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Portraits tell stories of peace

“Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without the words / And never stops at all.” —Emily Dickinson

John Noltner is an award-winning freelance photographer whose photographs from around the world appear in such magazines as Smithsonian and National Geographic. Noltner, 54, and his wife, Karen, several years ago sold their house, bought an RV and traveled 40,000 miles to study ordinary people and, of course, to make photographs.

What prompted this radical decision? Distressed by the growing polarization and divisiveness in this country, Noltner felt called to go listen to the real stories of real people who, in difficult times and circumstances, courageously work to bring peace, healing, community and reconciliation. The product of his travels is “Portraits of Peace – Searching for Hope in a Divided World,” which includes unforgettable stories from more than 50 people. His work can be found at

Does a portrait of peace and hope spring to your mind when you’re down and out? I’ve had a new one since last December, several days after a tornado ripped through Bremen, Ky., killing 11 people and destroying many homes.

The picture is of Jordan Baize, 34, sitting at his waterlogged Yamaha grand piano, several keys missing, under an open sky, in what was his living room before the tornado blew away his roof. Whitney Brown, Blaize’s sister, heard him playing piano as she was salvaging some clothes from his bedroom. She stopped to record her brother playing piano and singing a Christian song with the lyrics, “Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something about that name,” referring to Jesus.

Brown’s video went viral overnight, a hymn of indomitable peace and calm and hope from the rubble of one man’s kingdom.