On not being ready for peacemaking

This has been a particularly difficult post to write.

These Beatitudes aren’t for sissies. And each week, they seem to get harder.

This post was difficult for me for one main reason:

I am not there yet.

What I wanted to do this week is talk about the two sides of a particular issues which polarizes a lot of people. As I began to write the post, I couldn’t bring myself to present both sides.

I feel strongly about the issue. I have a side. And I cannot get to the place where I condone the other side.

I have trouble with what I am talking about this week. I don’t do it well. But I believe in it and I am pursuing it. So I am going to continue to reflect, and trying to move forward. But I hope my inability to write the post I wanted to gives you hope as you read.

We are all in process. Jesus is working on us in different ways. We will never arrive, but we move forward.

I also want to preface our discussion by acknowledging what we are talking today takes work.

It starts with a particular picture of God.

And it requires learning to get rid of dualistic, us vs. them thinking.

These too are a process. We are never finished with them. But moving in those directions lay the foundation for peacemaking.

The thing that makes discussing peacemaking difficult is the issue of violence.

Now, no one would sit down and say: Yes, violence is a good thing. We need more of it in the world. But the issue of violence really tends to polarize and divide folks, especially when it comes to forms of corporate, physical violence: war, death penalties, law enforcement, military, home protection, etc.

There are big theological and ethical questions which lie behind each of these concerning the realities, limiting, and prevention of violence. Again, no one ever says violence is good. But when it comes to these issues and how to deal with violence, rarely do you meet people who do not have strong feelings about them one way or the other.

But there are other issues of violence we often leave off the table. Issues of violence no law can regulate and which often get viewed as acceptable in Christian circles.

You see, we do violence to another when we put them down for their beliefs or try to manipulate, dominate, coerce, and control them.

When we separate ourselves over positions and beliefs and all that matters is getting “them” to “our” side, it is a form of violence. Forcing our beliefs on others violates the freedom of choice God has given to each of us, yet many times we think this is our duty as Christians.

7411169880_3316fb1e01_bBeing a peacemakers means looking for an alternative. Being a peacemaker means being unwilling to commit this kind of violence, and looking for loving ways to engage those who think, live, and believe differently than we do.

As I stated previously, I stink at this. Even as I am writing these words, I think about particular debates I feel strongly about, and I ask: Does this apply there?

And the answer is: Yes. I just don’t want it to.

So what is that issue for you? What is the divide you don’t want this to apply to? Keep it in mind as you finish this post.

So if being a peacemaker is about finding alternatives to violence, what is the alternative for the subtle and dangerous violence of manipulation and control?

I would argue that the alternative is dialogue.

Now, dialogue is not simply two people talking. Because when two people on opposing sides talk, it is often not dialogue. It is different forms of coercion and judgment.

We have our position, and the goal of “dialogue” is to convince the other person.

True dialogue however, is about two people exploring an issue honestly and openly.

And true dialogue and violence cannot coexist.

Dialogue is about listening to another person. Hearing why they believe and think what they do. It is about seeing the humanity in another even if you disagree with the positions they are taking.

Most of the time, we leave out the human element of the debates we get in. We don’t see the person, we see an issue. Facebook doesn’t help this. We often deal with abstractions rather than people. We need actual people to help us engage the breadth and depth of complex issues.

Dialogue is also not about winning, but about understanding.

When I am in dialogue with someone, I have to explore an issue deeper. I am exploring the depths of my beliefs, how they were formed in me, and why it matters as a person. Dialogue is exploration which requires vulnerability and honesty rather than just sticking to my guns.

And what happens when I sit and listen to another person explore issues in this way, is I begin to see a larger picture. While I may disagree with the person on whatever issues we are exploring, I see their heart. I see how they have come to this belief.

And what happens is that I discover our areas of agreement are often much larger than our areas of disagreement. And slowly, grace, mercy, and compassion begin to take hold of me.

When we really explore things together, the Spirit shows up and does amazing things.

I may not change my mind, but I see the other side and the other person more clearly.

Which may in fact deepen my own belief.

Take the issue of war and violence for example. These issues have long, complex histories of thought. Yet how many people really know those histories? Dialogue asks us to examine our theological and ethical reasoning for our beliefs (even if we aren’t using those terms). It asks us to really know WHY we believe what we believe. And often the best way to do that is through an exploration of the other side.

Let me reiterate, this is difficult. It may be one of the hardest things we can move towards as Christians.

But it is part of our inheritance as children of God. Because each time we step in the direction of the other, we look a little more like Jesus.

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