Here’s a must-read guest blog by my friend Jer Swigart. This is a little about him before you read the post….
Through diverse friendship, shared tables, innovative training, and creative storytelling, Jer Swigart guides people out of the quandary of equational living and into the simple rhythms of Jesus. He’s the pioneer and Directional Leader of Open Door, a subversive Jesus Community known for its distinct practices and engaged presence within the neighborhoods of San Francisco’s East Bay and the Co-Founder of The Global Immersion Project, an international organization that cultivates everyday peacemakers through immersion in global conflict.
When peace is simplistically defined as “tranquility” one could conclude that it’s attainable through displays of power.
Here’s what I mean…
On a micro-scale, the schoolyard bully experiences peace (tranquility) when he successfully establishes his place on top of the pecking order through the occasional lunch-money heist and knuckle sandwich. On a macro-scale, the nation-state experiences peace (tranquility) when it establishes its alpha status by demonstrating its military dominance.
Peace, when defined poorly, can generate dangerous behavior: in order for peace to prevail, power must be wielded. Sadly, consequence history proves that when power is wielded at least two peoples are produced: the victors and the oppressed. Whenever and wherever these two peoples exist, the victors cry out for peace (usually in the form of exterior tranquility) while the oppressed cry out for justice, dignity, and human rights.
2000 years ago, as peace spread via Roman militarism, occupation, and imperial religion, God put flesh on and moved into our neighborhood. With the cries of “Justice, Dignity, & Rights!” ringing in the air, Jesus climbed a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee and offered His action plan.
He shocked the crowds with his first statement: Blessed are the poor in Spirit.
“Powerlessness is the Way of the Kingdom. It’s the only Way forward.”
Then, within two breaths, he followed up with: Blessed are the Peacemakers.
“Heirs of the Creator are those who give themselves to the holistic repair of broken relationships.”
Peace, according to Jesus, is not about an individual’s personal experience of tranquility but rather is about the complete restoration of a broken relationship. It’s not accomplished through the demonstration of power but through micro-level acts of creative powerlessness. Peacemaking, therefore, is not the esoteric stuff of idealism but is gritty, costly, subversive, relational, practical, creative, and everyday.
A few months ago, I was in the West Bank sitting in the backyard of a Palestinian Christian friend who has recently begun an afterschool program for the youth in his village. Our Learning Community had just spent the day working alongside his staff that is committed to developing peacemakers through the vehicles of music, sport, and art.
As we settled into a conversation about his neighborhood, I asked him to tell me of the genesis of his program. The story he told redefined for me what peacemaking is and who peacemakers are.
With a spark in His eye, he remembered out loud the stories of his parents and grandparents who had enjoyed sport and music, dance and poetry. Having grown up in the West Bank, he remembered playing soccer in the streets with the neighborhood boys by day and serenading the neighborhood girls by night. Slowly, however, he told of how the soccer matches had ceased and how the sound of young voices singing to one another had grown quiet. Instead, he noticed that, rather than playing soccer, the boys were playing war and, rather than singing, the sounds of aggressive arguments filled the air.
He went on to talk about economic condition of his village and how poverty had limited the teaching of music, sport and art in the neighborhood schools. As he got curious with the neighborhood kids, he discovered that they were growing up with an unproductive restlessness, an unhealthy perspective of Israelis, and calcified imaginations about the future. They wanted justice, dignity, and human rights and believed that the only way they could get it was through violence. They had no creative outlets to process their experience of living between the Separation Wall and the military checkpoints so they practiced war in the streets.
My friend knew that the kids in his village were on a trajectory toward cyclical violence and that the time had come for him to do something about it. So he and his wife got creative…literally.
It began with a small group of kids in their living room learning a simple song, followed by creative writing, storytelling, and drawing, and concluding with a soccer match in the streets. Word got out quickly that something of redemptive value was going on in their living room and, within a week, they had a couple hundred kids lining up to become creatives. Today, over five hundred neighborhood kids are learning to process out their experience of growing up in the West Bank in healthy, redemptive ways, an entire generation is being trained in the creative practices of everyday peacemaking in the Way of Jesus with one another and “the other”, and an entire village is beginning to cease demonizing & dehumanizing those whom they once referred to as “enemy.”
Rarely is choosing the Way of peace glamorous or convenient. When we reintegrate peacemaking back into our vocation as Jesus Followers we discover that the practices of everyday peacemaking begin to surface not at a national or political level, but at a micro, neighborhood, everyday level. It’s when we live, fueled by His Spirit, in the everyday peacemaking Way of Jesus that the ripple effects move through our neighborhoods and gradually form into tidal waves that reshape the contours of our global village.
What might the ripple effects be within your everyday contexts and beyond if you were to embrace your vocation as an everyday peacemaker? What might it look like for you to follow Jesus into conflict and violence with compassion rather than pain?
It’s choosing to see rather than look away. It’s sitting with and asking questions that help you enter into the narrative of another. It’s identifying the issues that are limiting the flourishing of our kids and then showing up as a part of the solution. It’s advocating for the voiceless victims of unfair systems.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” Will you join me as one who contends for the holistic repair of relationships in the everyday contexts of our lives? According to Jesus, those who do so are called “sons and daughters of God.”