Peacemaking Is a Grassroots Movement
Why it's time to stop outsourcing peace to political parties.
I was sitting with a friend of mine a few months ago discussing the work of peacemaking as a central calling to those of us that follow in the ways of Jesus. He and his family live in the West Bank and daily experience the weight of military occupation and oppression. Even though his family owns their land, they are not allowed to build any structures above the ground. They had recently erected tents to host local children for a summer camp promoting reconciliation, and even those had been destroyed by the occupying military.
Rather than fighting back with violence or getting so discouraged that they withdraw, his family got creative. Because they can’t build above ground, they decided to build below. Now they have caves throughout their property where children and teenagers are being taught vocational skills and the practices that make for peace. He is the type of modern day hero that doesn’t make any headlines or is given any medals of honor, but by the standards of the Kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate, he is a hero. Our conversation concluded with him saying, “Yes, we live surrounded by those who claim to be our enemies, but we refuse to be enemies. As followers of Jesus, we have no other choice but to see them as our brothers and sisters.”
Jesus says some stuff in the inaugural speech of his ministry that really upsets the status quo of both the religious and non-religious. In essence, he says, “If you are to follow me as King of this newly inaugurated Kingdom of God, you will need to start loving your enemies as much as yourself. You will need to start getting creative in how you deal with your oppressors in order to choose the way of love and reconciliation rather than the way of revenge and contempt. In fact, when you live as peacemakers, you best reflect what it looks like to be children of God. Those of you that choose this way of life will be blessed.”
A few years later—after Jesus has been announcing the good news of the Kingdom through both word and deed—he looks over Jerusalem and begins to weep. Here is the people and the city that is to symbolize right relationship with God and humanity. It is to be a place of shalom where salvation flows through all aspects of life. It is to be the city of peace. Instead, Jesus stands on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city and laments, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”
Finally, Jesus, as king, messiah and deliverer models this way of life to the point of death on a cross. Refusing to accept the lure of power through military might or pursuing peace through violence, Jesus embodies the life of suffering and self-sacrifice that he is calling his followers to emulate. Jesus, as the ultimate peacemaker, shows us that the life and work of peacemaking isn’t some fairy tale euphoria, but the gritty, subversive and sacrificial life of faithfulness to a God and kingdom that lives by a different standard than the systems and powers of the world.
Choosing the way of peace is not glamorous, soft or easy. It is subversive, gritty and requires that everyday we reorient our lives around the Prince of Peace. One peacemaker recently told me, “Those who choose non-violence expose themselves to the most violence.”
We live in a culture that associates bravery and bravado with war making and violence. I would argue that creatively living into our vocation as everyday peacemakers not only requires more bravery and bravado, it requires faithfulness and trust in the Good News of Jesus in the most real and tangible ways. My friend, Lynne Hybels says that peacemaking is the most clear form of discipleship.
As humans designed for right relationship with God and others, we have to take this seriously. In Jesus death and resurrection as first born of New Creation, we have each been given a new identity as Resurrection people who are to live as agents of reconciliation.
Peacemaking has been disintegrated from our understanding of the gospel. It has been stigmatized and outsourced rather than embraced and embodied. Living as everyday peacemakers allows us to fully embrace our Resurrection identity as New Creation and reintegrates our role as reconcilers back into our understanding of the gospel.
The work of peacemaking doesn’t just happen on an international, political level; it happens in our neighborhoods. It can no longer be outsourced to politicians. Peacemaking is a grassroots movement that begins to sow seeds of hope that ripple positively into our global village.
What does it look like to be a presence of reconciliation in your neighborhood? What might it mean to follow Jesus into conflict with initiatives of hope rather than withdrawing out of fear?
It’s looking into the eyes of the woman and child without a home and acknowledging their dignity. It’s having that conversation with your friend or family member that will finally clear enough space for your relationship to begin the road to healing. It’s asking the hard questions of the impact of your business decisions on those outside of your direct contact. It’s giving a voice to those that don’t have one on your neighborhood councils, business groups and rec centers. It’s choosing to first and foremost view “the other” through the lens of a shared humanity.
In the end, choosing to live as peacemakers may expose us to the most violence. But with Jesus as the ultimate peacemaker, we understanding that peace can only truly be made real as we follow in the sacrificial Way of the Cross. And when we live into this reality, we rediscover again what it truly means to be human.