Working Together for Peace?
This is part of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith. Today’s installment:
“To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace”
Doesn’t that sound so nice? It’s almost like the combination of a group project in school with the wishes of the stereotypical Miss USA, “I wish for world peace.”
But when the rubber meets the road we struggle to play well with each other, and peace isn’t any easier. What is peace? What gets us toward peace? And what do we do when two or more groups are at odds with each other cannot agree on who gets peace and at whose expense?
These are timely questions as right now the 221st General Assembly is happening in Detroit as the Presbyterian Church (USA) discerns matters of policy and polity. The elected commissioners are quite literally trying to work together for justice, freedom, and peace. But there are some very challenging questions before them: particularly the matters of the definition of marriage and justice for same gender peoples who have been denied the right to marry, and in the matter of potential divestment of three companies deemed to be have no interest in being in dialogue with us about their continued profit from the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands by the state of Israel.
On both these subjects we have strong disagreements about what is justice and what is peace. We struggle with freedom in the midst of unity, and how to work together with such strongly held and opposing views.
And then I went today to my preachers bible study where we read about Hagar having a covenant from God (Genesis 21) to be God’s people also: none of us has unique status in the eyes of God, or maybe it’s that we aren’t uniquely chosen by virtue of the fact that we all are uniquely chosen. So how do we check our privilege at the door? A question made harder by the fact that most of us get defensive at the suggestion that we even have privilege. And how do we help our neighbors check their privilege at the door… particularly when that is an offensive enterprise.
Then Jesus walked in for the Gospel text in Matthew and announced that he comes not to bring peace but a sword… to set us against each other… and that to gain our life we must lose it. (Matthew 10)
How do we work together for justice, freedom, and peace?
I don’t know… but I have some ideas.
We have to let go of our life. We have to let go of our self-interest both as individuals and as corporate entities. We have to let go of the idea that we should secure our safety and well-being at the expense of others.
We have to be humble. We need (I think I heard this somewhere) to love our neighbors just as much as we love ourselves… and vice-versa. And… we have to have the humility to imagine that we are at least as wrong in some of our ideas as the people we disagree with. No-one is really setting out to be mean. No-one is seeking the badwill of all other people. Our disagreements are heated exactly because we each think we are seeking what is good and right. For a moment… let’s imagine that about half of what we think is wrong, and about half of what “the other” is saying is right.
We have to be willing to be offensive. This is hard because I don’t think that means offending people for the sake of it. We ought not to SEEK to be offensive, but we cannot be afraid of it either. Seeking peace as a ‘not rocking the boat’ is not in fact peace, it is asking those who are not currently protected by the dominant narrative to be quiet so we can pretend that all is well.
We have to trust each other. We have to trust each other enough to stick in relationship long enough to get past the offense, the defensiveness, and the monologue-slinging to actually listen, hear, and relate to each other… for it is only if we can stay in conversation this long that we begin to actually do the work together towards peace part.
We have to admit that we won’t succeed. We are seeing through a glass dimly. We all are. We will not achieve peace, or perfect justice, or grant pure freedom to all people. We just won’t. These are guiding lights – like the North Star. We pursue them, not in the idea that we are capable of reaching them, but in the hope that we move ever towards them… and that in our fractious discernment and yearning for goodness the Spirit of the Lord is actually present.
“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage… to work with others for justice, freedom and peace.”
Thanks be to God.
This is part of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith, Intro found here
- In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing: here
- To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior: here
- To unmask idolatries in Church and culture: here and here
- To hear the voices of peoples long silenced: here
- To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace: see below
- In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive: forthcoming
- To serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives: forthcoming
- Even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”