17 Pieces of Peace

The Mennonite Church has often been stylized as an historical peace church, Dr. James Jakob Fehr say

When I was a child, I thought like a child. When I was a hippie, I thought like a hippie: Why can’t everyone live in peace? Growing up was painful. I learnt that when you bump into sharp objects, it hurts. And I learnt that when you bump up against other people, they sometimes have sharp edges.

The Mennonite Church has often been stylized as an “historical peace church”. And yet we too quarrel amongst ourselves. How reassuring it would be to believe that conflict exists “out there” in the world, whereas we enjoy the blessings and comforts of harmonious faithful living in our peace communities. How reassuring, how naive. Community life is full of great joys and surprises. It is full of laughter and wonder. It supplies friendship, emotional support, meaningful work, intellectual challenges, divine inspiration. But you cannot live in community without difficulties, duties, rules, restrictions and – dare I say it? – personalities.

When we confess that our faith community is the foretaste of the ultimate Kingdom of God, why does it sometimes have a bitter flavour? Are we missing the right ingredients? Perhaps we should simply gloss everything over with sugar. But no. There is a more honest, life-affirming and godly approach that has taken hold in some of our Mennonite communities. One example among many is the work of Bridge-Builders at London Mennonite Centre, which offers courses on conflict transformation in various churches in England. We begin by confessing that we are conflictual and prejudiced, but that this situation is not in itself evil. It depends on how we deal with it. When we react to dispute with gossip, when we react to divisions by building alliances, the seeds of greater strife have been sown. But when members of a community are able to speak their mind directly to one another and are prepared to hear what their “enemies” have to say, a great deal has been won. It is an important starting point. Without such communication, the community cannot proceed on the way to forgiveness and healing.

A good friend of mine recently confessed to me his dissatisfaction with the attribution “peace church” for the Mennonites. He has witnessed so many unresolved disputes among us that he would prefer we set aside this appellation for a few decades. We have not arrived at a place of peace.

I do not claim to have the solution for this disarray. But I will make two observations that are equally true for any efforts at achieving peace on the larger political stage. First, we adopt the individualist spirit of our age all too often and leave the broken potsherds at the feet of the warring parties. We set aside an essential element of our humanity: that we are responsible for each other. The work of peace is seldom possible without a third party who is disinterested and yet keenly interested in achieving reconciliation. Second, we need to be clear about goals. There is no place of peace. In a broken, displaced world, peace should not be idealised as a enduring state. Peace is like all goodness in the world ephemeral. It consists of discrete deeds of reconciliation in a warring world. Our community may never be “peaceful”, yet it lives in its peaceful deeds.

I once purchased a clay sculpture of four figures with their arms flung around each other. Three minutes after I bought it, it shattered into 17 pieces. The patient work of gluing it back together was an exercise in rebuilding; the sculpture with its visible cracks has become a symbol of peace.

James (Jakob) Fehr is the newly appointed Director of the German Mennonite Peace Centre. He has served as an academic researcher and a Pastor in the Mennonite Church in Germany (AMG)
Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.