For the past five years, the Presbyterian Church has designated the weeks leading up to World Communion Sunday as a Season of Peace. We are encouraged to use this period from now until October 2 as a time to learn about, to pray about and to act on “the things that make for peace”. This a surely a challenge, fifteen years after the catastrophic events of 9/11, when we see so much anger and fear-mongering, fighting and conflict in our communities, in our nation and around the world.
In thinking about the work of peace, I return often to the words of Doug Baker, a long-time PC(USA) mission worker with years of experience in peace-building in Ireland. A few years back, Doug wrote:
The word “peace” is often used in a primarily negative way, meaning the end of war or the absence of fighting. But when peace is spoken of in the Bible, it derives its meaning from the Hebrew word, “Shalom”. That word includes wholeness, well-being, and harmony. Shalom is experiencing true prosperity and salvation. It has to do with the state of relationships between individuals and God as well as between different people and groups. It is the intended order for creation and for human beings’ relations to one another. Such peace, according to scripture, is both God’s gift and purpose” (From Doug Baker, Living Toward a Culture of Peace).
If that is God’s plan for this world, what are we called on to do, as we seek to live peace-focused, faith-filled lives? Responses can come on many levels. They include the ways in which we respond to difficult neighbors or family members with whom we always seem to be at cross purposes. They include the officials we elect and the policies we support, as we struggle to establish laws and institutions that confront evil with restorative justice, seeking responses to violence that are not built simply on the use of overwhelming force. Further afield, we resist the temptation to turn our backs on the tens of millions of people (yes, that reads TENS OF MILLIONS) who have been displaced from their homes and who now find themselves adrift in a world where they have lost their sense of community and sources of income.
I offer stories from two faithful friends who seek to put these ideas into action. The first comes from Rev. Shannon Beck, an ordained Presbyterian minister with long experience in peace work. Shannon shared some notes about a recent encounter:
4-hour delay lead to breaking up a fight at the airport. Two young men. I focused on the man who was throwing swings. We sat, I talked, had him look in my eyes, reminded him that he had what he needed and that he would get to his destination if he could calm himself down. The police who worked with him were awesome.
We don’t know people’s stories. It’s not so complicated to open up a space for someone to trust themselves a little. They are empowered by it.
A second story comes from Elmarie Parker, a Presbyterian mission worker base in Beirut, whose area of work includes Syria and Iraq. Her latest newsletter tells about her friend, Rev. Mofid Karajieli, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Homs, Syria. Rev. Karajieli had the opportunity to emigrate with his family to Sweden, but chose to stay in Syria and continue serving in Christ’s name, as a “visible reminder that God has not abandoned the people of Syria or Christ’s church in Syria.” Elmarie wrote:
The young adults of the Presbyterian Church in Homs have developed a program called “‘Space for Hope.” They are old enough to remember life in Syria from before the war, where they as children played in the streets with friends of other faith traditions – Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Alawite, and Sunni. They went to each other’s birthday parties and shared life together. Their first concern was NOT: are you Christian or are you Muslim. But the proxy sectarian fighting in Syria has torn this social fabric apart, leaving behind suspicion and mistrust. So during “Space for Hope,” these Presbyterian young adults now bring together young children who have only known this time of war; who have only known sheltered play in their own yards, away from kids who are different from them. The children come from Christian and Muslim families. They meet at the Evangelical School – a trusted location. Together they play team-building games – the context for meeting the “other” and beginning to learn how to see God in the face of the other.
May our own faith be informed and inspired by such stories that remind us that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in the midst of conflicts, large and small. May God give us wisdom and persistence for our own faithful, shalom-guided living.
Written by Don Mead