Years ago, as I was only embarking upon my peacemaking journey, I sat with a mentor on a porch overlooking the Rocky Mountains. We were in an hours-long conversation about shalom. Playing devil’s advocate, he pushed on my every thought about peace: what it required, what it looked like, whether it was the same as justice or something far more.
The conversation, equal parts exhilarating and discouraging, zeroed in on the point with one question: “What do you mean when you speak of peace?”
I didn’t know what to say.
Recognizing that his young mentee was in a necessary moment of dis-equilibrium, the mentor smiled, sat back, gestured toward the meadows and aspen groves and to the mountains looming in the distance. With a seasoned sarcasm, he said, “This is peace, is it not?”
On the one hand, I couldn’t help but to agree. My experience in that moment matched what I had learned about peace as a young, white, Evangelical faith leader. I was in a beautiful place, relaxed, on a spiritual retreat, and among good friends. There was no conflict that I could see, hear, or read about. All seemed “right” in the world…or at least on the porch of that particular cabin.
But on the other hand, I knew that peace meant something far more than the general experience of tranquil stability or absence of conflict. I knew that the very moment of “peace” that we were experiencing in the mountains was likely, at the same time, a moment of terror for countless friends around the country and world.
I knew this because I had arrived to the mountains having just left encounters with pain. A month prior, I had been in the epicenter of the very complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict where I had experienced, first hand, the trauma of this decades-old struggle. Just a week before, I had been in the borderlands between San Diego and Tijuana where I had encountered the trauma of Central American migrants, Latino deportees, Haitian asylum seekers, and Syrian refugees. Closer yet, I had just traveled to the mountain lodge from my home in San Francisco’s East Bay where the divide between the black and white communities was growing dangerously wide and where conflict between my neighbors was destabilizing the neighborhood.
While I was at ease on that porch that evening, my life and work had me in the thick of conflict in my own neighborhood, within my country, and throughout the world. My experiences had convinced me that the peace that God waged in Jesus resulted in something far bigger than a sense of calm and stability for the privileged.
But to define it? I was stumped.
With the patience of a sage, he listened to my silence and then watched me continue to wrestle an eloquent, convincing definition of peace into existence.
At long last, once my attempts had expired, he offered this counsel:
Everyone defines peace differently. The vision for peace that you have is holistic and has the potential to inspire people of faith to embody it in ways that will change the world. But your definition needs to flow from the Scriptures. Start with the cross and then work to define what it is that you’re hoping to bring to life in the midst of our divided world.
With that, the conversation concluded. I had work to do.
Click HERE to read Part 2.
This is part 1 of 4 of an article that was modified from my book, Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World and recently published in Fuller Magazine. Check out this short VIDEO to learn more about Mending the Divides.