Things are tense these days. This weekend I found myself the target of someone’s random anger on the street for a minor oversight exiting a supermarket parking lot. It’s hard to judge where this guy was coming from but in moments of aggression like this, the human being is wired to make an assessment. It was the way our ancestors stayed alive. It was not hard to see this guy had some threatening potential. Hate to say it but he was white. So I’m thinking right off the bat, he has privilege. He wasn’t afraid of law enforcement as he shouted at me in public. He was walking a dog and he was middle-aged. Or maybe younger. As he randomly started yelling at me he offered directions by flipping me the bird. His level of anger escalated from zero to 60 in 2 seconds and he started calling me yucky things. Lots of other things went into my quick calculations.
My window was open because it was warm and I was loving the Seattle summer air. But I made a mistake, apparently leaving the parking lot where I was supposed to only enter. It wasn’t marked clearly for sure. Anyway, I had to stop in the middle of an intersection in front of a red light. As far as I could tell he was in no way impacted by my miscalculation. Curiously the other driver who I had to pull in front of at the stoplight did not seem bothered at all. I did the awkward “stupid me” gesture out of my drivers’ window and his grace seemed to ooze from behind the wheel and his tinted windshield.
Years ago I read an excellent article by Thomas Friedman comparing different players in conflict situations around the world. He identified those who are arsonists and those who are firefighters. I loved his article so much it shows up in my writing, in my talks, in my sermons (all of those opportunities before Covid, only the writing since). I further invite people to talk about the need for a revival of peacemaking and many responding to the invitation to be peacemakers. God knows we need many of those today.
Why am I telling this story of the angry white man? For me, it comes down to several things:
- My big learning over the last 10 years or so is that peacemaking requires some truth-telling and justice-making otherwise peace is only a dream. And as a white person, I can hide away in my safe enclave and pretend there’s peace because the many conflicts in the world generally do not touch my day-to-day. That’s very true and it’s also very privileged.
- The lack of peace sometimes is driven by power differentials. Someone doesn’t have peace, or their position of power and privilege is diminishing. Or for many today, justice for them or their people just can’t be pushed off into the future anymore. Things aren’t the way they used to be.
“Avoiding conflict isn’t peacemaking. Avoiding conflict means running away from the mess while peacemaking means running into the middle of it. Peacemaking means addressing those issues that caused conflict in the first place. Peacemaking can never be separated from doing justice. They go hand in hand. Peacemaking means having to stir the waters on the way to peace. Peacemaking means speaking the truth in love but speaking the truth nonetheless.” ~ Peggy Haymes