I was all set to write a post on peacemaking.We have been talking a lot about how to be a Christian in our modern world. There was a post on women's value, another on whether Christians should engage in the swirling debate, and a Biblical rubric for social media. That's not to mention the posts on fear and tamales.
Peacemaking fits right in because more than anything (except Jesus Christ) this country needs a peace maker. Someone who can bring about reconciliation. Someone who can lead by example. Someone who can forgive, whose ego takes a back seat. Someone who will stand up for God's way but sit down and listen to others' points of view.
But that is not today's post.
Why? Because I ran head long into a book and a sermon that reminded me about another crucial point about peacemaking.
The book was "Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life." I loved it but I haven't reviewed it because Tish Warren comes from such a different tradition.* However, her chapter on "Passing the Peace" was fantastic. She reminded us that as much as we might seek the society-altering peace and justice that brings the homeless home and treats the stranger as a friend, if we have no peace in our own homes we have not been transformed by God's peace.
The sermon was a fantastic lesson by one of our brothers in our local congregation on the Sermon on the Mount. He read through the beatitudes and as he reached "blessed are the peacemakers" he reminded us that we are one by one creators of peace.
That left me ruminating. (I've always liked that image, as if I had to chew on an idea several times in order to fully digest it, like a cow.) How can I be a peace maker?
1. Listening. James reminds us; "Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger" (James 1:19b). So much peace can be made when we listen quietly. There may be no need to be angry; the person we are talking to may actually have a point we agree with if we just slow down and listen. And especially as family members we need to listen to people's hearts. When a child starts whining, they may simply mean "I'm tired and I need a cuddle and a nap." When a stressed teenager says, "I can't..." they may mean, "I'm scared that I can't." They need encouragement and to see their competence reflected in your eyes. Our Savior listened like this (John 4). It's so easy for us to not listen to the heart of the hurting, and instead respond with dismissive anger that increases conflict.
2. Building bridges. Just like Jesus was able to stand in the gap between us and God because He was both, many of us have the opportunity to humbly bring insight to others. Because I have lived in a third world country, I can sometimes make otherwise startling behaviors clear. For instance our friends were laughing over the humorous signs in Jackson Hole asking folks not to stand on the toilet. I have to laugh too, but I can also share that these are necessary because as bizarre as we find standing on the toilet, they find sitting their bum where other people's naked bums have been equally bizarre. It's a silly example but a powerful problem. If you have a foot in both worlds, friends, be a humble bridge builder.
3. Apologize. When we are wrong, we should say so and sincerely apologize. I know. You graduated from preschool and already know this, but let's be honest. How many times, as Warren mentions in "Liturgy of the Ordinary", have we lived in a standoff with the people we love the most because we don't want to be the first one to admit we were wrong? How many times have excused our bad behavior because we were "right"? We don't have to take the blame for wrong we didn't do, but there is almost never a time when I have really "fought" with someone that I didn't do one or more things I should apologize: tone, attitude, insult, not listening, shutting down, rolling my eyes, sarcasm etc.
4. Leave the past in the past. Where there is no forgiveness, there is no peace. When as parents or spouses we use past mistakes as a weapon to bludgeon the people we love, we are not peace makers. How pitiful would we be if every time we sinned, God brought back up to us every time we had messed up before? I am not saying that patterns of behavior should lie unaddressed, but if our loved one asked for forgiveness and we offered it, the matter should be done.
5. Don't be baited. Not only might a frustrated or angry family member come home ready for a fight that you can patiently avoid but in many other situations people try to draw us into conflict. Facebook is a place where you can ALWAYS find someone spoiling for a fight. Be a person who give that quiet answer that turns away wrath, who can turn away from drama and gossip, who isn't tempted by a good brawl. Be transformed by peace.
6. Assume the best motives. One expression of the golden rule is to try to believe the best of others just as you hope they will believe the best of you. So when a co-worker is grumpy, it is charitable to say to yourself, "They are probably having a bad day." And when a family member inadvertently says something insulting you can say, "They probably didn't think about how it sounded." If it really bothers you in the long term, of course you can go to the person and talk about it, but simply assuming the best motives of someone we care about will sidetrack most meaningless conflict.
I know this is all easier said than done. Especially when tempers are rising high and we feel justified because "they started it." But as much as our country needs a larger-than-life peacemaker to draw the fraying ends together and reunite us, I suspect your family, your workplace, your church needs it just as badly!
* Tish Warren is an Episcopalian priest . As much as enjoyed the book, she and I disagree fundamentally on many, many scriptural issues.