Last spring, the Eastern District and Franconia Conference Peace and Justice Committee sent invitations to our congregations for any member, young or old, to write reflections on “Walking in the Way of Peace.” We weren’t sure what response we would receive, but we offered this as one way for people to consider and express how their experience of following Jesus in everyday life led them to reconciling conversations, or choices supporting justice for vulnerable people, or perhaps what tensions they felt in trying to live Christ’s peace. As it turned out, the best submissions did speak of struggle and uneasiness – especially the conflicted feeling of desiring the well-being and fullness of life God intends for us and all creation, and cringing in our awareness of our own part in continuing the gap between God’s dream and our present reality. Thanks be to God that we are not left alone in acknowledging the gap, but live with the Spirit within us, moving among us to create peace that eclipses human understanding! May these two honest reflections feed our common hope in the Prince of Peace, who comes to us in weakness and poverty–that the glory of the Lord would be revealed, and all people would see it together.
Why “walking in the way of peace” requires grace
by Michael A. Meneses, Wellspring Church of Skippack
People hurt people. There is no exception. There are a thousand and one ways in which we hurt one another. And we’re all guilty. We alienate and exclude, and distance ourselves; we give them the silent treatment or rudely dismiss them as inadequate and unimportant; we label and ridicule or nurture distain in our hearts for them; we assume superiority over them, we indulge in profiling and pre-judgment, we take advantage of them, manipulate, cheat, lie, and steal from them, and so-on and so-forth. And so, many become wary, careful in relationships, afraid to get too close, fearful of vulnerability, quietly building invisible protective walls against others.
As such, given our present human condition, walking in the way of peace is contrary to our nature. Why? Upon eating the forbidden fruit, the human race declared war against God, as well as against each other. Each of us in one form or another has declared ourselves a god in our own right in defiance of our Creator. This is reflected in our power struggles with one another. We want our own way. When we don’t get it? It’s fight or flight. That’s our real human nature.
Because of this, walking in the way of peace actually begins with the honest acknowledgement that relationships are dangerous. Conflict, disagreements and hurt, offenses-given and offenses-taken, are a regular occurrence in our day-to-day relations with others. When relationships go awry, many find it much easier to drop the relationship (fight or flight) rather than stay committed to the way of love and its hard work of constructive engagement for peace building. Thus, walking in the way of peace can be quite a challenge.
Furthermore, genuine peace is not merely the absence of open conflict between two parties. For example, there can be much pain and agony between people even where there is no apparent conflict: silent hurt feelings, quiet misunderstandings, and self-righteous accusatory judgment, for example. Real Biblical peace, Shalom, is actively concerned for one’s neighbor, for his or her fulfillment and completion, soundness and wholeness, serenity and tranquility, success and prosperity. If two neighbors passively live side-by-side in distrust and with silent resentment toward each other, and never speak a word to each other unless necessary, there is no real shalom in that neighborhood.
Neither is walking in the way of peace a matter of becoming a doormat to avoid conflict. Seeking wholeness, one-ness, and completeness for all, including one’s self, is a deliberate choice to stay connected and negotiate in and through conflict in order to find a harmonious solution as much as is humanly possible (Romans 12:18). Being a deliberate intent to respect, care for, and consider the needs and interests of “the other,” while at the same time respecting one’s own needs and interests, walking in the way of peace maintains a self-integrity without fabricated self-effacement, a kind of false humility. Avoiding conflict through disingenuous self-denial is motivated out of fear or cowardliness rather than genuine strength of character that is willing to stand for what is true, right, or good. Such avoidance has little integrity and does little to address the actual source of conflict.
All this is not only difficult, it is next to impossible. It takes super human strength. It’s beyond human nature. It therefore requires God’s grace, the work of the Holy Spirit within us, and a ready submission to Christ’s Lordship and Authority in our lives. It requires God’s unconditional love working its way in and through us, toward others. And though we don’t always get it right, we must always keep trying. For it is the way God expands His Kingdom-Rule among us.