Cari and I just completed an very important conference in Tijuana, Mexico. It was called “The Everyday Peacemaking Summit,” and looked at several angles, or perspectives, to the ongoing work of peacemaking. First of all let me say this was maybe the best event on the topic I’ve attended. There was a side benefit for me personally in that it was hosted IN Mexico, the country I came to know and love from 1989-1999, when I served in Monterrey, Mexico. We considered also two very relevant geographical contexts where peacemaking is deeply needed today–the border with Mexico with its challenges involving immigration from Central America and the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is getting worse by the day. In both contexts, the response from those in power has been to build walls to keep the issues, the challenges, and the people at bay. We heard experts in these contexts speak about peacemaking from:
- The Seat of Power
- The Shadow of Power
- Under the the Boot of Power
- Practical considerations on how we can move from Perpetuating Empire to Joining God in Remaking the world.
One of the presenters asked us why we were at the summit. It was an honest and important question about our motivation. There is a danger in just attending the next important conference, bouncing from one event to the next. It can end up being like what the Apostle Paul talks about when we just want to have our ears tickled instead of living by sound, foundational teaching (2 Tim. 4:3). I trust we are not in this mode.
Anyway, as a follower of Christ and citizen of the most powerful country in the history of humankind, I clearly sit in a place of privilege. As part of that dynamic I need to constantly take an inventory of my own proximity to power and the opportunities, or places I can choose to exempt myself from the pain and crises of others. Are we aware of the many ways we can just walk away from a problem and hide ourselves in our enclaves of privilege? I hear this kind of response to many of the ideas of how to deal with the crisis at the border, or likewise in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Responses can be cloaked in language that shields us from reality on the ground. We emphasize the need for “legal immigration” but don’t hear either the cries of people fleeing for their lives, or that our country is seeking a total shutdown of immigration on the southern border, including legal immigration. We also hide in this all encompassing phrase of “law and order,” or “legal immigration” as a pretext for brutal treatment of human beings who just happen to be a different color. One of the best antidotes to this danger of holding onto the perspectives from our positions of power and privilege is to go and see, to humanize the other by listening to their story, to reconsidering some of these ideas in the light of the example of Jesus Christ. Interestingly, one of the conference speakers was a Palestinian Muslim. He just invited us to this very pregnant idea–“I need you to be better Christians, and follow the example of Jesus Christ.” That was a mic drop for sure. One of our Mexican brothers asked us to stop our charity and stand with him and their work among immigrants in solidarity.
Of course one time honored response to crises in the church is to seek to rescue. A danger in this kind of response is that we remain in control of the narrative and helping another can quickly become more about our need to assuage our own guilt. Our help becomes just another part of a massive endeavor to problem solve “over there” as experts and patrons of less fortunate places and peoples of the world. We help victims.
Cari and I have a lot to chew on. We were left at the end of the conference with two questions: “What is the Spirit saying to me?” and “what am I going to do about it?”
More to come…