I have been thinking about Jesus’ vision of peace this Advent and really, throughout the year. I trust that most of us have been thinking through our own various understandings of peace similarly. As we all know, it’s been quite the year. We read some form of this list everyday: societal and political division, gun-violence, terrorist violence, domestic violence, the tragic stories we come across in the countless forms of platforms and personal interactions we experience each day and so, so much more. It’s maddening.
The human part of us asks, “Is peace really possible?” We also wonder if it’s really just a matter of time and probability before we are one of the sad statistics. We wonder how it all got like this and how we can keep ourselves and our loved ones living in peace. Being on the safe side of the statistic is not living in peace and nor should we conflate peace with safety.
Further, peace in the heart is more than the absence of pain or a healthy enough mental state to not let our challenges bother us. Living a problem-free life does not actually give you peace.
While I would love to live such a life, peace is more than that. I believe the type of peace Jesus describes is the peace of God’s presence felt near. It’s in this presence that we can experience confidence in the mist of painful challenging circumstances. It’s in God’s nearness that my brokenness can experience redemption. It’s in God’s hands that I can take comfort in the fact that my restless and anxious heart can believe that God really is at work now and ultimately to one day bring justice and rightness to all things. This too invites the heart to experience peace.
The previous post finished by asking if our enemies, near and far, could experience our peace?
It’s such a loaded question, admittedly. And I probably wouldn’t bother too much with it had Jesus not called us to love our neighbors and our enemies. In reality, all of us want to avoid the simplistic, cliched actions that we often bump against when we try to love all with our best efforts. But all too often we trip over our veiled intentions, our fake kind voice, and we nauseate ourselves sick as we smile through our gritted teeth. Yeah, that’s not love, nor will that bring any form of real and lasting peace.
I believe to truly love our enemies, rivals, close ones we have complicated relationships with requires a reliance on the supernatural. It doesn’t make sense to my limited heart to express this love to someone that is against me, but God being the God of the impossible can help me navigate through the intricacy.
It’s here where peace for the other is often found and can also be extended.
For most of us, our reach to love our enemies is short. It seems Jesus intended exactly this. While it’s possible to show love to our enemy living thousands of miles away and we should give that appropriate thought, we also must show love to those we interact with on a daily basis. How do I show love and peace in person, on social media, or by what I represent as an Egyptian-American man serving as a pastor in the Northeast corridor of the U.S.?
I’m finishing this year with the conclusion that unity and peace will not arrive through debate, rhetoric and conquering our ideological opponents. If you read my previous blog or if it came up in personal conversation, you might have heard me go on and on about the need to reclaim the notion of being the peacemakers Jesus spoke about. Every present moment seems urgent to the ones experiencing it, and I’m including us here. I cannot think of a more needed time to be peacemakers in our world.
What does this notion of peacemaking mean in everyday life though? For instance, what does this mean on social media? If we take our role as peacemakers seriously, then should we share content on social media? Because every time one does, it’s often met with either a passive-aggressive anger, an outright anger, a condescending redirection and/or other forms of what we describe as “unhelpful behavior.” Then if you like it, someone comes along and accuses as being part of the “echo-chamber.” It’s why so many have unplugged or are grudgingly still connected.
There are limits to what we can actually do but we can show love and peace by honoring the other by sincerely listening, sincerely reading, sincerely trying to understand what the other is really trying to express. This typically means we have to spend time clarifying with each other, asking questions, re-exaimining our own presuppositions, and if we’re being honest here, it usually means we’re going to find ourselves feeling misunderstood, insulted, under-appreciated, feeling weak and lesser, and our attempt at “humility” will go largely unnoticed. This is part of the experience of being that type of a peacemaker.
The other part is that you offer a vision for a world that you sincerely believe is better. So if you really believe in the content you are sharing, then sincerely share away. But it’s more than sharing content. It’s gong to be about our tone, our true motivations, our true regard for the other. It’s that we want the other to experience this love and peace Jesus describes and we want to be part of the expression ourselves.
I don’t see this as something that one can do by the thousands (but perhaps I lack the imagination for this). The best expression of this is more in our one-to-one interactions and as it pertains to social media, greater intentionality on how we not only present our convictions, beliefs and expressions, but how we present our souls. We can’t get it right every time, we’re not divine. Nor can we get it right with every person, because you know, we’re all human. But we can do better, much better.
This peace we desire will not come from conquered the other with our links, memes and even our thoughtful rhetoric but we’ll get closer as we show the other, whether it be our ideological enemy or our dear friend the love and peace Jesus describes.
Thanks for reading. I’m aiming to post more on the nuances on it all but all the best this New Year’s – grace and peace as you enter 2018.