A Year With My Dove Tattoo: On Peacemaking, Peacekeeping, and the Cross

Last Good Friday I walked into the Boston Tattoo Company pulled my sleeve up, and let Dia mark my right wrist with her beautiful interpretation of a peace dove.

It’s been a little over year of embodying peace in the form of an elegant dove tattoo on my wrist.

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It’s been a year and this dove is my favorite sacrament of faith for it prompts me to stop and filter my choices through the sieve of Shalom.

It’s been a year of altars reminding me that  ‘blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” as I wash the dishes, send a text, hold my husband’s hand, shave my legs in the shower.

It’s been a year of asking myself how to seek the peace of one city when we live across the river, in a public housing apartment, surrounded by half a million dollar condos.

It’s been a year of praying for the peace of God to surpass all understanding and reflecting on Jesus’ command of the storm (and the disciples) “peace be still.”

It’s been a year of gravitating towards anything with a bird on it—just ‘cause. Just ‘cause birds are now more beautiful and wondrous and special to me. It’s as if the moment I committed space on my skin for a dove tattoo,  birds, and especially doves have taken up space in my imagination. Now I want them everywhere. Next week on our spring break, my daughter and I are building a bird house and I simply cannot wait to see hungry birds congregate on my back porch.

It’s been a year of shattered dreams, relational brokenness, and identifying fractures that prevent unity in the body. It’s been of year of writing about racial reconciliation and remembering Jesus’ prayer in the garden:

My prayer for all of them is that they will be of one heart and mind, just as you and I are, Father—that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me.

It’s been a year of embracing my calling as a peacemaker and owning the conviction that peacemaking is more than gentle words and a humble attitude to avoid conflict when prophetic words and righteous indignation burns hot in my chest. If I do all I can to avoid conflict, then I’m simply a peacekeeper, not a peacemaker.

Sometimes I forget we’re not called to be peace-keepers—the children of God are made of sterner stuff than to merely keep the peace—no, Jesus challenges us to be peacemakers.

The difference is subtle, but subversive. 

Peacekeeping maintains the unjust status quo by preferring the powerful.

Peacemaking flips over a few tables and breaks out a whip when the poor are exploited.

Peacekeeping does everything to secure a place at the table.

Peacemaking says all are welcome to the table, then extends the table with leaves of inclusive love.

Fear drives Peacekeeping.

Love powers Peacemaking.

Peacekeeping is for districts and factions and empires.

Peacemaking is the Kingdom of God.

It’s been a year of learning that peacemaking is a messy loud business. Since I got my tattoo, I’ve said the hard things, loved the unlovable, and stood against injustices—all the time wondering if I’m crazy. It’s ok, I’m in good company. Jesus’ own family thought he was out if his mind and a servant cannot be greater than her master.

This Good Friday, I’m remembering my other symbol of peacemaking: the cross. I’m thinking through his passion and re-reading his crucifixion and I see Jesus making peace up to the very end of his life.

In the garden, after his betrayal, Jesus could have kept the peace by force and unleashed his loyal remnant- a ragtag band of brothers with swords on the Roman soldiers; instead he rejected violence and healed:

But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

Before Pontius Pilate, Jesus could have defended himself, keeping the peace and appeasing Pontius Pilate, yet he spoke of the Kingdom of God:

Then Pilate went back into the palace and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the King of the Jews?” he asked him.

“‘King’ as you use the word or as the Jews use it?” Jesus asked.[d]

 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their chief priests brought you here. Why? What have you done?”

 Then Jesus answered, “I am not an earthly king. If I were, my followers would have fought when I was arrested by the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of the world.”

 Pilate replied, “But you are a king then?”

“Yes,” Jesus said. “I was born for that purpose. And I came to bring truth to the world. All who love the truth are my followers.”

After hours of torture, betrayal, humiliation, and excruciating pain, Jesus could have cared about keeping his own peace. He could have commanded angels to come and end his suffering or even just transferred a small portion of his pain the crowd by calling out hateful accusations to every person at the foot of the cross but no, peacekeeping worries about your own comfort, peacemaking takes notice of the discomfort of those around you:

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then

“ ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”

and to the hills, “Cover us!” ’b

For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.d

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

(Luke’s account of the crucifixion, selection of verse Luke 23:26-43)

And when he took his last breath and whispered, “it is finished”, he reconciled us to God by revealing the truest characteristic of the Father—his self giving love that is the bedrock of his Kingdom.

These are the marks of a true peacemaker modeled by Jesus, broken, bloody, betrayed on a Roman cross.

Today, when I look down at my dove tattoo, I will remember Jesus and his self-giving, courageous, messy example of peacemaking and I’ll pray that I can be a peacemaker, not a peacekeeper.

Jesus, thank you for your example of peacemaking. Father, today strengthen my resolve to be a peacemaker so that I do not settle to merely keep the peace but to seek, practice, and make peace for blessed are those who make peace, for I am your daughter and you are my God.

Seeking Shalom,

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10 thoughts on “A Year With My Dove Tattoo: On Peacemaking, Peacekeeping, and the Cross

  1. This is wonderful, Osheta ! I, too, have gotten a tattoo this year and it is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Mine, however, is a Celtic goose. I have experienced the Spirit more in that way than as a dove ! My tattoo was a 70th birthday gift to myself and is a daily reminder to me to not be afraid of what others will think as I speak up for peace and justice. Blessings to you.

  2. “Jesus challenges us to be peacemakers. The difference is subtle, but subversive. Peacekeeping maintains the unjust status quo by preferring the powerful. Peacemaking flips over a few tables and breaks out a whip when the poor are exploited… Peacekeeping is for districts and factions and empires. Peacemaking is the Kingdom of God.” – Yes! Yes! YES!

    A few years ago, I went to a conference: “Peacemaking in a Culture of Violence.” One of the things that really struck me was what the Rev. Dr. James Forbes said about the difference between peacemaking and peacekeeping: that while peacekeeping is just being concerned with KEEPing peace between different parties in order to avoid conflict, peacemaking is actually CREATing peace that enables all of God’s children to live holistically. And this is what Jesus did: he loudly shouted his bold voice and turned over tables when he saw the Temple being made into a place that robbed and took advantage of the poor; he cursed the religious leaders who were elevating themselves while neglecting the widows and the sick; he declared that those who feed, clothe, and care for the “least of these” do so to him, but those who do not do these things for the least of these will be punished; he loud proclaimed and brought forth a Kingdom that would turn the worldly empire upside down… This peacemaking Jesus is the heart of the Gospel. And it is what eventually led him to the cross. (But we know that he continues to proclaim louder than ever as he hangs silently from it.)

    And he calls and commands all of his disciples to follow him into this subversive peacemaking business.

    However, I think that we Christians like to KEEP the peace. We remain silent to avoid seeming “too political” and to avoid conflict. We don’t want our fellow Christian brothers and sisters to think we are “too radical.” And so we sit around and wait for the “right time” to act.

    But we must remember those powerful words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “Frankly I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

    Thank YOU, Osheta, for continuing this peaceMAKING ministry.

  3. I clicked through to your blog post through mennonerds on Facebook. As I read this post, the entire time I found myself nodding and thinking, “yes, YES!”. You were able to put into words things that resonate so deep within me. Thanks for the encouragement and perspective (specifically thinking about your pointing out the call to be peaceMAKERS, not peaceKEEPERS).

    And nice tattoo. I recently got “peace, be still” tattooed on my wrist as a reminder of the same.

    – b.e.
    http://www.beccaellis.wordpress.com

  4. Yes! I spent a year with “peace” in 2013 — it was my one word for the year. And this difference between peacemaking and peacekeeping was something that challenged me, too. I read through all the Bible verses that included the word “peace” during that year, and there were so many that involved war, and I realized sometimes you have to stand up for peace. You have to fight for it.

    I also love your tattoo, and the idea of tattoo as sacrament. My best friend tattooed the word “servant” on the inside of her arm, so when she extends her arms to other people, she always is reminded to serve. I think that’s so powerful and so beautiful.

  5. I love love love the distinction you’ve made between peacekeeping and peacemaking. One is passive and one is active. As a fellow Jesus girl, I believe it’s an important distinction to understand.

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