2012 Peace Camps: Love on a Local Scale, part 3

by Samantha Lioi, Minister of Peace & Justice

Ripple peace camp
Children from the neighborhood join in the Peace Camp held by Ripple Allentown. Photo by Angela Moyer.

What does Anabaptist witness look like?  It looks like a neighbor who listens in order to understand, learns from difference, and wants to join in God’s recreating what is broken.  In Allentown, we are slowly learning to know—and so to love—our neighbors.

Ripple-Allentown’s first go at a peace camp – three evenings, Wednesday through Friday – was full of important learning.  We showed up at Franklin Park, just behind St. Stephen’s Community Outreach Center in west Allentown, a park that is a center of play and activity and the location of the Peace Pole planted last year as part of marking Pastor Tom Albright’s ordination.

Each evening we played team-building games, created small works of art, and sat in a circle for a Scripture story and brief discussion using the “Peace Scarf” – a variation on a talking stick and an effort to practice listening to each other.  Only the child with the scarf was to speak, and “if you don’t have the scarf, it’s your turn to…” “Listen!” they answered.

We followed Salford’s structure of learning to respect differences, learning small ways to care for creation, and imagining creative ways to address conflicts.  After the Scripture story each evening as we sat cross-legged on blankets covering the blacktop, we passed the Blessing Cup—a small ceramic chalice designated for this purpose.  Each evening as I poured the white grape juice, I reminded us that this was a sign that God loves us more than we can imagine and wants us to learn to love each other and God’s world, too.  Each evening we repeated a phrase as each child took a sip.  The children participated and remembered the phrases from previous nights.

Ripple peace camp
Children at Ripple’s Peace Camp learned techniques for addressing conflict peacefully. Photo by Angela Moyer.

But the last night, the time focused on learning to address conflict peacefully, there was mild mutiny around the Blessing Cup.  I had told the story of Peter visiting the house of the centurion, Cornelius, a man who represented the violent oppression of Peter’s people and an unclean Gentile besides.  We talked through a modern example of a police officer coming to take one of the girls’ older brother away when he hadn’t done anything—and, even given a bad history between police and the Black American community, somehow showing love and living peaceably with that officer.  “The Spirit of Jesus brings peace between enemies,” we said together.

But this time, it didn’t take.  When we’d spoken about alternatives to fighting, very few of the children had ideas, and one of the boys was especially insistent that all he could do was hit someone who challenged him.

“The Spirit of Jesus brings peace between enemies.”

Except that night the idea of sharing a cup was particularly distasteful, and a couple kids passed it up, beginning a trend.

“The Spirit of Jesus brings peace between enemies.”

Another child passed the cup without drinking.

“The Spirit of Jesus brings peace between enemies.”

I felt the discomfort of learning the hard way, and the irony was not lost on me.  We were passing a common cup, and most of us were opting out.  The church is not unfamiliar with such opting out when things are uncomfortable, unusual, or tense.  Why had I expected that these kids, who see or experience violence regularly, would feel that they had alternatives?  Why did I expect them to immediately accept a good news that requires them to take real bodily risks that I know little about?  I learned more about my neighbors in those three days than I had for many months of living in Allentown.  Loving them—and loving them enough to be publicly peaceable among them—will mean knowing them even better.

Each congregation moves closer to Jesus as we meet our neighbors where they are, at the point of their uniqueness as God’s deeply loved children, and at the point of their need.  As we see them for who they are, we also touch places of our own need, of our own weakness, and of our participation in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus.  This Jesus strips fear of its power, walks with the smallest among us as they learn their strength to do what is right, and teaches us as we move out to speak peace and   learn peace among our neighbors.

Samantha would love to hear from you!  For more information about holding your own Peace Camp, or to share ways that your congregation is living justice and peace in your community, or to request resources on peace, justice, and conflict resolution, contact samantha@interculturalchurch.com.

← Previously, Philadelphia Praise Center