Why I’m not praying for peace

I’m not praying for peace.

For months now, my husband and I have been watching the news coverage about the protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting death of Micheal Brown. We have family near that area. They’re a little nervous and have said that they are avoiding crowded areas. It’s not that they expect to be personally targeted, but if violence breaks out, uninvolved, violence-shunning people can be caught in the crossfire and hurt. (A bullet doesn’t have to be deliberately aimed at a particular person to kill her or him.)

So, theoretically, I could be praying for peace, a quick squelching of protest, an iron hand clamping down on any violence–whatever could protect my loved ones.

I’m not.

I hear anger, and I think I understand and sympathize as well as a sheltered white woman can understand and sympathize. (Which isn’t much, but I’m trying.) Another young black man has been killed by an older white police officer. A life has been ended—violently ended, one of a long line of young black men to lose their lives in a brutal, bloody way.

I hear anger on both sides, defenders and detractors of both men expressing deep emotions.

I hear sorrow and grief, frustration and anger.

I see conflict.

It makes me uncomfortable. I’m not naturally a confrontational person; I run from fights, wave the white flag, grovel like a coward.

When our church was splitting, I prayed for peace and reconciliation. It didn’t occur to me that they aren’t the same thing.

I prayed for peacemakers to bring opposing parties together, but what I really wanted was peacekeepers. They’re not the same thing, either.

This time, I’m not praying for peace.

Not our culturally normal version of peace, at least. That’s a truce: a silent, smoothed surface over bubbling hostilities.

The silence allows wounds to fester, hurts to be inflicted, patterns of wrong behavior to continue without restraint because no one is held accountable and no one speaks (or is allowed to speak) of the issues.

The silence promotes stereotypes, each side becoming more entrenched in their initial views of the other, each side refusing to listen, refusing to forgive, refusing to see the other as human.

We all pretend everything’s okay, pack up and go home and preserve a polite, nice demeanor.

We quote Jesus, “blessed are the peacemakers” and forget his fiery confrontation of hypocrites.

We notice that peace is a fruit of the Spirit and don’t notice that nice and polite aren’t on the list.

We keep the peace. We don’t make it.

Nothing changes.

I’m not praying for that perversion of peace. I shouldn’t.

Making true peace between people is a messy process, a long process (particularly when the conflict is centuries old).

  • We have to listen.
  • We have to listen to what is truly said, and not what we think is said.
  • We have to hear the good and the bad and the uncomfortable.
  • We have to listen to our own faults, no matter whether the language is crude, the articulation unskillful, and the manner condemning.
  • We have to listen, and extend grace and forgiveness and ask for forgiveness for our wrongs, even when the other person is unwilling to do the same. Maybe they will in the future. We don’t know. But we can take that first step.

That type of peacemaking doesn’t look like walking away from the fight. Rather, we embrace the fight—not physical violence, but a fight that grapples with the problem and refuses to give up until it’s resolved, no matter how wounded we are.

It reconciles people. It builds relationships. It promotes understanding. It allows for disagreement and differences because we respect one another and never lose sight of this one thing we all have in common: we are human.

That’s what I’m praying for.


 

(Note: I hope it’s obvious that I’m NOT saying we should attempt to reconcile with abusive people. That wouldn’t be safe or healthy. Sometimes peacemaking isn’t possible with certain individuals; I’m sure we can all think of situations where that is true. But generally, I think that we should try to make peace with others when possible, particularly when the issue is bigger than individuals and extends into society, as it does with racial conflict. I wanted to make that clear.) 

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5 thoughts on “Why I’m not praying for peace

  1. Laura, thank you for this–a most succinct, sensitive call to all of us to want something more than what we typically settle for. We settle for ‘calm’ or ‘quiet’ enforced with a no-talk rule and wistfully hope that it is taken care of all the while knowing the abcess of this type of settlement with burst with the next incident.

    Sometimes I think we live in an almost Mad Magazine reality where we very naievly think that what we say is what people hear, and that if we say it loud enough they will hear it better. Hard experience tells me the art of true conflict resolution lies in more listening, less talking–listening without judgment is the only way doors can be opened to those whose context of experience is a shared suffering with perhaps hundreds of years of familial and community experience.

    I find it fascinating that in Isaiah God invites sinners into a conversation of ‘reason’ with HIm–what reason can we offer, and yet His affirmation to us is that He will listen and value what we say. If the Church at the individual, and then corporate level, ever learns to invite others into those type of conversations, I think societal healing has a chance as individuals are truly reconciled within the context of true Christian peacemaking.

    Thank you for writing, for caring enough to write,

    Rick

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    1. Rick, thank you for reading and commenting. I like how you brought in the book of Isaiah.

      It’s strange to me that people think shouting helps others to understand. When I was training to be an ESL teacher, we were told, “If the student doesn’t understand, speaking louder isn’t going to help. Slow down. Enunciate clearly. Use different, simpler words. The English learners aren’t deaf; they just don’t know English.” The same is true for communication with others in general. If someone else doesn’t understand, we shouldn’t get angry and metaphorically shout at them. (No matter how gratifying to my flesh it feels!) Listen, see what words they use and how they perceive issues, and by respecting the other person’s voice, earn the chance to speak.

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  2. Laura, I learned from a good friend and former pastor to be quick to ask this question: “Why do you think that” or “Why do you believe that?” in a non-threatening way. I have found it to be a great conversation-extender. Asking someone why, especially kids (I teach high school) brings immediate affirmation when asked in a non-threatening way. It is the ultimate act of condescension to tell or assume why someone feels a certain way.

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  3. I admire how you turn around platitudes (as well-intentioned as they are, i.e. “pray for peace”) and bravely discuss a different perspective, Laura! You’re a true inspiration and a true writer.

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