Monday, December 26, 2005

Proof of Peace

I hosted two holiday dinners this year. Just months earlier we moved back to the area where most of my family lives and before I knew it I'd made two turkeys in one month. No matter how many times I cook a turkey, I'm never quite sure if they're done when it's time to serve them. I follow the directions (I'm good at that), and watch my time, but what I really wait for is that little red button to pop up to tell me the bird is done. I crouch before the glass door of my oven, oven mitts on, like Johnny Bench watching and waiting. I'm not about to take it out of the oven, serve it to my family and friends if I'm not absolutely certain it's completely and safely cooked. I need proof. I always seem to need proof.

But I'm not the only one.

Why do we need proof before we act?

I am a teacher, and many teachers need "proof" that a student requires help before giving it. We look at formal test results to see if they are doing poorly enough for us to intervene. If their score falls in a certain range, it's a red flag that something must be done. Now with documented proof in hand, we can refer them to a program that might help. But some children don't fail often enough to make that red button pop, and so they might not get the help they need. Remember though that you can drown in two inches of water as surely as you can in an ocean.

"The burden of proof. "

In a court case a person is considered innocent until proven guilty, and that burden of proof is on the prosecution. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is a pretty high standard. What if I have an inkling of doubt or a slight whiff of doubt? What is reasonable? Perception is reality and if we perceive doubt, then guilty is innocent even when evidence to the contrary stares you right in the face. Court rooms seem to extend grace more often than we do as individuals.

"We need to run some tests."

Patients have to prove they are sick enough to elicit a doctor's care. As I've just said, I'm good at following directions, so if the doctor tells me not to call until I've been sick for at least 10 days, I patiently mark off each one with a red X on my calendar, and then call (usually unable to really speak and therefore explain my ailment) to make an appointment hoping I'm now sick enough to get those coveted antibiotics.

"Proof of repentence."

They say that repentence is true when a person turns from his offensive behavior and seeks forgiveness. In other words, just saying "I'm sorry" doesn't cut it. There has to be a change in behavior too. Should we withhold forgiveness while we wait for the behavior change? Many of us do. It's like waiting to go outside because it looks like it might rain (even though the weather man says it won't). Instead of sitting inside and waiting, we should just grab an umbrella and go about our business. If it rains, it rains. The worse that will happen is we get wet.

"The proof of peace."

We're waiting patiently for a certain set of standards to be in place before we can pronounce peace in Iraq, before our service men and women can come home. Is there peace when there are no peacekeeping troops there or is their presence required to proclaim peace? Do we wait until there is proof of peace before we offer aid or show some compassion? Many know the truth. Waiting for proof of peace is an exercise in futility.

"Proof of life."

The raging argument now is what constitutes life. Whether it's when life begins or when it should end, we teeter on the balance beam of justifiable godhood. Do we try to save a life no longer deemed viable? Do we protect a life not yet accepted? Try as we may to create a litmus test of when life begins or ends, we find ourselves polarized and paralyzed and basically of no real help to those in need.

We legislate compassion. We measure out grace. We parcel out mercy. We hoard forgiveness. And there is no peace. If we only rely on the proof provided, we wait to lend a helping hand. If we depend on a system of proof, we mistrust our own hearts and dismiss our consciences. If we only listen to someone else's assessment, we miss the chance to offer grace, and we miss the blessing.

Isn't it better to err on the side of grace? To give the benefit of the doubt, to believe the best, to assume good intentions? Those are the proofs of peace. And during this season, it's all the proof we really need.