“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” – Jesus, as recorded by Matthew in the sermon on the mount (Matt 5:9)
I have read this verse since I became a Christian in college. Although I wasn’t always sure exactly how to do this, I knew that to create peace in situations was a good thing. I tried – goodness I tried – but without knowing the skill of peacemaking, I went down the road of assuming it meant harmony in relationships and everyone being “ok” (read: not mad at each other or disagreeing), which as you know is pretty impossible. In my head it also meant shrinking back and not saying anything so that I could avoid conflict (read: absence of conflict=peace)… again, something that is not always true. I’m pretty sure neither are what Jesus really meant.
The other night I attended a peacemaking workshop with the college and career group at my church. Whereas I had already gone to a peacemaking seminar a while back, I wanted to know how to do something like this in smaller groups. I was blown away by how well the facilitator helped everyone that attended navigate and process how we all define empathy, identify our own biases, and how we tend to see ‘the other side’. For the first time in my life I felt like someone was finally teaching a much needed skill, one that will help the next generation learn how to be be peacemakers in a world (and church) that is divided.
We all have things we feel passionately about, don’t we? I’m not talking about your favorite football team or band, being a wine aficionado or car guru though. I’m talking about issues, whether political, theological, ethnical, or moral. Those things that make you nuts when you read about them in the news, the things that tend to cause family spats at holidays or make you want to get off social media when opinions fly at election time. Perhaps they divide churches or in some areas, make people question the authenticity of your faith when you mention them. Maybe they are the conversations that always cause division with your coworkers so you just avoid the subject.
Have you ever thought about how (and why) you came to such a strong position on a particular issue?
Maybe it’s what you were taught growing up, in your family or your church. Maybe it’s a reaction to something you have walked through, or something you think is important for the next generation. It might be born out of a country from which you immigrated, or something you deem necessary for thriving in this country. It could stem from your desire for freedom, your deep care of people, or your need for protection.
I know I have had to dig deep to ask myself those questions, as my husband and I quickly learned we were opposite on some of the issues in the last election. We grew up completely opposite in just about every way – he an immigrant from a war torn country, me a child of a military officer that has never questioned where my next meal was coming from. We both value education, helping others, have strong work ethics, and have worked hard to get where we are in life. We agree on foundational things in life. Yet learning how to navigate conversation in a way that keeps us both from getting defensive on the touchy subjects has been a valuable skill. “Help me understand why you feel that way?” became the best question in my marriage at the time … and it still is!
Since I’m a huge proponent of sharing what I’ve learned, I’d like to offer an exercise that the facilitator shared. You you can do by yourself, with a friend, or with a group, to hopefully build empathy and work towards peace in relationships around you:
1. Think about a few opinions you have or subjects that you are very passionate about. Write them down, but don’t show them to anyone.
2. Next, think about why you hold those views or are passionate about those things. Take time with this one.
3. Which one of the things you listed is perhaps the most divisive opinion?
4. Considering this most divisive one, without any filter, write down what you think about people that hold the opposite view (keep to yourself for now).
5. If you do this with others, write down the unfiltered things on pieces of paper and put them in a hat or bowl so that people cannot see what you put in
In our group, the facilitator had us all write down each of the words on a sticky note and stuck them all up on the board. You’d be surprised how many words overlapped:
– hateful / angry
– uneducated/unwilling to learn
6. Read together all the things you collectively wrote down. Resist the urge to try and figure out who wrote what or the issue you think they were writing about.
What we often do not take time to realize is that for those on the ‘other side’ of the fence of whatever subject often think these *exact* same things about us! (and as one person wisely observed…. those words sometimes used to BE us. That is a hard thing to admit to.)
7. If you are people of faith, think about the things that came up out of your heart, and let it sober you a bit as to whether or not there are things you need to face in your own heart attitude
Have you ever considered that people with opposing views to yours also probably have their view because of the very same reasons you have yours? It may be very well thought through, researched, and important. To put someone who thinks differently about you on any given issue on the ‘other side’ camp strips them of their humanity and makes them an issue. Especially for those of us that call ourselves followers of Jesus, we cannot sit in that space any longer. It isn’t healthy, it isn’t compassionate, and it isn’t peacemaking.
The work of peacemaking doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone. But it does mean we must be willing to hold space for both sides, and be curious about the other (and what we don’t understand). It doesn’t mean you have to compromise on what you hold, but by listening you may learn something you hadn’t thought of before.
We cannot deny the reality that reconciliation is needed between partners, families, coworkers, friends and across all other lines. In the past, perhaps it was covered over with niceties, overlooking and avoiding things, or just flat out avoidance and boundary setting. I’m not saying that kindness and boundaries are a bad thing, just that growing in skill to navigate conversation was never considered a valuable thing. It’s time to pay attention and begin to learn how to use them.
With a faith story that is built on the larger cosmic end goal of reconciliation of all things, to learn how to be peacemakers in small things is but one step towards the larger picture of seeing the kingdom of God on earth.
Here’s to being courageous peacemakers!
Thank you so much for this.