Monday, February 23, 2009

Peacemaking, not peacekeeping

Our church had a visiting pastor yesterday from Charlotte North Carolina. His message, that he gave so tirelessly all over Cincinnati last week, ended with a spectacular collapse to the floor in the middle of preaching during the eleven o'clock service, Adam Clark tells me! Apparently the preacher blacked out, crumpled to the stage, and the church stood in stunned silence for a few moments, then erupted into a pandemonium of shouted prayers, cell phones dialing 911 and someone vomiting in the pews. Eventually, our guest speaker did rise again (about 8 minutes later) and preached another few minutes shouting that the devil could knock you down, but he could not keep you down! Cheers and hollering followed. After a minute or two, he was finished and ushered out to paramedics.

Naturally, I missed that service.

Still, I got to hear the whole message at 8:00! And it was a good one.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the Peacemakers" and our visiting pastor said, "Jesus did not bless the peacekeepers." Just because a scene is "peaceful" (no evidence of struggle) does not mean it is a picture of true peace. As visiting pastor said, "A man with his foot on my neck may look like peace." The absence of struggle is not peace.

He went on. The presence of law and order is not peace. Just because there are rules and we're told to obey them doesn't mean that justice has prevailed. Law and order is not equal to peace. It's equal to protecting the status quo. The status quo is not peace.

To be a peacekeeper means to choose not to upset the status quo. It means to turn your head when injustice is present. It means to tolerate abuse. It means to not rock the boat, to match the expectations of the ones in power without challenge, it means giving up your expectations of fair treatment in the name of pacifying the aggressors. Our visiting pastor (VP, I'll call him) reminded us of MLK Jr.'s "Beloved Community" and their fight to end the so-called "peace" of segregation (a peace-keeping strategy to stop the strife between races... yet not a peace that could last). He reminded us that while MLK Jr. called on a nation to be that beloved community, his legacy must be carried out from that macro level all the way to our most micro experiences.

Let me explain because this is where it got very powerful for me. As a member of the Obama campaign, I experienced firsthand how important it was to work neighborhood by neighborhood and person by person. The campaign depended on regular people taking time to realize their dream of a different future for our country. VP cited Obama as an example of someone who understands that to make peace, all parties must be engaged in the struggle and that it is a struggle. Peacemaking is not a peaceful experience. It's an electrifying, shake up the system practice. Peacemaking starts by disturbing the peace!

Today, peacemakers have to be about that kind of commitment. The beloved community starts with us, personally, in our hearts and relationships: not just our nation, state, or even cities. Not just out communities, neighborhoods and streets. But in our very homes, families and selves. He pushed his finger at us as he drove home his point. Peacemaking begins with a radical reorientation of how we understand justice - that we ourselves have a right to respect, truth and love in all our relationships and without it, that relationship's status quo has got to go.

We flex out muscles in the private sphere, among our families and friends. Injustice is not only what is done to us by the government or law enforcement. It's what we tolerate in the name of "peace" for our daily lives, which then becomes a habit of capitulation. Any peace forged on the basis of "keeping the peace" is not a peace that lasts. Justice, even when there is a high price of chaos to get there, brings about an enduring peace. You will know peace by how it lasts.

He described the way peacemaking leads to upheaval and struggle. Compromise is not a part of justice. Justice is respect, equality, truth and love. It is mutuality - a base from which all parties are able to have dignity before one another, without hiding who or what they are, or changing who or what they are to accommodate another's vision for them. It's not about who has power over who, but how to ensure that all have their rightful share of power in a shared context.

Radical overthrow of the status quo is necessary when oppression is most severe. Disturbing the peace is the route to enduring peace.

I've broken it down in my life. Well-being is the goal for all of us. Peacefaking (as my friend once said) is not peacemaking. The virtue Jesus blesses is not tolerating injustice, mistreatment, disrespect or loss of dignity in the name of some mythical struggle-free environment or relationship. Jesus blesses peacemakers who are so captivated by a vision of respectful, fair treatment for all, they risk the "peace" (the institutions that protect even their personal status quo) for the sake of a lasting peace - one that guarantees dignity, respect, truth and love for each member.


Think! said...

Great post!

Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

I really like the part about how peacemaking needs to start with us, in our homes, relationships, and inner circle of friends, otherwise, it seems hypocritical to work for peace in the public square. It sure makes sense to me. Of course, it can be quite a challenge to practice what we preach at home because of the nature and reality of our interpersonal relationships but be that as it may be, our families provide the fertile ground for the type of peacemaking that will last.