Just Peacemaking

The Pipeline Continues: May We Hear the Voice(s) of the People

IMG_7344Last month, I found myself sitting in a tent listening to the Sioux tribal elders at Standing Rock reflect on the implications of the Dakota Access Pipeline halt. In arctic temperatures surrounded by domestic and international reporters, one of the elders (pic) described the tribe’s genuine celebration at the halt and proceeded to elaborate on its significance.

In the next breath, his words turned somber as he walked through hundreds of years of interaction between the US government and his tribe (and the wider Native American community). He systematically walked through treaty after treaty after treaty and lamented the fact that the very government that had proposed them had broken each one.

He said, “While we celebrate this temporary victory, we have hundreds of years of history that remind us to never trust the promises of the government. Companies have responsibility to investors. We have responsibility to be stewards of the water. Oil is malignant to the planet and those who find life from it.

Ocheti camp will remain and double our efforts to protect this land, river and home. All seven tribes of souix have gathered for first time in 140 years. Former enemies are standing together for the land we’ve been entrusted to steward.

We have not broken any laws. We have conducted ourselves in a prayerful and peaceful way. We are not protestors or terrorists or rioters, we are in fact water protectors.

We pray for the law enforcement officials everyday. We want to walk across the bridge and shake hands. Dakota means “friend.” The people and place reflect that. We will continue to feed and keep warm everyone in this camp.”

As I listened, I couldn’t help but be both inspired and saddened. In the case of Native American’s in general and the Sioux at Standing Rock specifically, we have largely chosen to see only the realities that affirm our inherited worldview or benefited our bottom line. As a result, there are real people standing on real land that are hurting and pleading for us to listen. They stewarded this land long before white Europeans arrived and continue to bear the responsibility of caring for it for the generations to come.

Today, President Donald Trump signed an executive action greenlighting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which had been halted to seek alternative routes. The original route, under Lake Oahe, would have threatened the Standing Rock Sioux’s drinking water and sacred lands.

Having stood with and been cared for by these remarkable people, I have the responsibility to at the very least share their story. As inhabitants of the same plot of soil we call the US, I would argue it is not only their story, but our story.

May we listen. May we lament. May we act by standing in front of any bulldozer that is flattening people.

Living ‘Selma’ in a ‘Sniper’ World

130117191909-mills-mlk-march-story-topThis coming Monday is our national celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. As I have been reflecting on his work and witness, I am convinced his message is as necessary and prophetic today as it was when he was alive (if not more!). 

We live in a culture that not only glorifies violence, but often celebrates its use against the “enemy” as the truest form of heroism and bravery. While I won’t get into the debate of whether violence is ever justified to preserve life (a much bigger conversation extending far beyond an 700 word blog post), I will say I’m deeply troubled by our assumption that violence is the only way to respond to a real or perceived threat. 

Most disturbing is the fact that the majority of Jesus followers in this country have the same assumptions about the “necessary” use of violence as the culture at large. I would argue that an objective observer would not be able to distinguish between the USAmerican Church’s ethic of violence and the ethic of the State or the culture at large. As followers of a God who looked like an enemy-loving Jesus -- who sacrificially absorbed violence rather than perpetuating it -- we’d be wise to re-examine our assumptions around violence in light of his life and teachings. 

Jesus’ take on responding with violence:

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven.” -- Matt 5:43-45

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too.  When they force you to go one mile, go with them two.” -- Matt 5:38-41

After being beat, humiliated, dehumanized and nearly killed, Jesus’ response to violence, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” -- Luke 23:34

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” -- Matt 5:9

These passages are often interpreted as Jesus either being a soft pushover or teachings that were not realistic and helpful for establishing a normative, everyday ethic toward violence. The reality is that Jesus was not promoting a passive response to violence, but a dignifying one. A response that would both expose the inhumanity of the abuser’s actions and amplify the dignity of the abused. 

Jesus is not just calling us away from the lure of violence, but inviting us toward the necessary, subversive, creative and costly work of peacemaking. Peacemaking isn’t a passive withdrawal from conflict. Peacemaking isn’t embracing the status quo. Peacemaking isn’t euphoric or other worldly. 

Peacemaking is a series of actions that move us toward conflict armed with weapons to heal and transform rather than weapons to destroy.

MLK not only took Jesus’ life and teachings seriously, he modeled actions of an alternative response to violence, hatred and injustice. He invited a movement of people to take the hard work of peacemaking seriously by outlining tangible actions that would expose the inhumanity of those abusing power and amplify the humanity, dignity and plight of his black brothers and sisters caught in their wake. 

As we celebrate MLK’s life and legacy, may we be reminded to take Jesus’ life and teachings seriously and repent of the ways in which we’ve allowed a culture of violence to hijack our own humanity. Because when we begin to view fellow image bearers as “collateral damage,” we are becoming less human and missing out on an opportunity to join God in the world he is making. 

So, rather than embrace an American Sniper spirituality where the Bible brands our violence, may we embrace the spirituality of Selma where the Bible is embodied in nonviolent action. This is not only our task, it is our opportunity. May it be so. 

The Tragedy of Self-Appointed Prophets

Woman-yelling-in-megaphoneThe world is swirling with issues.

Picking up my phone and opening my news app each morning is being met with more and more dread each day.

When something hits the news, it is fascinating to watch people jump onto social media and begin “yelling” out their answers for how to heal our broken systems.

Of course, there is almost always at least two completely different opinions for how these problems should be fixed, which typically leads to people drawing lines in the sand, picking their stance and not budging. Relationships often fracture and a polarized a world gets more polarized, rendering it immobilized for the work of reconciliation.

Whether it’s on our Facebook page, Twitter feed or around our table, I assume most of us can think of an interaction where this unhelpful and potentially destructive reality played out.

So, does this “yelling” of our opinions actually help heal the broken systems and the people whom those systems are breaking?

I’m all about using our voices to call out injustice. By offering a critique of power and a hope for those on the underside of it, the ancient prophets did this beautifully throughout history.

But, in a globalized, virtually interconnected world, I’m concerned we have too many self appointed prophets (which, by definition is NOT a prophet), and not near enough practitioners. Far more constructive than a verbal or written argument is actually doing something.

I don’t think the world needs more armchair advocates…especially when our arguing or defending leads to the fracture of real life relationships. I’m not saying we all need to passively waltz around the world’s issues. No, I’m proposing we actively engage them in two ways:

1. Healthy, constructive discourse that doesn’t require we all agree to remain in relationship 
2. We spend less time talking, and use our best energy to actually do something

What this world needs are people who are willing to role up their sleeves and get dirty. And not for a week or a month or a year, but for the long haul.

The world needs people embedded in the center of these conflicts equipped with the practices that make for peace. These people don’t have time to debate solutions on social media because they are already hard at work making the solutions a reality. They don’t have to transplant themselves to the center of the issue, because they are already embedded in it. They don’t have to seek the approval of their constituency, because it’s not about their reputation, it’s about the flourishing of those they have been called to serve.

They are sharing meals with the forgotten in their neighborhood.

They are building lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with those of other faiths who we are often taught to fear.

They are sitting at the hospital bedside of the family who is suffering loss at the hands of unjust people and systems.

They are in the churches, schools and homes of our black and brown communities to listen, learn and support.

They are in detention centers and deportation shelters to pray with and look in the eyes of those in our society’s shadows.

They are encouraging and walking with our faith and political leaders as they navigate the potentially compromising positions of power.

It’s a way of life that is costly. It is not glamorous. And it often comes without our desired outcomes being met in the short term and, potentially, not even in the long term.

This is the work of a trained, strategic and intentional community of Jesus followers who are prepared to move to the center of our society’s conflicts with the weapons to transform rather than destroy. It’s the gritty, subversive and costly work of peacemaking.

More than ever, I believe the work of peacemaking is discipleship. It’s the long hard road of the cross that will lead to the flourishing of others and allow our deepest calling to meet the worlds deepest needs. May it be so. 

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NOTE: The work of The Global Immersion Project is to train and mobilize the kind of people I describe. We call them Everyday Peacemakers. To learn more or participate in one of our international or domestic trainings, go here: http://globalimmerse.org

(de)Escalating Violence and the Human Story in Israel/Palestine

Jerusalem-Day3-145I was sitting in the airport the other day listening to yet another account of the current events unfolding in Israel and Palestine. Almost mechanically, the lips of the news anchor spilled out words like terrorists, extremist, escalating violence, detention, kidnapping, hatred, protest, etc. 

It was as though they were telling a story of some otherworldly reality that had virtually no human implications. It was all the stuff we are supposed to hear about the Middle East, so it successfully affirmed stereotypes, assumptions and prejudice.  

In hearing all this, I was deeply troubled and saddened. Since the most recent violence flared up with the kidnapping of three young Israeli’s a few weeks ago, I have been in touch with my friends who actually live, work and play in the midst of this reality that is so often spoken of in the callused, mechanical way of the news anchor. 

In the context of genuine relationship, I asked one Christian Palestinian couple how they are holding up in light of everything. They said it has been horribly difficult as many of those around them experience so much pain and injustice in the form of detentions, home invasions and even death. It is becoming hard not to hate. 

Continuing, “But we know that if we turn to hate, we will lose our soul.” After quoting their morning reading of Martin Luther King Jr and the words of Jesus in Matthew describing their call to love their enemies and forgive those who persecute them, they closed with the request, “Just keep praying.”

Another friend, a Jewish Rabbi, was recently on a bus with his family when the windows shattered and a molotov cocktail was thrown inside. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Rather than pursue the myth of redemptive violence, his “revenge” took the form assembling an interfaith prayer gathering in Jerusalem for the peace of the city. 

My friend, John Moyle, recently described an interaction between an Israeli and Palestinian family who have lost loved ones in the conflict:

Earlier today, two Palestinian friends of Oakbrook Church joined five Israeli friends of Oakbrook in a visit with the family of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the three Jewish students who was murdered in the West Bank a few weeks ago. A circle of chairs was arranged so that the group could speak together in a more intimate setting. Hundreds of other people waiting to greet the family circled around this gathering to listen in on the conversation. Many people were significantly moved by both the sincere gesture of sorrow by the Palestinians and their warm reception by the bereaved Jewish family. 

On the way out, the aged grandfather came out to shake their hands, and a couple of lines about hope for peace were exchanged. The grandfather asked, “Do you have hope for peace?” One Palestinian responded, “I lost my brother in this conflict. I got shot by a settler … and I dream of peace. If we lose our hope we lose the chance to live.” The grandfather listened, his eyes welling up with tears, and he swayed closer and closer towards his Palestinian guest. A sparkle of light, a place where two hearts touched. A very powerful moment. 

In the midst of conflict, the prophetic presence of peacemakers is stronger than ever. Within the Just Peacemaking paradigm (developed by a mentor of mine, the late Glen Stassen), the only way to slow the building cycle of violence is to choose practices of de-escalation. In other words, until someone is willing to respond to an act of violence with a lesser degree of violence (or none at all!), things will continue to get worse. 

This is why, in the face of building violence, there is no more radical, prophetic or heroic action than that of choosing not to get even, but getting creative in love. When people have every right to be angry and seek revenge violently, choosing to deescalate violence through creative initiatives for peace tells us that another world is possible. A world with a King who was enthroned not through violent revenge, but through taking violence upon himself for the flourishing of others.  

What are the implications?

You may lose the war. You may not get the results you want. You may get killed.

But as my friends said, you will keep your soul. And, maybe, just maybe, this will lead the “enemy” to de-escalate as well. There are plenty of historical examples of mutual de-escalation not only on an individual level, but on a national level in times of war.   

As the cycle of violence builds in Israel/Palestine through acts of revenge and retaliation, we must shine a light on those who are intentionally choosing to put their lives on the line through actions of de-escalation. We know that hate breeds hate and violence breeds violence, but we trust that the seeds of love returned in the face of hate and violence will root deep into the soil of renewed relationship.

In the end, we trust that Jesus, the peacemaker, is still at work. In fact, I believe he is speaking louder than ever to the world through the faith of committed peacemakers embedded in this conflict. In a world that magnifies the acts of hatred, violence and division, we must acknowledge their faithfulness and celebrate the redemptive work that is unfolding as a result.

Together, let’s pray for the peacemakers. And pray against the myth of redemptive violence and it’s destructive ends. Most importantly, let’s choose to act like these remarkable people in the conflicts we find ourselves in right here at home.   

RESOURCES:

This is a moment where those of us in the West have the responsibility to expose ourselves to diverse media outlets. There are major agendas at play and we must be savvy in how we construct reality. Here are a few articles that offer some nuance and hope in the midst of a difficult reality. 

Best overview of the current crisis I’ve read. “As a Jew Living In America, the Past Week Has Changed Me Forever.”

The most beautiful interaction that has come out of this crisis. “Slain Israeli teen’s uncle consoles murdered Palestinian’s father.”

Another remarkable interaction. “Families of Slain Israeli and Palestinian Teens Turn to Each Other for Comfort.”

Short video of the mother describing her reaction to her son, a U.S. Citizen, being detained and beaten without conviction by the IDF.

 

Remembering Dr. Glen Stassen: A Mentor and Model of Peace

IMG_1943This past week, the world lost one of its most influential peacemakers. A scholar and practitioner, Dr. Glen Stassen’s accomplishments range from participating in the de-escalation of Cold War tensions to the development of a ground-breaking approach toward conflict called Just Peacemaking. There are many others who have articulated his resume and global impact, but I want to take a moment to reflect on the impact Glen had on my life and development as a peacemaking practitioner and trainer. And, more than anything, my understanding of the life Jesus calls his people to live. 

I had the honor of not only learning from Glen through his many writings, but as one of his students at Fuller Theological Seminary. Specifically, I participated in a course he taught on Just Peacemaking that was set in the context of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. 

It was remarkable. 

I can remember the passion in this man who had given everything to take seriously the teachings of Jesus as he stood on the Mt of Olives. Standing on the same hill Jesus had 2000 years before, Glen taught through the passage where Jesus weeps over Jerusalem because God’s people didn’t know the things that make for peace. 

I can remember standing on the shores of the Galilee where Jesus not only called his first disciples, but announced the reality of a Kingdom where peace would not come through military might, but selfless sacrifice. As Glen discussed the radical call of the Jesus’ Community for the work of peacemaking, I couldn’t help but imagine Jesus smiling on the faithfulness of this servant. 

I can remember sitting in a small cafe eating falafel in northern Israel where he spoke into my life and offered some of the soundest advice I had ever received around my future education and practice as a peacemaker. 

Glen taught me that that Jesus’ life and teachings actually matter. 

He taught me that Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount aren’t lofty ideals, but tangible practices that are be lived out in both the mundane and extraordinary of everyday life. 

He taught me that peacemaking is far more costly discipleship that war-making. 

He taught me that conflict isn’t a bad thing, but a dynamic opportunity for discipleship. 

He taught me that Jesus didn’t call us to get even, but creative in love. 

He taught me that peacemaking is not soft or euphoric, but subversive and costly. 

He taught me that academia isn’t primarily designed to lead us to right thought, but right living. 

Lastly, Glen’s most profound teaching didn’t come through his words, but his embodied practice. His daily life taught his “disciples” what following Jesus actually looked like.

As I reflect on the life and influence of this remarkable man, I’m both convicted and inspired. Now, often teaching peacemaking on the same soil in which I was taught (Israel/Palestine), I hope I can move forward with just a fraction of the humility, academic integrity and embodied practice as Glen. 

Glen, you have done well. Your work mattered and will matter for years to come. Thanks taking seriously the life and teachings of Jesus and for offering a set of practices that allow us to join God in the world he is making. 

Although the world lost one its leading peacemakers, I believe the influence of Glen’s life is only just beginning. May the world experience the impact of this peacemaker more than ever through the lives of those influenced by his faithful work and witness. 

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NOTE: It cannot be overstated how much Glen’s scholarship informs the work of The Global Immersion Project

 

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