I just completed a long season of ministry travel–speaking, engaging, bridge building, supporting and learning from other peacemakers. My travel took me to the Middle East 2xs, Canada 1x, the East Coast 3xs as well as several churches in the Puget Sound region. I was in several mosques, homes of Muslims in Hebron and Seattle, and also the personal residence of the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon in Beirut. I had the chance to screen my movie 8 times, and advocate for peacemaking, and participate with other peacemakers in both the church and the mosque. Well, actually with the Syrian ambassador too. We had probably around 30 pastors and aid workers visit the ambassador during my trip to Lebanon last month. I’m learning some things along the way. But I also have some questions.
I’ve begun a “What If” list. It’s a bit in the John Lennon motif when he penned the lyrics to his popular song, Imagine. I keep finding in the tough situations around the globe that conflict seems to reign. And peacemakers are few. Even in the church! As one interviewee in my movie says, “we have plenty of peace talkers, but few peace MAKERS!” So alas, I have job security. I wish it were otherwise, but it isn’t. At least not yet.
Here is my working list of “What If’s” for peacemaking that I’d like you to consider. Actually, I’m becoming more convinced this list should be part of the basic curriculum for every church, every Christian discipleship program, every small group Bible study, every confirmation or Sunday School class. I’d love your feedback on this list.
- What if we truly believed what John says in 1 John 4:18. “Perfect love casts out fear.” It really does. Too often we are characterized by perfect fear, which casts out love of course.
- What if we did the simple thing we’re trying to do in grassroots peacemaking? Share a meal, or tea (coffee if you prefer), with someone from the other community. I know, this may get you into trouble with some folks. It happened to Jesus too so you’re in good company. This is what we are seeking to do in our community of reconciliation hosted by my Muslim friend.
- What if we didn’t judge a book by the cover but sought to listen to the stories of others, of those different than us? This is what we’ve done in Seattle with several Muslim communities in our “listening events.“
- What if we followed the prophet Micah’s challenge to “love mercy, seek justice and to walk humbly with God?” (Micah 6:8). This has been the question I ask over and over in places of conflict from Israel/Palestine to churches in suburban North America. I asked this question of an Israeli soldier in Hebron several years ago and a politician in the U.S. Sometimes we make simple things complex.
- What if we, in the the tradition of Paul’s writing about the mystery of the Gospel in Ephesians, lived to break down walls of division between us, knowing that somehow the Gospel was incomplete until those who are “outside” become part of us and we become part of them (see Ephesians 2:11-15).
- What if we focused in our devotions and sermons on the center of the Gospel, the love of Christ for all humankind, instead of the boundary between who is IN and who is OUT (as if we could really know and determine that anyway). Too often when I speak in churches I hear an echo of the young expert in the law when he asked Jesus who was his neighbor. (See the lead up to the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 9 and then read the parable in Luke 10). Don’t we also want to put a fence around who God calls us to love.
- What if we truly lived the Sermon on the Mount, to Christ’s call to peacemaking and loving our enemies? Pure and simple. (see Matthew 5:9 & 5:44).
- What if our enemies became friends, or as my Palestinian buddy at Tent of Nations reminds about their community value. Surrounded by Israeli settlements who want to take their land and often destroy their citrus trees, they still refuse to see their aggressive neighbors as enemies.
- What if we made the typical benediction we hear pronounced over us in church our theme for how we interact with the world around us? (“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”’ Numbers 6:24-26).
- Lastly, what if we became doers of the word, and not hearers only, like the brother of Jesus calls us to in James 1:22. I truly believe that saying the right things about what we believe (making sure we get our doctrine right / orthodoxy) without the action that aligns with our words (orthopraxy) is messed up. Maybe we could say that orthodoxy without orthopraxy is simply heresy. But let’s imagine what could happen in our world if we became active doers, peacemakers in a world where there’s a lot of conflict and misunderstanding.