Merlene Davis: Organizers hope local celebration of Peace Day will have ripple effect

The Rev. Nancy J. Kemper is pastor of New Union Christian Church in Woodford County.
The Rev. Nancy J. Kemper is pastor of New Union Christian Church in Woodford County.

Abroad, an American diplomat and three state department workers were killed during mob violence in Libya. In Afghanistan, Western troops have been killed by their Afghan counterparts with whom they trained and patrolled.

Thousands have died seeking freedom from dictators who wouldn't relinquish their power willingly.

Here at home, political fervor has morphed into hate-filled speech that does not welcome discussion.

And in the midst of that, many places in the world this week will be celebrating the United Nations' International Day of Peace, to recognize those striving valiantly to give peace a chance.

This year's theme is cease-fire, not only with weapons, but also with words.

In Lexington, the Interfaith Alliance of the Bluegrass is hosting a gathering Thursday at Woodland Christian Church featuring members of various religions offering brief prayers for peace in their traditions.

"I feel like (religions) have learned how to get along despite enormous differences," said the Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, pastor of New Union Christian Church in Woodford County. "Religion has been so much at the core of global misunderstanding. People pervert religion for their own causes."

Evidence of that is not only the use of terrorism in the name of Islam, but also the destruction meted out during the Christian Inquisition and Crusades, as well as the Nazi regime.

The hope is to reconnect people across religious lines in the shared service of prayer, Kemper said.

With that in mind, although most locales will celebrate the day Friday, the Lexington event was moved to Thursday to allow for both the Islamic weekly holy day of Friday and the Jewish Shabbat , which falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The first International Day of Peace, or Peace Day, was celebrated in 1982. In 2002, Sept. 21 became the permanent date for celebration so that people throughout the world could celebrate through a global cease-fire and non-violence.

Observances can be as simple as a toast for peace, tree plantings or the lighting of candles. There have been walks and picnics as well.

The Interfaith Alliance chose to bring together as many faiths as possible in corporate prayer for personal, political and global peace.

"The witness of religious people for peace, regardless of their tradition, is desperately needed," she said.

Kemper hopes the prayers will include representatives of Hinduism, Buddhism, the Bahai faith, Islam, and Christianity, among other faiths, but she can't gauge the number of Lexingtonians who will observe the services.

"I think a large crowd is not expected," she said, "People are so involved in their own religious traditions and there is such misunderstanding of other religious backgrounds, they don't think they can pray authentically with people of other traditions or religions.

"We live in a culture where the other person is made to fit a stereotype that is not true," Kemper said.

That concept carries over into politics, too, with name calling and half truths spewed throughout political campaign ads.

"It is obscene," she said. "And so are the billions being spent this year that could do so much good with health care and dental care and education."

With all those obstacles to understanding and peace, how effective can Peace Day be?

"We anticipate it only builds the bridges," Kemper said.

It is up to us to tear down the barriers we have erected, to learn about one another and share our beliefs.

At the end of the commemoration, Kemper will read a letter from her congregation "that calls for various religious communities to join us in helping to model and create a new season of civility in our life together as Americans in our political speech, especially."

The Peace Day celebration will end with participants meeting and greeting one another in the church's fellowship hall.

Nothing earth-shattering. Nothing apocalyptic. Just a pebble tossed into a pond, Kemper said, creating larger and larger ripples.