Peace train, take this country

Posted 9/18/20

“Now I’ve been crying lately, thinking about the world as it is. Why must we go on hating?”

Those lyrics are from the song “Peace Train” written by Cat Stevens in 1971, but the verses …

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Peace train, take this country

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“Now I’ve been crying lately, thinking about the world as it is. Why must we go on hating?”

Those lyrics are from the song “Peace Train” written by Cat Stevens in 1971, but the verses make me think of the year 2001, specifically 9/11. I was an undergraduate student at a small liberal arts college in western North Carolina. When America invaded Iraq, I participated in peace rallies. I used to hold a handmade sign that read, “Jesus Said Love Your Enemies, Not Drop Bombs On Them.”

Not everyone appreciated this message. This was the time of “freedom fries,” the fast-food staple renamed by one of the Tar Heel State’s members of Congress because of France’s opposition to the war. Never mind that French fries don’t actually come from France.

My fellow protesters and I played “Peace Train” at those rallies, but the songwriter was in the national headlines for different reasons. He had changed his name to Yusuf Islam after he became a Muslim. He found out that he was on America’s “no fly” list after he was pulled from a plane by FBI agents.

There has never been a credible link that connects Yusuf Islam to terrorists. In fact, he had been vocal in condemning the 9/11 attacks, maintaining it was “absolutely imperative that people get to know the real Islam … When something is wrong, it’s wrong, you know; it’s totally abhorrent, and we totally condemn (the attacks on 9/11).”

The word “Islam” is from the Arabic for “peace” — salaam. The Quran states: “Make peace between your brothers and be conscious of God so that hopefully you will gain mercy.” This is the spirit of the real Islam as practiced by 1.5 billion believers across the globe.

Fundamentalists, whether Muslim or Christian, hijack a few verses of sacred scripture and ignore the essential values of the faith tradition. This was true of the terrorists responsible for 9/11. It remains true of today’s politicians and other public figures who interpret the actions of a few Muslims as indicative of the entire religion. As a result, hate crimes have increased, and Islamophobia is once again on the rise in our country. When something is wrong, it’s wrong and should be named — terrorism, racial stereotyping and religious discrimination.

When something is right, it’s right. Jesus did say, “Love your enemies,” and also, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” He added that we would recognize peacemakers by “their fruits.” We know if people bear the fruit of peace by what they say and do.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, my church has adopted a “watchword” — a verse of scripture meant to guide us through a difficult time. I share it with you, gentle reader, in hopes it will inspire you whether you share my religion or not:

“Peace I leave to you. My peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Though fundamentalists pervert such a message of peace and some politicians fan the flames of fear, everyone of good faith can build bridges, using scripture and tradition to seek the common ground that unites us all. Together, we can realize the dream of salaam. It gives me hope as I sing these “Peace Train” lyrics:

“I’ve been smiling lately, dreaming about the world as one. … Peace train take this country, come take me home again.”

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is currently working from home with his wife and three children.


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