ShePonders: Swords into Plowshares

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“The image of swords into plowshares is about dismantling guns and making gardening tools instead. It’s moving from full armories to full granaries, preferring crops to a cache of weapons.”

Isaiah describes the scene perfectly: people stream up the mountain to Jerusalem, seeking the counsel of the Lord, and come down with wisdom. The Lord arbitrates between the nations and they decide to beat their swords into plowshares, turning weapons into more useful (and peaceful) tools. The upshot of it all–no more armed conflicts, no more war colleges. This is what the prophet imagines it will be like “in the days to come.”

Micah entertains the same dream generations later–God’s wisdom flowing down the mountain, weapons melted and metal repurposed, all manifestations of transformation.

“Some day,” sighs another prophet.

When Isaiah and Micah spoke of swords into plowshares they were most likely quoting an ancient song. Maybe they heard their grandfathers sing it or their mothers hum it as they pounded grain into flour. The hope for peace stretched back generations and endured in a simple song that expressed human longing and divine hope. The song haunted these holy men.

The image of swords into plowshares is about dismantling guns and making gardening tools instead. It’s moving from full armories to full granaries, preferring crops to a cache of weapons. The song points to closing down the Department of Defense and expanding the Department of Agriculture. It calls us–not to a less violent world, but a non-violent one.

The prophets, energized by the Spirit, never dreamed of anything less than a new world. They hoped for deep transformation that would turn the world right side up. They saw a world with no war and no hunger. This is their song, still whispered to us all these centuries later.

We so often juxtapose the activities of war with the tranquility of peace. We conjure up images of people sitting on the porch drinking tall glasses of sweet tea, rocking to and fro at the end of another peaceable day. We think peace is the absence of conflict and so, the absence of effort or hard work.

Beating swords into plowshares is hard work–hammering, melting, reworking and shaping new tools. Transformation of this magnitude comes with sweat and sustained labor. Moving beyond hostility and hatred produces calloused hands, sore muscles and bone-deep exhaustion. Welders, after all, forge the lasting peace, a signal that maybe we need the work ethic of a tradesman for the task at hand.

But this ancient song is about more than bringing peace. Remember, we see God sorting things out between nations, negotiating the peace. It might be that their response, beating the swords and spears into something more useful, points to how we sustain that peace.

When we turn from fighting to farming we make strides toward a sustainable shalom.

Exerting our energy toward fighting brings destruction and death, but that energy could be spent otherwise. We could farm instead–we could feed people. And when people are full, when they have what they need to live well, there will be no cause for war. The prophets were right–no hunger, no war. The peace endures as long as the gardens grow, fields are farmed and harvests distributed to all. Imagine laboring and laughing together, bringing food from crop to table, then imagine sharing in a family feast … is this not a vision of Heaven?

This song of swords into plowshares stays with me these days. I’ve decided I don’t want to waste my energies on fighting. I want to feed people.

My husband and I do community development work in Burundi, a country just barely out of a long and bloody civil war. So yes, I want to move away from tribal warfare and lean into the work of agriculture. I’ve already witnessed how plentiful crops shared with neighbors can transform a neighborhood and extinguish old animosities. Seriously, I could tell stories about how the giving of cabbages, potatoes and pigs altered a hostile landscape and created the possibility of a new kind of community. And we love getting to be part of this landscape and these lives–real war, real crops, real peace, real people.

But back home I still carry this song–it’s rattling in my bones. I want to lean into feeding, not fighting. So, I’ve been thinking how I can fertilize my relationships instead of weaponize them. What if I spent my energies nourishing friends with my words, cultivating a safe space for them to share tender things? What if I fed people with great generosity and care? And what if I refrained from weaponizing my words to hurt, to gain power over someone or win an argument? I imagine I’d be transformed into a person of peace, someone living the song sung long ago (and still) about beating swords into plowshares.

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Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha is co-director of Amahoro Africa and international staff member of Community of Faith with her husband Claude. She’s a thinker, connector, advocate, avid reader and mother of two beautiful children. Kelley lives between Arizona and Burundi. She loves handwritten letters, homemade pesto and anything written by Walter Brueggemann.
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha
  • http://twitter.com/MelissaBeaver Melissa

    this so perfectly describes the direction we should be headed. peace and community, these are the things jesus called us to. thank you for putting this so eloquently into words to encourage!

  • http://somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    i love this, kelley! my husband and i were just talking of similar themes this morning. i heard a (christian!) talking head argue that arming guards or teachers in schools was not antithetical to a position of nonviolence, and i wanted to tear my clothes. love how you juxtapose war-making with active peace-making, cultivating nourishing food and community. let it be, let it be.

    • http://www.kelleynikondeha.com/ Kelley Nikondeha

      Suzannah, this has become a potent image for me. Moving from warring to feeding on a macro and micro level. As the image works on me season to season I begin to see my own hostile habits and want to root them out and find better seed. This is the most striking picture of deep transformation I know, and its shaping my sense of violence in culture, my parenting trajectory and how I think about relationships. Crazy… but what do you expect from those prophetic voices? ha!

    • Jax Teller

      I’m a newcomer and Christian struggling with nonviolence as a personal position … I’d like to get there, but there are some elements of it that I just don’t get.

      I agree there is something just not right about someone arguing that arming teachers in schools isn’t antithetical to a position of nonviolence! That makes no sense.

      However, how does that differ in regard to simply planning on calling 911 in response to a threat?

      I can’t see now someone who holds a principled position of non-violence could have a plan in advance of calling armed men on the phone to come and deal violently with an aggressor.

      Do Christians who hold to nonviolence therefore also reject the option of using proxies (police or security) to do violence on their behalf? I’m thinking even of having a monitored alarm on your business location which simply exists to call armed people to deal with thieves on your behalf…

  • http://twitter.com/EstherEmery Esther Emery

    Thanks for this, dear and wise Kelley. Even back home, this work is not entirely metaphor. We frequently purchase items that are causally linked to conflict and exploitation, from our cellphones to our bananas, although we may not realize it or want to realize it. This is one reason for a growing (or cyclical) movement towards food self-sufficiency, or at least intentional eating. It is literally swords into plowshares, a task of moving resources from systems that exploit into systems that nurture.

    • http://www.kelleynikondeha.com/ Kelley Nikondeha

      Esther – absolutely agree, we begin at home even with thoughts of just food / better agriculture and land care. Making metaphors come to life!

  • http://www.emergingmummy.com/ Sarah Bessey

    Gorgeous imagery, hard work, sounds about right.

  • D

    Love this. To spend our energy and resources to bring life instead of death, to create instead of destroy – this is Love casting away Fear. We are meant to create and bring forth life and if we do so, and invite others to join us, that makes a difference.

  • trisha

    Wow, what a vision the prophets gave us and you have reminded us. I need to meditate on this for a while.

  • trisha

    Also, no only weapons but power-power over land, over money, over people’s lives has to be surrendered to the only just God. Even if everyone was fed, some people would be driven by power.

    • http://www.kelleynikondeha.com/ Kelley Nikondeha

      Yes. The image of melted weapons speaks to dismantled power, extinguished hostilities and retiring old hatreds. It all has to go so we can till new soil and cultivate a new world!

  • Erin Wilson

    Yes. Preach. This.

  • Erin Wilson

    ps. it needs to be said that Tina Francis makes beautiful images.

    • http://www.kelleynikondeha.com/ Kelley Nikondeha

      I know! I want her to follow me around and document our life… beyond being crazy talented she is so much fun to be around!

    • http://twitter.com/teenbug Tina Francis

      Aww Erin. Be still my heart! :)

  • http://joannadobson.wordpress.com/ Joanna Dobson

    Yes, yes yes – I was so excited when it hit me just months ago that this passage juxtaposes war and agriculture. That the opposite of fighting is growing food! I so want to explore this powerful idea – what type of growing are we talking about, for example? Clearly not agribusiness and the iniquities of seed patenting – these systems will only lead to more suffering and more fighting. But growing with justice, growing in ways that nurture the land and the people and do not deplete or damage them. It;s hard work too, it’s good, rewarding work, the way to sustainable shalom – that is such a beautiful phrase and we can all move towards it, we can all make choices that bring about justice in our food system

    • http://www.kelleynikondeha.com/ Kelley Nikondeha

      Joanna, reading a book now on ecology and new agriculture – sustainability for soil and climate. So good to thin of the whole, not exploiting for some / part. How we grow does matter…

  • Holly

    Oh my, this clarion call trills right through me, Kelley. I read your words here and those in Scripture and it all seems so right and true and so very necessary. But still, there are those who think a forced “peace” is the higher call. I don’t think it was mere coincidence that Jesus called himself the Living Bread. The way we go about bringing the Kingdom of God now is by feeding the world, in spirit and in truth. Keep these words coming, sister. Please.

  • http://twitter.com/saskiacw Saskia Wishart

    “I want to lean into feeding, not fighting.” The imagery in this piece is stunning. Taking something hostile and growing it into life-giving sustenance. The very first survivor of human trafficking I worked with was a girl from Burundi who lost her entire family in a bloody massacre. Reading this, I am reminded of her. For every family at peace, hard at work, and with enough to eat, means one less girl falling into a trap of vulnerability.

  • Secret Disciple

    Wonderfully said, and just what I needed after reading so much fighting over feminism, modesty, and the emerging church lately.

    I hope I can figure out a way to feed rather than fight with my blogging and writing.

    disciplineofthesecrete.blogspot.com

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