thoughts about peace

I had a friend who drove around his beat-up van with this sticker on the back that said, “Whirled Peas.” He was one of the first Christians I ever met who sincerely tried to practice a justice in his heart, and love on those he felt were less fortunate than he. I remember one time he locked himself out of his apartment for a day and gave the key and all his money and identification to a friend. I drove by him that afternoon in the ghetto where we lived (I lived in section 8 housing at the time) and he was still in his pajamas. “What are you doing!” I shouted from my car, and he told me that he decided he wanted to live a day in our neighbors’ footsteps, find out where they ate, where they hung out, and figure out how to do it without any money or credentials. I knew that with him, it wasn’t just an idea but that he actually loved the people he met.

I know a lot of us wonder how we can better live a life of social justice and being real activists of peace in the world. The church will, one day, be the total agent of peace between races and classes. Even now there are some wonderful peace processes happening because the church has taken seriously her role as a “minister of reconciliation.” But she cannot do it in her own power, or out of guilt, or just because she thinks it’s a good idea. She must first know Him as Peace. The kind of peace we try to make ends up feeling more like whirled peas than true harmony between people and nations.

Obviously, peace in the world is the hot topic right now in the elections. I do want to be a true agent of his peace. He has been teaching me so much about what that means this year—how to walk in it personally, what it actually means to put on “the boots of peace.” But what is peace? I know from marriage that it is not an avoidance of conflict, because conflict is actually healthy and serves to make husband and wife, brothers and sisters, and friends closer (although I can’t say I really like it when it’s happening!). There is a kind of idea of peace in our culture that actually is an avoidance of conflict. You can feel it; it is like walking in an atmosphere that has carefully created the idea of togetherness and community, but there is no real intimacy and transformation among the people in it. I always feel when I am near “false peace” that there is chaos just about to happen.

True peace does not come from avoiding war, nor does it come from opposing power. Although there was an armistice that began the 20 years between the two world wars, there was no peace—that time was the most spiritually restless and un-peaceful time of the 20th century when many dark ideas came to power in the nations. No one agreed on what was peace at that time. Many nations were still so angry and hurt by the German actions in the war, they enforced some very harsh and humiliating restrictions on Germany during that time of peace. Although, as a result of its shame, Germany used its power to perpetuate some of the worst evils, she was never to be shamed for being powerful. Part of the identity of her people has to do with strength and power, and God made the Germans that way. Similarly, God is not shaming America because she is big and powerful. His way is not always to “balance power”; this is a man-made political idea based on a lack of understanding of identity. Some of the most powerful nations that have ever existed in history used their great power to do good, as God made them powerful to show an example of His power. The Persian empire, for example, was used to help build and bless the second temple in Jerusalem, which the prophets have said was more glorious than Solomon’s temple. Persia was one of the rare empires to finance the once-powerful Israel to rebuild herself, without being threatened by her. For the nations to know each other and to come to peace, they must understand the order in which they fit, the part of the divine that they play.

True peace is something that will not come without a lot of conflict, and from heaven’s perspective, judgment. He has to judge and weigh our hearts, turn them over in his kiln which—oh! will burn and kill things that are not living in the ways of life—and then he cradles them and brings his order and understanding. All of this is part of his love. The nations will go through this same process. Do we want to avoid his fire? His judgments on the earth are part of his pain and a part of bringing us into such total communion with his order. Paul said, “Behold the kindness and severity of God.” Knowing this will lead us into knowing Jesus as both lion and lamb. He comes with that blazing tattoo on his thigh, the sword of fire charging from his mouth, and he comes with healing in his hands.

I have been learning that true peace always comes from being in the right place at the right time. For me it is not just a quiet tranquil thing; it is the feeling of being where I am supposed to be. Only the Spirit can guide me that way—we can have peace to the degree that we are walking with him because he naturally conceives peace in us. It is one of his fruits, one of his children. That’s what the boots of peace are to me; when I put them on, I am asking for the ability to stay centered and standing, to not move to the right or to the left when I get into something that might cause me to react, in anger or fear or judgment or self-judgment. I put these boots on every day, and I can tell you that when I have forgotten to do that, I usually become a walking target.

There is also the peace that passes understanding, which is the kind of peace we have all felt when, oh, there is the most beautiful sunset casting down its soft glaze over the trees, and there is so much love and the feeling of God near us, and we know who we are and who he is and…. well, it goes beyond our understanding. That is the kind of peace we will live in forever.

The peace among the nations is going to come from truly being who they were called to be, and also being related in the way that the Creator has made them to relate. True peace will come upon the earth like a blanket of order and love, and it will come only in His perfect time and pacing. There are many nations that will experience chaos before it is over. Some of these nations even now seem to have an orderly system, but a system of order (just as Communism was for many nations) may often just be a disguise for serious control and spiritual tyranny. Underneath this thin veil lays, in many cases, chaos and racial tension. Is it better to keep the false unification, the false peace in order that the races stop arguing?

In our recent war with Iraq there were many confusing arguments among politicians and religious leaders. Although America has left the war, there is still great spiritual restlessness in that part of the world. Perhaps this restlessness was stirred up by America’s war, but it was not conceived by it. I think this is important when we start wondering whom to blame. The natural trauma and chaos happening in Iraq are a result of great spiritual problems, and will only be overcome with spiritual peace. Peace is not something that comes by avoiding war, and even if America had avoided the war or left it early, there still would be many deep and ancient conflicts most of us would go on forgetting. Having been through a long and agonizing separation of my parents as kid, I know that war is like divorce. It happens inside hearts long before it happens on paper. War is always horrifying but actual war starts in our hearts first. War and racism and religion have been making whirled peas out of Iraq for longer than I have been alive.

My point is that many of us have reacted harshly toward America, even those of us who are Americans, and also toward the President, permitting in ourselves the same feelings that we claim to despise in them. This is a very clever trick of the enemy. Let’s not give in to it! I know that God has showed me more ages of mercy toward my mistakes, than we are extending to our leaders. At this point I do not know what God is doing with the government of my nation, but I do know that He is not a callous punisher, and that He loves America and all within her. I also know that He loves peace more than we do. I know that sometimes He allows evil to happen so that a polished, refined gem may shine forever. I’ve learned this the heartachingly hard way, but I am so grateful He grew my trust in Him. His church has many fires to go through. If each one of us wants to know Him more, chances are we will find our way across other wildernesses where it seems all is lost. Just as with Joseph, “what man intends for evil, God intends for good.”

I personally disagreed with this war and felt that it was not God’s war or retaliation. But before I form opinions about this war and about wars in general, I have to be convinced that God is going to bring peace on the earth. Our human attempts to make the world a better place are often founded on a fear that if we don’t do it, it won’t ever happen. Much of politics is founded on this fear, both “conservative” and “liberal”. Peace will come. He promised it. It is going to be the kind of peace that passes all understanding, and it is going to cover the earth. From that place, then we stand and ask him, what, Father, are you doing now? And how can I pray? How can I join you? What then may I do with you?

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