Five Real (and Risky) Ways to Start Peacemaking in Your Neighborhood

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Recently I came across a picture in my newsfeed that made my jaw drop. It showed the newly inaugurated President sitting in the Oval Office writing at his desk and a shimmery, ghost-like representation of Jesus standing behind him guiding his hand. Jesus is leaning over the President and helping steer the president’s hand as he writes, what are no doubt, important documents about the future of the United States.

I was stunned by the directness of what this visual was conveying and quite confronted by its meaning.

The message is quite clear: Jesus has anointed and is guiding this President in order to guide the course of the United States for the better.

Grieve for the Divided Church

I grieved for the church when I saw this. Not because it is impossible that the president might be open to being led by God in his life. I pray he humbles himself and allows the values of the reign of God to guide him in his job.

I grieved because this picture for me is a depiction of how divided the church is today.

Many will look at this picture and be appalled, however, many will be delighted by what this image is conveying.

I was speaking to someone recently who told me that their church is full of various minority groups who were frightened and very distressed by the possibility of a Trump presidency. They groaned and cried out to God when the inauguration ceremony happened. My friend also said that in the same weekend his church was groaning, his family was celebrating how wonderful it was to hear scripture quoted on political platforms again.

Many will be appalled and many will be delighted by what this image is conveying. Click To Tweet

How can it be that today the church is experiencing such hope and yet simultaneously dismay about the same issue? We are in danger of even deeper divisions in Christianity emerging and a continuing polarization in our world.

We can analyze carefully how all of this has eventuated by thinking through social, theological and economic factors. However, what must we do in a practical sense when we are faced with people in our communities and churches who have such different opinions to us? In an age when a throwaway expression on Facebook can ignite online fires how do we become reconcilers? How do we restrain our human lust for fighting and war?

It is a season for Christians to think even more so about practicing peacemaking. But I think that peacemaking starts in your local neighborhood.

It is a season for Christians to think even more so about practicing peacemaking. Click To Tweet

Going to rallies to protest, writing letters to the government and social media activism for example, are all instruments that we can use in order to convey our alternate viewpoints and bring healing to our world. However, being a peacemaker and a bridge builder is something that needs to be embodied in your local neighborhood for transformation to happen. When we embody the practices articulated by Jesus in the sermon on the mount in our local churches and communities, we bring healing to the ruptures that threaten to utterly tear apart our already fragmented society.

Peacemaking is an activist venture rather than a passive one.It is not about retreating from conflict but thinking about conflict in a creative way rather than a destructive one.

To be a peacemaker is to be a “remedy finder; bridge-builder; breach-repairer; a new-way maker; a relationship broker.

Celtic Daily Prayer: Book Two

Here are five ways that we can work for peace locally.

Attend local community meetings

What if we started attending local community meetings with the same commitment that we give to church meetings? Once we start seeing God at work in our neighborhoods we will want to join with him in starting to discern the presence of the Spirit at local meetings. Would God want peace, due process, respect and humility to be practiced in local meetings?

I think the Godhead would and by our presence, we can be mediators of his Spirit to bring about any healing that needs to occur in our neighborhoods.

Let love be your guide

Howard Thurman writes “There can be no love apart from suffering. Love demands that we expose ourselves at our most vulnerable point by keeping the heart open.”

What does it look like to “keep the heart open” towards those who think and act differently to you? Our neighbors are from different backgrounds, people in our churches have convictions about theology which we might find distasteful.

How do we stay open to one another so that we learn from one another? Often, this will cause tension with others. It is ironic that when we practice love as Christ did, it can lead us to conflict. This is why peacemaking is not for the fainthearted, especially when practiced locally and tensions can feel very close to the heart.

We have to be prepared that peacemaking can cause further ruptures in order for the mending to ultimately come. When light hits darkness and deeply held traditions are questioned, sometimes, it can feel like war.

When light hits darkness & deeply held traditions are questioned, it can feel like war. Click To Tweet

Practice hospitality towards the “other”

We have heard this before but we need to keep practicing and not give up. Fleshing out hospitality with those who are different to us is not a difficult thing to understand but it is very hard to do. Having a meal with someone who has alternate beliefs to us can be difficult to negotiate, especially if certain sensitive issues surface.

I discipline myself to show hospitality to those who I struggle with even though it is hard. It is in fact awkward, uncomfortable and emotional at times but I need to keep making this a habit in my life. There is always something to learn however, from welcoming a guest who I struggle to naturally connect with.

Mediate in local conflicts if there is opportunity

What are the various subcultures in your neighborhood? What are the different beliefs and theologies in your church?

If you do some research and come to learn about these groups you will be able to mediate when conflict does eventuate. There is also of course the possibility of mediating when more “petty” conflicts arise such as disputes between neighbors.

This is what it means to practice peacemaking locally in a very real way that brings healing to the people we live right next door to us. Blessed are the peacemakers indeed.

Practice civility

It sounds old fashioned however being a good citizen can be a peacemaking habit. What would it look like to practice civility as a spiritual discipline? Eric Jacobsen in Sidewalks of the Kingdom defines civility as “the formal politeness that results from observing social conventions.”

What are the expectations for civility in our community and church? Jacobsen mentions keeping a watch over our community and talking with strangers or those whom we don’t know as a practice that decreases fear and suspicion in our local contexts.

He says “The practice of being civil toward one another and looking for occasions that lend themselves to such behavior can help to make us more humane as individuals..”

How can we lead the way in creating an atmosphere of peace in our world that cancels out the toxic air of polarization that we are currently breathing?

Recently, I have been upset by our world events as have others. However in the middle of a very difficult week I met up with a new neighborhood friend who has very different beliefs and practices to me. In fact, many Christians might refuse to associate with my friend because of his practices being so contrary to orthodox Christian thinking.

We had coffee and talked about many things including our differences of opinion on matters that we passionately believe in. By the end of the conversation we were  able to acknowledge each other as friends, even still like each other and then we made a time to meet up again soon. It was a small incident no doubt, but it gave me hope that division and suspicion do not have to be forgone conclusions in our world today.

By practicing peacemaking in ordinary, small ways in our local contexts, I believe we will see healing, shalom and unity in our world that will overcome the darkness.

Here is a thought from Alan Kreider’s book The Patient Ferment of the Early Church to encourage us in our embodied local peacemaking efforts.

The sources rarely indicate that the early Christians grew in number because they won arguments; instead they grew because their habitual behavior (rooted in patience) was distinctive and intriguing…

They believed their habitus, their embodied behavior, was eloquent. Their behavior said what they believed; it was an enactment of their message. And the sources indicate that it was their habitus more than their ideas that appealed to the majority of the non-Christians who came to join them.

May we be doers not only hearers of God’s word to us today, so we become witnesses to the beauty of the Godhead on mission in our world.

Early Christians rarely grew in number because they won arguments Click To Tweet


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23 responses to “God’s Journey into the Far Country and Our Participation in It: My Last Post on the Incarnation

  1. David, your concluding comments on “how does this happen” are very powerful. Your thoughts illustrate for me the crucial need to reflect much more on the incarnation, and without such reflection we are much less likely to engage in the practices you mention. In fact, we will instead (and do) engage in a number of completely stupid/inappropriate activities.
    Guder has said (something like) “understanding mission incarnationally could prove to be a remarkably integrative way to approach the church’s missionary vocation.” Your post has made that even more clear, thanks

  2. So I owe you a revision on a previous comment. It seems you would say that that church *is* an incarnation of Christ, rather than *is like*?
    It seems that you are saying that because of the Spirit the incarnation has expanded to include the church. That, in fact, the incarnation is still expanding it’s reach into the world.

    As I think about it, it seems like, if I want to take union with Christ seriously, and the Church’s union with Christ seriously, I can’t ignore the implications for, not just the language, but the reality of incarnation.

  3. Hello from a new poster to your blog. I just want to say that I specifically enjoyed some of the things you said above about the incarnation being the extension of Christ’s presence to the world through the church.

  4. David,Huge agreement from me in this post. Although were I to have a little more time this afternoon than I do I would make a more substantive reply since this stuff is near and dear to my heart, focusing (surprise) on the narrative trajectory of incarnation eventuating in ascension as a critical means of avoiding the church’s continuation of the incarnation either emptying into “social action” or remaining territorial. But I won’t mention that today.

    Rather, my question is about the so-called 5-fold ministry. What is the warrant for the importance of lifting this up to a constitutive practice?

    I just finished Yoder’s Body Politics, and unless I read him completely wrong, he does not differentiate between these five (four?) and the lists of charismata in other Epistles. While you cite The Fullness of Christ, is your thinking divergent from Yoder? (Undertanding I have only read Body Politics in this regard.)

    Alan Roxburgh seems to be of the opinion that these five or four (see Marcus Barth who suggests that pastor/teacher is one) are more situational descriptions of the sort of leadership needs of the early church in the Pauline context rather than a list of “offices” or “five-fold gifting.”

    My problem with this is historical. My perusal of the patristic works find scant reference to Ephesians 4:11, and in my memory none of it referring to the kind of ministry that in different contexts you and Alan Hirsch hold as core practices of the missional church. In fact, it seems that the church is relatively silent until Calvin, when he discovers this verse again, only to ditch the first three. Only in the 20th Century with the rise of Pentecostalism do I see a return focus to the five-fold ministry.

    1. Wouldn’t the warrant in that case would be that it was “Christ who gave…”? If it still holds that Christ gives these people (or offices? or gifts?) than it would still be normative. They are not offices that we establish, but ones that Christ does. Does he still?
      I think, at least in the case of Alan Hirsch, the argument goes that the loss of a real presence (at least the felt presence) of these sorts of individuals (especially the first three) came from the Christendom loss of missional practice. Where there is no mission, there are no apostles. All you need are those who maintain the structure and care for the already initiated (pastors).

      If though, the church is being sent, as Christ’s presence into the world, you need apostles (to lay foundations) prophets (to guide and direct from the Lord) evangelists (to proclaim) pastors/teachers (to care for, teach and bring into maturity: I think in practice these are different, but there are good linguistic arguments to keep them as one).

      I suppose I’m just believing that Christ still gives these people, because he is still doing the same work he always has.

      1. I am not disputing that Christ still gives such gifting (yeah, redundant, I know) to the church, but in certain missional literature, including Alan Hirsch, Mike Breen, and, here, David, these four to five a relegated to primary position above the gifts in Romans or I Corinthians as a perpetual paradigm of the contours of ecclesial leadership. Is this exegetically warranted? We can get online and do our APEST test to find our which God given committee we belong to in our congregations. (And yes, I used “committee” to see what sort of rise I can get out of David.)
        As for Alan seeing the eclipse of the five-fold ministry with the rise of Christendom, I wonder if in the actual writings of the early church we see it anywhere. Where is the documentation on this.

        The five-fold ministry may be a very pragmatic means of deconstructing the types of leadership such as the hierarch or the CEO and engaging again in mission, but is it of divine imperative?

    2. I also would grant that focusing one 4 1/2 fold ministry (split the difference between M. Barth and Alan Hirsch) should not distract from my overwhelming agreement here.
      But your “add on ecclesiological implications” do invite the questions that I have.

      Y’all might be quite right in all this, but it seems imposed by fiat, rather than proven exegetically or historically. (Unless this is merely an extension of the Reformed Tradition, and should be received as a godly tradition to continue without specific biblical warrant. I can live easily with that.)

      1. Richard!Great questions … I think Alan Hirsch has an upcoming book entitled Permanent Revolution where he deals with several of these issues well. I really liked it (I have an pre-edit copy that I read to endorse it).
        Yoder, somewhere, goes into the demise of the multiple ministry of the church offices and traces its history a little bit. It’s somewhere (I thot it was in “The Fullness of Christ”) but I’ll have to look it up. As always, Yoder needs to be tested on his historical analysis.
        … Maybe sometime soon I can post some of these observations with references …
        Blessings on your work!!

  5. Great thoughts. I’ve been blogging similar recently, using the notion of home, but not as church being host and welcomer, but guest and sojourner. If we follow Christ into a far land, then we are not to invite, but to follow.
    steve taylor

  6. David, I’ve enjoyed this series. A couple of quibbles on this post, however. First, I’m not sure you’re accurately portraying the apocalyptic group (Halden, et al) – their notion of singularity would not fit well at all with evangelicalism or the mega-church mentality, especially as they espouse a certain strain of liberation theology in their ideas. Your description of them in the second paragraph of this post is not really accurate – they would wholeheartedly espouse what you say they don’t. Where they differ is on the role of the church in that, the degree to which and manner in which Christians participate in what Christ is doing. Also, of course, they eschew “incarnation-speak” in favor of “cross/resurrection-speak,” which is a false dichotomy in my mind, but there it is. That is to say, I have my own disagreements with them, but I’m not sure you’re describing them quite accurately here.
    Secondly, I notice no mention whatsoever of baptism. Baptism, the realignment of identity and allegiance (among other things), is at least as important in my mind as the Eucharist. Why doesn’t it make it into your schema here?

  7. Brad,yeah I guess I don’t see where I attribute singularity as I am describing (playing off the Neo-reformed evangelicals) to Halden and the apocalypticists in this post? Altho I am seeing where there could be some confusion along these lines in the first post.
    Which I would like to clear up.
    I don’t see the two groups as saying the same things about incarnation althought the implications for eccelsiology are quite similar.
    Likewise, from Halden’s somewhat confusing post (and comments) referred to in post one, it appears that he has drawn some implications for the incarnation implicitly (not explicitly) from “the cross-resurrection speak” common among those folks? No?
    There also seems to be some warmth towards Bultmann and the dialectic Barth which to me has implications (at least) for what I was calling the “punctiliar” view of the incarnation. To me Bultmann and evangelicals have always (unwittingly) been close cousins.
    But I admit I am searching a bit for the logic being employed for the church in their thought. And of course would welcome direct interaction.
    As for baptism, I got no quibble with you on that. I think I was first looking for repeatable practices that extend the presence of Christ into the world … but I suspect (and my articulation of these 5 was not meant to be complete) I’ll try to draw out the missionality of baptism in the future in other ways…

  8. David,
    There’s a good chance I’m misunderstanding you here, but if not, then I have a couple of questions/problems/points where I need some help, etc.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, because I’m admittedly a bit hazy on what’s being discussed. I have very little knowledge of many of the individuals you reference (Hirsch, Borg, etc) so if my comments are simply stating what they may be saying, I apologize.

    You seem to be saying that the incarnation was both a singular event that occurred in history through Jesus who was both God and man, and that it continues to this day via the work of the church, which (literally?) brings Christ’s presence to the world by continually transforming individuals, communities, and the cultures they inhabit.

    My problem isn’t so much with your view that Christ’s presence continues on post-resurrection, but perhaps how it continues on.

    I believe it is possible to live in downtrodden neighborhoods, to go about doing racial reconciliation, to help people in poverty, without any faith or believe in God or Christ. It is possible to vote for politicians and to transform cities and nations without God taking on the flesh—because none of those things require the paradox of the God-Man or the faith it requires to believe in the Incarnation (then or now).

    I wonder if there needs to be a distinction made between the Kingdom of God/Reign of God and Christ’s incarnational presence? I would agree with you if you said that these communities can take part in The Kingdom of God by reconciling with neighbors, etc but not that they are necessarily the embodiment of Christ. This comes to a head when you say: “All of this is why Paul calls the church “the body of Christ” the ultimate symbolic expression of what it means to be and extend the presence of Christ physically into the world. As we inhabit the world under His Lordship, we become through the Spirit His enfleshed body, joining together with what He is doing in the world as the Sent One of the Father.”

    At first you say that this is a “symbolic expression,” which I am more or less okay with. However, you go on to say that “we become…His enfleshed body,” essentially saying that The Church becomes Christ, i.e. the Church becomes God. This seems to me a supremely problematic statement.

    It seems to me misguided that a so-called “society” of people, i.e. the church, can take on or embody Christ’s presence. I believe we as individuals become witnesses to Christ’s continuing presence, we become contemporaries with Christ (SK), and as individuals we can join with others to form communities of witnesses who attempt to live as Christ lived. However, any time a group claims to be an extension of Christ it seems to me a temptation whereby our aims become confused with the aims of God.

    The Incarnation, as I read it, and the possibility of becoming a contemporary (a witness) with Christ today, seems to me a task rooted in suffering for the gospel. It’s not a matter of doing x,y, z and and voilà Christ’s presence is here, as if we determine the whence and whither of a sort of contemporary incarnation.

    It’s as if you go too far in some directions and not far enough in others. You go too far in saying that we as humans bring about the divine presence with our ethical actions or even when you seem to claim that God was working through our actions to do such and such a thing. However, I don’t think you go far enough in your examples of what it means to attempt to live as Christ lived. It’s not a matter of moving into poor neighborhoods or reconciling others—for one can do those things with little risk. It’s about becoming poor, denying the self, and recognizing the absurdity of our faith as we do these things. It’s about recognizing the external futility of following Christ, the ridiculousness of discipleship—the fact that it could all be for naught, that there is no guarantee that any of this is true or good, that perhaps the powers that be have it right—and that despite all of this we should resist them none the less, that we follow Christ’s example because we are called to follow Christ’s example, not because by doing so we are going to transform people or communities. That transformation may occur but it is not a necessary result of our actions.

    I have no confidence in our actions or our understanding of them. Even you say, in your discussion of a so-called revolution, that we bring Christ’s presence when we serve the poor. Isn’t this backward? Isn’t Christ made present to us IN the poor. It is not we who are Christ’s presence, but the poor who bear his divine mark.

    It’s quite easy to claim we are living as Christ lived, to claim to embody Christ—yet how many of us lived as he lived? Poor, homeless, and rejected by our communities? How many of us live a life deserving of the cross? Christ was not a community organizer, nor was he a democratic leader of a holy group of people—he was a radical individual, whose very followers were embarrassed to be associated with him when the time came. He rejected his culture and split the crowd that surrounded him. Yet not long after his death and the deaths of many of his immediate followers, “his church,” this so-called embodiment of Christ, took it upon themselves to soften all the edges, to quit risking so much, becoming more efficient and effective at prolonging and preserving their own well-being, which has continued up to this day.

    I don’t believe we are justified in claiming to be a part of the incarnation. An example: Any church that claims to embody Christ should take a very hard look at their economic and socio-political make-up before the venture to make such claims. How much does their pastor make, for instance? All of these things factor in to their psychological/sociological mindset, which in turn will influence how they go about proclaiming the gospel. I do not believe that we as humans can fully transcend these factors in such a way that would lead to me being comfortable with claims of even being like Christ, let alone actually claiming to take on Christ’s flesh today.

    If we’re going to claim to be entering into the prodigal journey with Christ, then we need to do much more work in terms of making our lives mirror that of our Savior. If not, we should abandon any language that even tip-toes the line of a favorable comparison between what we do and what Christ did and continues to do today, despite our efforts.

    I know that went a bit long, but I think it’s important. I applaud you for starting up this discussion which seems to be very much lacking from contemporary theological discourse. I don’t think I disagree with you as much as it might seem, or even as much as I think I might, but there are a few key areas where I’d like to hear your response.


  9. Yeah Isaac, thanks for this comment.I mean basically you summairzed well the careful nuances that are not always possible in a blog post. You bring up things like
    a.) the church can never be equal to or claim to possess Christ .. we are witnesses … I want to press that …within the Catholic sense of things .. that by and in and thru us … Christ becomes present thru the Spirit … that rightfully so we can never claim to BE Christ … the agents of Christ … but we become the means for Christ to be with us .. in sacramental-like ways … That indeed this is special … but this does not detract from the Kingdom at large , that Christ is still ord over the world bringing in His Kingdom … this is means by which sthe KIngdom as witness becomes manifest …
    In a book I’m working on … I hope to make these careful nuances more precise … nonetheless, while fighting against the triumphalist temptation … that we are Christ … I also want to fight against “the protestant principle” … which rejects that we can know see and hear recognize the real presence of Christ at work conquering the powers …
    Hope this helps (but probably not enuf 🙂 )

  10. Thanks for the response, David.
    I understand the limitations of writing on blogs and I’m glad you’ve cleared up a few of the concerns I have. This topic is pretty pertinent to me as of late. I used to be of the understanding that God was easily “experienced” in a variety of ways, and have had a lot of rough encounters with people claiming to speak for God or possess the “mind of Christ.” Couple that with the fact that I just started reading The Epistle to the Romans–needless to say I’ve been re-thinking a lot in terms of the divine-human relationship, etc. I appreciate the voice you’ve added to that conversation.


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