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Just Peace: A Message of Hope
by Mattie J.T. Stepanek (with Jimmy Carter)
Andrews McMeel, 2006

review by John Tintera

Reading the words of Mattie Stepanek is disarming. It’s disarming because Mattie was a child who spoke out in clear and generous tones against violence and war. He was someone whose approach to life will dismantle your cynicism and punch holes in your sarcasm.

In this book, which Mattie planned before his death, we have a one-volume compendium of the life and legacy of this remarkable child. It’s possible that the Psalmist had Mattie Stepanek in mind when he wrote, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mighest still the enemy and the avenger.”

Mattie’s story is starkly biblical. He was the fourth and youngest child of a mother who only realized after her children were born that she has the same form of Muscular dystrophy that eventually killed her babies. By the time Mattie was born, his two oldest siblings were dead. Mattie himself lived a sped-up life. His remaining sibling died when Mattie was three, but since he could already read and write, his mother encouraged him to journal his feelings and he started writing poetry. By this time Mattie was also suffering from the effects of MD.

In 2001, when Oprah Winfrey and Jimmy Carter agreed to participate in Mattie’s “Make-a-Wish,” he became famous. He appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America (with Jimmy Carter!) and on Larry King; his poetry was published by a major publisher; and he became a national spokesperson for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Admittedly, it’s not easy to hear Mattie’s message. On TV shows like Oprah or GMA, it seems that every week there’s a new kid, parent—or pet—who has a horrible yet inspirational story. Yet in reading Just Peace—which includes essays penned by Mattie, reprints of his poetry, photos with celebrities from after he became famous, and (the best part) his e-mail exchange with Jimmy Carter—you can’t help but believe that Mattie was the genuine article—a truly inspired and inspiring person with a message for all.

In his essay written for the book, Jimmy Carter says,

It is inevitable that we would be both amazed and touched by the simultaneous simplicity and profundity of the basic message that has risen from this small boy’s heart.

Mattie’s message is two-fold. First, he believed that every person has a “heartsong” that is his or her own special, unique blessedness. Second, while he recognized that disagreements and conflicts are inevitable, he believed that violence, abuse, and war are not. Mattie credits his mother with giving him the basic foundation of his teaching (that none of us are the center of the universe0 but the rest is seemingly his own.

I crossed over from cynicism to something akin to belief at the point in the book where Jimmy Carter gives Mattie his personal e-mail address. Once you put aside your natural reactions to the sappy poetry and the cheesy TV talk-show packaging, Mattie reacquaints you with your struggles to live a peaceful life and makes you confront your frustrations with a world order based on disparity, fear, and the threat of violence.

He reminds us that despite our own resignation to and complicity with this world order, each of us still holds dear a vision of what a peaceful planet could be. He also reminds us that we must do more than just pray for peace—we must listen to the call of God to be peacemakers in whatever way and in every way we can.

Copyright ©2006 John Tintera


Just Peace: A Message of Hope
To purchase a copy of JUST PEACE: A MESSAGE OF HOPE, visit amazon.com. This link is provided as a service to explorefaith visitors and registered users.


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