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 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.
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.)