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.
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.