An advent of peace: Continuing the witness and waiting for God

Stephen Kriss
skriss@franconiaconference.org

steve.jpgPeace is every step. –Thich Nhat Hanh

Love bears all things, believes all things, love never fails.–Paul of Tarsus to the church at Corinth

At Franconia Conference Assembly, we annually commit ourselves to bear witness of nonresistant faith and to waiting for God to appear among us. It’s a ritual that I enjoy, even if at times the words seem a little awkward for my 21st Century mind and voice. I like the connection that brings us back annually to this commitment to witness and watch.

It seems it’s been easier to know how we’d manifest nonresistant witness in the past. We’d live simply, set apart and peaceably. In times of the draft in the 20th Century, we found alternative ways to serve that wouldn’t require us to bear the sword or shoulder a gun. We’ve born the label as a “Historic Peace Church” well but some of us have found this very “peace position” to be a stumbling block to opening our congregations to persons of other ethnicities and experiences. We’ve for some reason found the position of peace to be at odds with sharing the Good News of Christ’s coming into our world.

I think it’s time to call a truce. It’s time for those of us who have supposed either speaking the Good News or living the way of peace to be at odds to find ways to integrate and extend those same calls to witness and waiting. It’s time to turn our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. It’s time for us to cultivate relationships in the spirit of being the Good News the world is longing to hear by recognizing the possibilities of creating peace, embodying shalom not only for ourselves but even with our enemies. It’s peace that is beyond not going to war. It’s peace, as Jonathan Larson suggests in the Broadway musical Rent, that’s the opposite of war but actually creation.

Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minneapolis, was a presenter at a recent conference at Hesston College and worries that Mennonites are losing their sense of identity by succumbing to both liberal and conservative perspectives that impair our witness and discipleship. He identifies readily with being Mennonite, committed to both active peacemaking and active evangelism. But he’s worried that we aren’t holding these realities in tension or integration effectively and that our identity as a people is at stake.

I agree with Greg. I am also afraid that this Mennonite community that I love, that I found myself planted in after my post-hippie parents sought a faith community that embodied peaceableness and hospitality, won’t survive the pulls of postmodern life. World-renowned Mennonite peace educator John Paul Lederach suggests that building and cultivating peace takes imagination. Los Angeles-based Mennonite bishop Jeff Wright says that to have a future we must re-frame our reality.

At my ordination, my friend Heather Kropf from Pittsburgh sang a song from the 60’s, Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, start to love one another right now. Love is just a song we sing and fear is how we die. You can make the mountains ring or make the angels cry.

We know that the emphasis on peace and love are a hallmark of 60’s and 70’s spiritual and social awakening. But I have been wondering more and more if love isn’t what will move us through this strained relationship of peace and evangelism, of witnessing and watching.

Meister Eckhart suggests that whenever God is doing something, there is an outpouring of compassion, that our souls are stirred toward response. In these pages of Intersections, this Advent season, I see both witness and waiting for God to appear as we work to embody compassion and love.

There’s something creative in building shalom whether it’s in welcoming refugees from lands of political strife to live in the lands that William Penn deeded to us for the same purpose, observing possibilities for peace and hope in the Holy Land, or opening doors to those formerly perceived as enemies in South Philadelphia. We are continuing to bear witness, taking steps and moving toward peace and in peace by putting flesh and bones to the message of the Good News that God has come among us.