As I write this reflection on non-violence, I’m watching a show called Top Shot…a show honoring the exceptional skills of sharpshooters across the world. If I remember correctly from my training in logic, this might qualify as a paradox.
Thankfully, if the Incarnation taught us anything, it’s that God enjoys a good paradox. I mean, the Godhead veiled in human flesh? Come on. If that’s not a paradox, then I’m not sure what is.
My Lenten reflection is rooted in this paradox, for it is in looking to and learning from Jesus of Nazareth that I have been inspired, time after time, to give up violence and seek peace. As mentioned before, violence is more than just fisticuffs and bullets. It’s violent when we use our words to cut another human being to shreds, or when we use our actions to exclude someone different from our midst. And the truth is, violence in any situation is fundamentally opposed to the peaceful revolution inaugurated by Jesus:
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Yesterday I reflected on the question, “What does peace mean to me?" Today, I was tasked with finding opportunities to be a peacemaker. I’m honest when I say it wasn’t easy to find opportunities to be a peacemaker. Or, at the very least, they weren’t apparent on the surface. I don't live in a war-torn country, and I don't encounter physical violence on an everyday basis. And yet, if I look hard enough, there are plenty of opportunities for me to be a peacemaker. I've just got to be more open to others and to the world. Then, experiencing the conflicts and tragedies we all experience, even the little tragedies of a broken heart or a shattered dream...then can I be a peacemaker.
As far as definitions go, I think I’ve come to understand peace as the ability for to live in conflict with another without destroying or crippling our relationship. It may sound funny to define peace using the word conflict, but it makes sense to me. Conflict is an integral part of life. At all points and in all relationships, conflict will emerge because there are at least two fundamentally unique entities covenanting and journeying together. And those two entities will not always be of one heart and mind. It’s fundamental to the human experience, and that’s why conflict isn’t inherently evil.
Yet, for peace to be a tangible possibility, such conflict shouldn’t result in irreparable damage to the relationship. After years of being a part of the broken and frustrating Body of Christ called the Church, I can understand and appreciate the impulse to flee conflict. It’s uncomfortable. It’s challenging. It’s offensive. But, in spite of all of that, we are still called to be one body. And just as our own human body doesn’t always agree internally, the Body of Christ will wrestle amongst itself. But if it is truly seeking peace above power, cooperation above coercion, and vulnerability above violence, true peace will manifest itself as conflicted and battling people attempting to understand one another, listening for the voice of God present in the other no matter how different or difficult they might be.
Without going into specifics, today I found myself being a peacemaker because I sat for tea with a human being who is exceptionally capable at confounding and frustrating me. Yet, I was able to meet her on a fundamentally human level. I listened for the voice of God speaking within her rather than listening to a voice of rage, anger, or judgment within me.
That’s peace to me. At least this side of the Eschaton. Not allowing conflict to be divisive. Instead, using it as an opportunity to grow and learn and be shaped by another human being.
It’s not easy. But it’s the task we’ve been given.
Here’s to a great success.
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. – Rom. 12:18