Peacemaking in a Polarizing World

Are You Confused about God?
May 24, 2024
Mercy Not Sacrifice!
May 31, 2024
Are You Confused about God?
May 24, 2024
Mercy Not Sacrifice!
May 31, 2024

A talk given at a shared Anglican – Roman Catholic Clergy Day, 29 May 2024

My reflections these days are filled with mourning, witnessing our loss of peace.  Jesus gave us his peace to share, but I think his peace is very different to how the world sees it; and sharing it is still as costly today.

When I think about the world wars, or the wars between Hamas and Israel, Ukraine and Russia, the Sudanese civil war, unrest in New Caledonia, there is a discernible escalation of violent rhetoric by people holding tight to power, controlling and dictating the quality, purpose and content of people’s lives now seen as collateral damage.  We confront terrorism in our homes with family and domestic violence. There are unacknowledged wars including the violent birthing of modern Australia; and occasionally we have church wars over ideas, faith, race, sexuality, gender and culture, saturating our relationships with one another and God. 

So how have we come to this: as Christians whose faith commits us to be active peace-makers in Jesus’ way? How has it come to pass if I talk about peace from the pulpit, I may be subjected to abuse, hatred and threats of violence?  We are faithfully required to share peace from the position of powerlessness, humility and vulnerability and instead, we comprehensively fail, embedded as we are in a church flourishing among the established powers and principalities of the ruler of the world.

There is evident costliness to the process of Christian peacemaking whether on a global scale, or in our hearts, homes and churches.  Nor do the gospels offer us a figure marked by serenity and calmness, rather someone painfully aware of the costliness of his actions. 

Jesus knew he was contributing to the destruction of Jerusalem’s peace.  He had also called Judas as a disciple, which turned out to be a call to personal catastrophe, broken relationships and despair. Jesus could not avoid his own vulnerability nor the contradictions he offered to his friends and the world, his hard decisions disturbing the peace.  The divisions Jesus causes, demands we understand the quality and character of God’s peace offered to a deafened and unwilling people as we are today.   

Jesus’ irony, imagination, anger, despair, his anarchic wit, all stem from his struggle to make visible to all what is so visible it needs no description; yet escapes all description.  When he cries out against the obstinate foolishness of those listening, it’s because he has exhausted the resources of language and imagery, with their lack of imagination and inability to see anything beyond the present; with no impact in communicating to people about what is in front of their faces, but remains invisible.

Jesus is a man profoundly not at home with his world, or his friends; he was a singularly unpeaceful person.  There was no peace for him on earth, in the present order.  His isolation is not smoothed over; all is not well.  His faith is weightier and darker.  His peace is almost impossible for us to bear while alive to this world.

Yes, the eucharist is the visionary sacrament of peace, the foretaste of peacefully abiding with the Messiah, but the price of sitting together in unity are the echoes of division and the arguments of the crucifixion, the painful grief-filled remembering an unpeaceful end to an unpeaceful life. 

I think our peace is only authentic when the world’s peace is broken, exposed as false dualism.  When we find ourselves arguing for war with those ‘others’ who are violent or abusive, or the wrong race, faith, gender who we reject; and, when the passive consensus chosen by Caiaphas and the church has been so upset it brings out the incipient violence against whatever disturbs it. 

We see this in parishes everywhere: the inability to refrain from violence, the exercise of power, no control of bullying and violence with sisters and brothers.  I think Jesus’ peace can only exist when such a crisis is provoked.  His own uneasiness, his unpeacefulness is that kind of persistent questioning.  He becomes the intemperate, ultimate ‘disturber of the peace’ like all questioners and challengers of un-moral truths, power, oppression, and over who controls the ‘peace’.   How much of this peace can we, the world, or our church bear, before we arm ourselves again like the world.  I suspect not much!

Jesus is, Bonhoeffer says, ‘edged out’ to the cross.  As Jesus’ followers, we too are squeezed out of our safe religious parameters into a new community without familiar constructs.  The Church should be what is rejected by societies as they struggle with the challenge of God’s peace. 

Rowan Williams writes no social or political order is equipped to contain this challenge of peace. Each of us is doomed to varying degrees of defensiveness, aggression and division, and the Church will always be tipped out one way or another, depending on who’s peace we’re copying or offering. 

For the Church proclaims God’s peace best when it is least preoccupied with maintaining a bland consensus with society, when it is most ready to be uneasy, disturbing, constructively suspicious, generating its own protest groups.  It gathers around the Eucharistic table to hold together the present realities of the struggle.  This makes the present time full of tension as we reflect on Jesus’ peace in an unpeaceful world.  He was an unpeaceful man in his life and in his death.  We ask what is the peace he gives to us?   Arundhati Roy said:

The trouble is, that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.  And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out.  There’s no innocence.  Either way, you’re accountable.

Vaclav Havel’s description of being a ‘Disturber of the Peace’ arose from his experience of championing democracy and a just peace against the Czechoslovakian Communist regime. Havel described discovering he was a disturber of peace by simply being alive, and importantly, by being ‘awake’ as a human being, accepting he thought differently to the people in power in his country where they controlled all aspects of life.  He reflected how easy it is for people to look away, choosing the temptation to maintain the status quo to live an easier life; following the authoritarian regime’s unwritten ground rules and not asking questions.  

Any unease we have at being, like Jesus, disturbers of the peace, cannot be relieved by trying to fit into the world, finding acceptable ways of not disturbing the peace of the other, by limiting our power, dimming our capacity or refusing to challenge systems and structures which constrain our presence in direct denial of why we are sent into the world as Christians.

Jesus repeatedly shows us his Way for peace.  When faced with two choices, he always found a third, a Jesus Way.  The Gospel stories highlight the escalating violence and incipient fear raised against him; the awkward questions which were designed to trip him up and make others choose sides against him.  With Jesus’ responses, the ‘sides’ disappear and we discover we can choose active peace-making through living his Way.  When the parish or the world’s bullies and their toxic behaviours purposefully seek to drive people into taking sides and escalate the conflict, our response should always be to find the Jesus’ Way. 

As Christians involved in humanity’s revolt against the world’s lies and threats, our commitment to trust God remains. This is a moral act, we pay dearly for it, and it is not self-serving.  When we choose Jesus’ Way, staying silent or speaking out, both prophetic and political, it clearly tells others whom we follow.

In this critique, we acknowledge our Church’s tradition of firmly being part of the establishment, constrained by its rules, traditions, practices, along colonial, gendered, racial, and wealth intersections. These are visible along God’s Christlike Way in our active engagement in the world. 

We find ourselves confronted and outraged by Jesus’ own profound refusal to give way to the threats of violence as a disturber of the peace. The idea we can find peace based on this world’s comprehensively enmeshed military presence in all our systems, laws, structures and beliefs, including our religious systems is simply ludicrous. We deceive ourselves and those around us. God’s uncomfortable truth must be spoken. We must remember our own prophetic responsibilities.

Jesus enters conflict as a calm presence, not drawn into the frenzy and violence underpinning our lives. His presence changes the dynamic, offering a different model of peace; Spirit-led and peaceful amidst the anxiety and anger of a crowd, Jesus witnesses without taking sides and attracts attention as being different.  He becomes the scapegoat, the lightening rod for the rage people direct at each other.   Christ-like God carries the violence of human rage grounding his death. Raised as the forgiving victim he reveals God’s unconquerable life in the peace he creates.

We attain this Christlike peace in Jesus’ Way.  In our homes, churches and between polarizing worlds, we find God’s peaceful, liminal place, alongside Jesus in witness to God’s truth: all are created equal and beloved.  We are emptied out in faith to God, becoming peacemakers in this polarizing world, where we refuse the choice to be polarized, choosing Jesus’ Way living peacefully in, through and alongside God.

We must now practice being peace-makers over the smallest and largest of conflicts and disputes.  A peace which bears Christ’s body and blood is created with justice, love, hope, with humility, vulnerability, courage and a commitment to walk with Christ to the very end of his Way, while we are threatened with resurrection.   Thank you.

Bibliography

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Freire P. 1993.  Pedagogy of the Oppressed. England, Penguin Books.

Havel, V. 1978.  The Power of the Powerless.  London, Penguin Random House UK

Havel, V.  1991.   Disturbing the Peace.  London, Vintage.

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Williams, R. 2005.  The Truce of God.  UK and USA.  Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 

Woods, M.J.  2022.  Practising Peace.  Theology, Contemplation, and Action.  Oregon, USA. Wipf & Stock.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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