Letter 25

DAY 25

Lia C. Howard

Student Advising and Wellness Director, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Paideia Program
University of Pennsylvania
February 13, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

Travel with me for a moment to a little chapel in Israel built to honor Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Walk with me inside the chapel and look up to see stained glass windows depicting the Beatitudes in Latin (the eight blessings recounted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount).

My favorite blessing is “beati pacifici quoniam filii Dei vocabuntur,” translated as “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Each time I read this verse I am challenged anew.

Please let these words take residence in you the way they reside in glass on those windows. Let them work in your hearts and minds.

We are deeply entrenched in a moment where peacemaking seems like an exhausting upward climb with little reward. How do you remain committed to being a peacemaker when the times you are living in are far from peaceful? The images from the Capitol insurrection haunt me still.

“Often justice calls for walking through tension, exposing inequity to establish a positive peace.”

In “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expresses his disappointment in “the white moderate…who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” King challenges us to see that suppressing all tension to create a kind of “peace” is not peace at all. Often justice calls for walking through tension, exposing inequity to establish a positive peace.

Being a peacemaker requires the ability to discern truthfully the areas of conflict between different groups. Being a peacemaker, calls for accountability and clear-eyed acknowledgement of the tensions before groups can be reconciled.

As leaders, there will be temptations to smooth over the cracks in our nation caused by these tensions, to ignore them or cynically exploit them to divide others without hope for reconciliation. I urge you to follow the model of kintsugi, the Japanese art form that takes broken pottery and binds the cracks with gold glue. Kintsugi teaches us  not to forget what broke us as a nation; it shows us that peacemaking is the glue needed to piece our country back together in gold.

May the peacemaking process be gold. May it be beautiful and real, and may we give it lots of attention. May the peace that we feel be a positive peace, the holistic peace of shalom.

Then, as peacemakers, you will be called children of God.

Grateful for your commitment to peace,

Lia C. Howard

Lia C. Howard, Ph.D.
Student Advising and Wellness Director, SNF Paideia Program
University of Pennsylvania

the author

Lia C. Howard is the Student Advising and Wellness Director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation Paideia Program. A political scientist who specializes in American politics, she has taught at St. Joseph’s University, Villanova University, Eastern University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Lia served as the executive director of the Philadelphia Commons Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the practice of civic dialogue. She is a non-resident scholar at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, a non-resident senior affiliate at the Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society at Penn, and a senior fellow at the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program at Penn.