by Andrew Larson
I just completed a long season of ministry travel–speaking, engaging, bridge-building, and supporting and learning from other peacemakers. My travel took me to the Middle East twice, Canada once, the East Coast 3 times, as well as to several churches in the Puget Sound region. I was in several mosques, the homes of Muslims in Hebron and Seattle, and the personal residence of the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon in Beirut. I had the chance to screen my movie 8 times to advocate for peacemaking and to participate with other peacemakers in both churches and mosques. I’m learning some things along the way. But I also have some questions.
I’ve begun a “What if” list. It’s a bit in the John Lennon motif when he penned the lyrics to his popular song, Imagine. I keep finding in the tough situations around the globe that conflict seems to reign. And peacemakers are few. Even in the church. As one interviewee in my movie says, “we have plenty of peace talkers, but few peace MAKERS!” So alas, I have job security. I wish it were otherwise, but it isn’t. At least not yet.
Here is my working list of “What ifs” for peacemaking that I’d like you to consider. Actually, I’m becoming more convinced this list should be part of the basic curriculum for every church, every Christian discipleship program, every small group Bible study, and every confirmation or Sunday School class. I’d love your feedback on this list.
- What if we truly believed what John says in 1 John 4:18: “Perfect love casts out fear.” It really does. Too often we are characterized by perfect fear, which casts out love.
- What if we did the simple things like share a meal or tea (or coffee if you prefer) with someone from the other community. I know, this may get you into trouble with some folks. It happened to Jesus too, so you’re in good company.
- What if we didn’t judge a book by the cover but sought to listen to the stories of those different than us?
- What if we followed the prophet Micah’s challenge to “love mercy, seek justice, and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)? This has been the question I ask over and over in places of conflict from Israel/Palestine to churches in suburban North America.
- What if we, in the the tradition of Paul’s writing about the mystery of the Gospel in Ephesians, lived to break down walls of division between us, knowing that somehow the Gospel was incomplete until those who are “outside” become part of us and we become part of them (see Ephesians 2:11-15).
- What if we focused, in our devotions and sermons, on the center of the Gospel, the love of Christ for all humankind instead of asking who is our neighbor like the young expert in the law (see the lead-up to the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 9 and then read the parable in Luke 10)?
- What if we truly lived Christ’s call to peacemaking and loving our enemies (see Matthew 5:9 & 5:44)?
- What if our enemies became friends, or at least part of our community, like my Palestinian friend at Tent of Nations? Surrounded by Israeli settlers who want to take their land and often destroy their crops, they still refuse to see their aggressive neighbors as enemies.
- What if we made the typical benediction we hear pronounced over us in church our own attitude toward the world around us? “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace”’ (Numbers 6:24-26).
- Lastly, what if we became doers of the word and not hearers only, like the brother of Jesus calls us to in James 1:22. I truly believe that saying the right things about what we believe without the actions to go with them is messed up. Let’s imagine what could happen in our world if the scale was tipped the other way.