16. Nurturing peacemakers

Ted Grimsrud—Purpose vol. 44, no. 12 (December 2011), p. 28.

When I wrote my dissertation in the 1980s on conscientious objectors during World War II, I dedicated it to my son Johan: “In the hope that he will say ‘no!’ when his time comes.”

These many years later, I am happy with how my hope has been borne out. My dedication now would be made in hopes for the next generation, Elias and Marja.

But is it possible to say why Johan ended up affirming his parents’ commitment to pacifism and social justice?

Well, as the child of two pastors, Johan certainly had deep exposure to the Mennonite Church’s teachings about peace. He attended three different Mennonite schools as well. Most of us would agree, I think, that attending Mennonite schools is a pretty good predictor of whether the young person will remain peace-oriented.

We also tried to limit his exposure to violence in the media, toys, and ways our society glorifies warfare. This was difficult at times; after much soul-searching we did allow Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and GI Joes to make an appearance. Our thought was that the appeal of these playthings would pass fairly quickly—as, happily, they did.

We honored peaceable people in the stories we told and in the friendships we cultivated. We worked hard, not always successfully, at conflict resolution and honesty and mutual respect in our own relationships.

Surely all of these factors, and others perhaps less obvious, played important roles.

Ultimately, though, I tend to think the most important factors were these two:

(1) Kathleen and I sought ourselves to live out our convictions. We probably focused more on getting our own lives in line with what we understood the gospel to be about than trying to figure out how to do that for Johan.

(2) We tried to cultivate a friendship with Johan. We talked openly about the issues we cared about, tried not to take ourselves and life too seriously, valued his opinions and interests.

I remember when Johan was an early teenager he and I had an extended debate about pacifism on a long road trip. I felt pretty frustrated that he didn’t see things my way at that time. In retrospect, I think my treating him as a serious thinker with his own ideas that were worth a serious debate may have had a more profound impact on his developing thought than any specific content I may have shared with him.

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