Blessed are the Peacemakers – In Paris and Your Neighborhood

“Blessed are the Peacemakers for they will be called Sons of God.” Mat. 5:9

When I think of peace, I think about wholeness – the restoration of strained or broken relationships. And when I look around the world, I see relationships that are indeed strained and broken. Paris and Lebanon certainly remind us of this. The violence of the past weeks and year speak to the absolute necessity of the church to take seriously a vocation of peacemaking. It’s time for the church to start forming nonviolent peacemakers.

The church is present in every host region in which violent conflict exists –  Kenya, Syria, Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Burundi, Ukraine (and many more) – and in each of the countries that may not ‘host’, but are involved – United States, Great Britain, France, Australia, Russia, etc. If we take ministry context seriously, we must learn to grapple with our calling as peacemakers in a violent world. If we take ministry context seriously, we must learn to grapple with our calling as peacemakers. Click To Tweet

Peace is one of those concepts that everyone agrees is a good goal but disagrees enormously on how to do it. And the how ultimately shapes the end. Peace, as an ideal, has many followers. Peace, as a practice, has few disciples. John Paul Lederach simply says,”Violence is known; peace is a mystery.” For those pastors and congregations who are interested in wading into the waters of organized peacebuidling and its practice as disciples of Jesus, here are a few starters.

1). Ground your theological story in non-dual language. Evangelicals have especially been poor peacemakers in part because we think in dualistic terms. Salvation is too closely compressed to ‘justification by faith alone,’ rather than encompassing the totality of God’s reconciling work extended to all of creation. Spiritual salvation of individuals becomes the impetus of our work, which often leaves behind the physical restoration of our bodies and the community to some other social structure – usually the violence of the nation-state. Here’s another way to say it: peace building must be firmly rooted in the church’s mission, fully integrated in word and deed. Religious traditions that over emphasize a personal relationship with God don’t have the theological tools necessary to ground peacemaking as integral to our faith.

2). Learn the Discipline of Lament: After the Paris attacks, I began to see my Facebook feed fill up with varying perspectives – from prayforparis hashtags to the Eiffel Tower peace sign. But many also retreated to public confessions of fear and racism. One in particular stood out, referring to the so-called ‘refugees’ as animals coming to attack our churches. I am not sure of the merit of solidarity-from-a-distance and people experiencing violence and oppression do merit our prayers, but much of our Western (white) existence teaches us to insulate ourselves from death and conflict rather than confront, contemplate, and push through its significance. Lament is a biblical discipline that grounds our action in prayer. Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole say it best: “Lament is not despair. It is not whining. It is not a cry into a void. Lament is a cry directed to God. It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are. We are enjoined to learn to see and feel what the psalmists see and feel and to join our prayers with theirs. The journey of reconciliation is grounded in the practice of lament” (Reconciling All Things, 78). Lament is a biblical discipline that grounds our action in prayer. Click To Tweet

3). Create Space for Hospitality. Making peace always involves the creative risk of new friendships. In many ways, showing hospitality to a friend is not hospitality. Hospitality involves the ongoing work of welcoming the other: philoxenia – or love of the stranger (the opposite of xenophobia). Not only does this require engaging inter-religious friendships, but also necessitates dialogue with our enemies. The Eucharist is the ultimate example of hospitality that ends in reconciliation for the church. But the Eucharist happens in a space and is practiced in tangible ways. What are the dividing walls in your congregation and/or community, and what tangible spaces can be utilized to invite disparate groups to share common space and practices? For many of us, this might actually mean accepting someone else’s hospitality. When I worked in Nashville, several mosques had been vandalized and set on fire. I accepted, alongside my pastor, an invitation to join the Imam and his community for brunch at the Islamic Center. This created space for a better understanding of one another, a public witness to stand against racism and violence, and began a more fruitful relationship of mutual dependence between families and congregations. The Eucharist is the ultimate example of hospitality that ends in reconciliation for the church. Click To Tweet

4). Be Present in the Margins. While one could elaborate on the sociology of conflict, its generative character and the skill sets necessary for its end, I tend to ground peacemaking in the community web of relationships as it pertains to the church’s mission in the world. And the story of God found in scripture gives a picture of a God always moving toward the oppressed, powerless, and marginalized while strengthening the human connections across differences. That’s where the church should be; those are the spaces and places where the church makes its home. It’s also out of these relationships that the church establishes its credibility and witness for peace and transformation to happen in the community. As the church lives into its call to be a holy people, we enact peace in our very relationships with one another – through the disciplines of confession, forgiveness, and service. These are habits of peace. As the church lives into its holy call, we enact peace in our relationships with one another. Click To Tweet

This list is hardly exhaustive. One could add the necessary components of nonviolent direct action, cultivating a “moral imagination,” or learning the various tools for mediation between factions. But this is a good start.

Nothing sparks the imagination to practice peacebuilding like seeing various communities work it out. Here are three that take the work of the church as peacemakers seriously:

  • Christian Peacemaker Teams: I was a part of a CPT Delegation to Israel/Palestine in 2010. This was an invaluable experience and furthered my understanding of God’s work in the world, as well as the concrete reality of the conflict in this region.
  • Koinonia Partners: established as a ‘demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God’ in the 1940s, this farming community in Georgia combines contemplation, worship, racial reconciliation, peacemaking, and farming through a number of practices.
  • The Global Immersion Project: This is geared toward individuals or communities interested in learning an integrated framework for community peacebuilding through learning labs and on-site visits.

— [Photo: Alan Levine, cc via Flickr]

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