Wes and I have been working through Jean Vanier’s book, “Finding Peace” in our staff devotions. I love this little book and have prayed through it many times. Vanier’s context is working with adults who are intellectually and physically differently abled. This is quite distinct from the arena of faith and sexuality and those who find themselves outside the majority status of gender and sexual orientation. However, his insights about humanity, about finding peace in the midst of difference, are universal and often deeply inspiring as we seek to go about our work through New Direction.
Vanier says, “The world is divided into many thousands of more or less hermetically closed groups. If each group is sure that it is better than others, how will peace ever come? It is difficult to dialogue with others if we cling arrogantly to the idea that we are right or that our power and technology are a sign of our humanity and goodness. Walls and barriers exist between people because of language, but also because of fear – each group fearful of those who are different, fearful of losing its identity. People resist opening up to others. Aren’t we all in one way or another enclosed in a secure group, in our culture, our religion, our family, our network of friends? Family and different types of groups are needed for human growth, but when they become sealed they engender rivalry, conflict, elitism.”
Yesterday, I quietly prayed and lamented a world that became more entrenched in its polarization. How do prophets of peace speak into the madness of boycott and counter-appreciation events? How does a peace-maker respond to the reality of pain and anger and reductionism on both ends of the spectrum?
Some wrote thoughtful posts attempting to bring some nuance to the whole debacle. And I am glad for their stewardship of influence and their attempt to bring humble wisdom and charity into the fodder for extreme reactions, biting bitterness, and cutting cynicism.
I chose to refrain from speaking. That’s hard to do. It’s a moment. An opportunity. Throw your opinion into the ring. See if you can ride the internet traffic wave. See if people will like what you say.
That’s how it works these days. Find your significance, build your credibility, leverage your opportunities, grow your network, increase your influence …. and don’t let up …. and don’t stop ….. and keep writing…. keep posting….. stay on top ….. be first ….. be the brightest and the best …. be the “go to” …. make it to the top of the list ….
Staying silent, lamenting, praying …. allowing your heart to deeply hear the hurt and confusion ….. allowing yourself to be present to the shrill anger marked by exaggerated claims and desperation to be heard, acknowledged, honoured …. while withholding the very same from other …. this is the hard and hidden work of those prophets of peace who persevere day after day, month after month, year after year. Not living from one sensational happening to another – but down in the trenches with real people taking sometimes seemingly imperceptible steps towards justice, towards reconciliation, towards dialogue, towards understanding, towards mutuality and generosity and kindness and humility and extending spaciousness to one another despite difference …..
But this kind of work doesn’t generate the kind of energy and excitement that boycotts and protests and public venting, name-calling, and generalized write-offs do.
But ….. can it sow seeds of peace that are lasting ….. seeds that can take root ….. that can grow ….. and in time bear fruit?
Having to be persistently patient is hard work. Staying present in the tension…. loving across the divides …. listening deeply to each one all across the spectrum …. extending friendship. Learning contentment and living in the rhythms of grace in the face of systems of power that fight each other and wound countless others in the process seems not only counter-intuitive but useless…… and yet …..
“Real peace implies something deeper than polite acceptance of those who are different. It means meeting those who are different, appreciating them and their culture, and creating bonds of friendship with them. Family, culture, religion, community, and friendship are all realities that are vital for human growth. But we need to learn how not to remain enclosed or imprisoned in such groups. We have to cross boundaries and meet others who are different. Coexistence is a foundation, and it is important, but peace is something much deeper. To create peace we have to go further than just saying hello. We have to discover who the other person is and reveal who we are. As we listen to and really meet one another, we begin to see the work of God in the beauty and value, in the deepest personhood, of those who are different.”
The reason yesterday’s event and the days leading up to it have seemed to be so painful is that it seems to paint this public and absolute demonstration of the lack of desire and willingness to work for peace. The polarized voices are the loud ones. And each time one side or the other reacts it is louder, it is stronger, it is more certain, it is more alienating, it moves farther and farther from the deep peace that in our deepest hearts we are desperate for.
The lines that became deeper and darker in the last few days hurt everyone …. and lead no one to peace. New sprouts of dialogue and openness may well have been crushed by yesterday’s displays. Hope for dialogue and reconciliation took a blow yesterday.
But prophets of peace aren’t a flash in the pan, or very flashy at all. They are the ones the day after a big hoopla, through prayers and tears, who stand quietly to begin again. To speak words that invite us to the hard work of peace ….. again. They call us to extend ourselves, again, in willingness to enter conversation, to listen more than we speak, to wait, to exercise patience, to risk befriending, to endure being misunderstood, to refuse to take offence, to choose to see and value the humanity in another. Prophets of peace grieve with those who encounter locked doors, loved ones who refuse to engage. Prophets of peace stand with those who, as of yet, are too hurt, bitter, or angry to try again….. extending love and gentle patience. Prophets of peace remind us that we are so much more than the shrill words and strong emotions that came up and out of us yesterday in the heat of the battle. They, again, raise the vision of unity in diversity which nurtures shalom for the common good. And they risk getting shot at by those who are unwilling or not ready to lay down the weapons of the latest skirmish.
Prophets of peace emerge to remind us that this isn’t about chicken or business or promotion or politics or power or winning or being proved right….. it is about our common humanity, our shared Belovedness, our call to share this earth together and to find peace together ….. where all people can flourish, where all can love and be loved. We cannot find this place without one another. We can try to take short-cuts that leave the losers in the dust …. but in the end, “if I diminish you, I diminish myself.” We are inter-connected and inter-dependent whether we like it or not. In our anger and our pain we want to take what we believe we deserve …. but in the taking we lose something of ourselves as we cast others aside.
“Those who seek encounters with those who are different do not always know where the relationship will lead. To love is always a risk: it can mean rejection and marginalization by the secure group one belongs to; it can mean pain in the relationship itself. To love in this way can cause a loss of security, even a loss of friends from one’s own culture who remain stuck behind categories and do not understand.”
To those who hold conservative views concerning gay marriage, to those who hold affirming views of gay marriage, to those who are personally impacted by these matters, to those who engage more theoretically, to those who are well versed in these issues, to those who are only scratching the surface, to those who are confused, to those who want to love but don’t know how to navigate the tensions, to those who feel battered and bruised, weary, discouraged, to those whose energizing anger is justifying arrogant words and deeds that have lost sight of our interconnected human reality …..
Please. Be. Still.
These issues matter deeply. They matter so deeply that we must pursue a deeper peace that will sustain life-giving shalom for us all.
Note: go here to purchase Vanier's book