these other moms, not as student-teacher but as fellow moms at the school. I’m here to help with English but my goal is also to listen to their stories and to simply walk alongside them as we all navigate this world of elementary school together.

It’s such a small thing, this once a week commitment but it has already changed the way I read the news and world events. While I’m not out protesting or calling my representative’s office, and while we don’t have political signs in our front yard, I am making a political statement of welcome with my presence. I am actively loving my neighbor and our little circle of women gives me hope.

What are small ways you respond to world events? How do you actively love your neighbors?

The Work of Peace

Mom, what do you want for Christmas? Bea asked the other day.

Oh, Time…… I responded wistfully, thinking of how lovely a quiet, peaceful afternoon with nothing to do would feel.

No, I think you want matching Christmas jammies with me.

img_2778
Matching jammies!

This week we lit the Peace candle on our Advent wreath. It’s a time to remember the declaration that this tiny baby came to bring peace on earth.

Especially with events of the past few months, it’s difficult to remember this promise: That God has come to bring peace. We’ve been inundated by name-calling politicians; by images of genocide and babies raised in the midst of the horrors of war; by those trying to protest peacefully being attacked violently; not to mention the everyday violence that somehow has become less horrific in comparison.

Lately, the word peace brings images of quiet and rest. And that’s one way to view the word. I remember when I was teaching, my classroom was rarely quiet. The kids were on task (mostly!) and busy, but there was a steady hum and buzz of work happening. I rarely asked for absolute quiet for several reasons. Partly, because it’s nearly impossible to require that of 26 8-year-olds and partly because absolute quiet isn’t often conducive to work getting done.

When I look at the buzz and noise of the world around me, sometimes I wish it would all just stop – that we would have peace at last. But I don’t think that’s the sort of peace that Jesus promises. I wonder if peace will come in the buzz of work being done. Of activists working toward social justice; of doctors working in dangerous areas; of politicians fighting for what’s best in our country.

When people lament the noise of continuous news or social media, I get it – it is a loud, often cacophonous drone. I long for the days of Facebook being about baby pictures and “What I’m thinking of…” But the reality is that I learn so much from following those who are different from me on Twitter; from seeing images of justice workers on Instagram. Sometimes I need the background noise to be the hum of work, as a reminder that peace can be a noisy and messy process.

So, while I wish for time and quiet space, I also am reminded that the peace of Christmas comes with activity, with purpose, and with work toward the promise of a deeper peace.

How are you reminded of peace in these final days before Christmas? How do you practice the work of peace?