Too Much Peacemaking?

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By Esther Emery | Twitter @estheremery

N_Esther-750Sometimes I look around at all the faces of all the white Christian women (in cyberspace and church spaces I am so often surrounded by faces of white Christian women) and I think, there’s something that I really need to say.

I need to say, “We’re doing too much peacemaking.” 

We have set our stock in peace, haven’t we, women of Christ? We have lifted this up, what we know of peace. It is gentleness and compromise. It is meekness and humility. It is the ever-lauded ability to be nice, and to give grace to those who wound.

But sisters, this is what I need to say. When we hold these values high, we contribute to a culture that cannot tolerate anger. We build a town square that cannot receive righteous complaint. We justify dehumanization of those who are hurt and dare to tell about it. We justify the invisibility of those who cry out in anguish and are not heard.

I believe that this is the first problem, the biggest problem, the most invisible and huge and least surmountable problem for activist white women in the Christian church.

We are doing too much peacemaking.

Oh, I know it’s right there in the Beatitudes, I know. Blessed are the peacemakers.

What I don’t know is how we think we know what peace truly is. How can we know peace, if we haven’t the ability to witness violence? How can we speak to healing, when we are so far from the wound?

If our assumption is that valid teachers do not speak out of their pain, then we have closed our ears to the truth of suffering. And though we speak of dying to the self, we do not first learn the shape and edges of those selves. We do not know what there is to die to.

I look around at us, sisters. I see us in all our whiteness and the lauded beauty of whiteness, and I see us doing our best to follow the directions. I see us trying to export this language of Christ, saying, “Don’t resist! Don’t bear ill will! Die to the self, it’s good for you!”

Blessed are the peacemakers. We’ve been told.

But are we blessed when we put a good face on blades that cut? Or when we keep ugly things quiet? Are we blessed when with our social graces we dissolve tension and suppress the spark to revolution? When we shush the power structure so it doesn’t come across as such a jerk, or wipe each others’ tears in ladies’ rooms, or keep the conversation civil at the table?

Is this peacemaking? Or is this policing hearts?

White Christian women, there are tons of us. We’re relatively organized. We have resources. What’s more, we have a deep and true collective hunger for the face of Christ. We could get this right. If only we could stop getting it so wrong.

Let’s not keep this peace. The peace we have right now is broken. It is rotten right down to the core. It incarcerates and kills and abandons women and men of color and does the same to queer people and exports white supremacy and economic oppression hand-in-hand across the globe. It justifies the cruel misuse of human and natural resources, and then it tells the people who most have a right to be angry that anger isn’t spiritual.

Please, don’t let’s keep this peace.

Let’s dream up a different peace instead, one that isn’t so heavy as the broken kind. Let’s dream up a peace in which anger isn’t toxic because anger leads to action, which leads to justice, which leads to redemption for us all. Let’s dream up a peace in which we can hear the voice crying out in the wilderness, and we can check our own egos and line up behind leaders rising to liberate nations that we didn’t have the eyes to see.

And let us die to the self, yes, but let’s not kill love, or love of justice, or authentic voice. Let’s not kill our capacity to criticize wrongdoing at the hands of the powerful. Please, let’s hit the other stuff instead. Let’s hit the fear of instability, and the fear of having spent our entire lives on the wrong side. Let’s kill our guilt and our disruptive tears, and our fear of what the Holy Spirit can do when it is fully and truly unleashed. Let’s kill our intolerance, our knee-jerk self-defense mechanisms, and our habit of looking down at people who make too much noise.

Let us practice peacemaking for Christ, and not for empire.

______________________

About Esther:

estheremerywriterEsther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. Now she is pretty much a runaway, living off the grid in a yurt and tending to three acres in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at www.estheremery.com

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  • Rana Soliman

    Wow

  • “Let us practice peacemaking for Christ, and not for empire.”

    I’m on board! Peace making – not peace keeping.

    • That’s right. Peacemaking, not peacekeeping. Well said.

  • Erin Wilson

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot since articles started to surface about Jian Ghomeshi (apologies to non-Canadians). Thinking a lot about what it would take to make a culture where women could come forward with their stories of abuse. And we could go to our friends, when we see behaviour that diminishes others.

    It’s true, that so often our silence, our “keeping the peace”, creates exactly the opposite for others.

    Thanks for calling us out, Esther.
    Keep calling us out.

    • Mmm hmm, this message is relevant to so many topical situations. This message in one hand and the newspaper in the other…very challenging work.

  • O, you are piercing in such a good way today, Esther. Woohoo! I am learning more and more just how subversive Jesus was … how revolutionary. It stirs and challenges me. I want more, want to understand more … Preach, Esther, preach!

    • I am converted to the subversive Jesus, the one my Nicaraguan teachers call “the liberator.” Freedom is my deal, it kind of always has been, and noone has ever, ever met my need for wild and free like Jesus. Thanks be to God.

  • Oh… Esther. I just… I don’t have words to describe how much this resonates in my core. I keep thinking of Jeremiah (chapter 6 I think) where God talks about the “shepherds” who say “peace, peace” but there is no peace. Ugh. Wake us up, Jesus. I want true peace, sister. Standing with you in this cry today.

    • Thanks for standing with me, Dana. It seems to me that the real hope and healing does exist, but is on the other side of the “ugh.” It isn’t hopeless.

  • WELL HELLO THURSDAY!

    – We build a town square that cannot receive righteous complaint. // YES!

    – How can we know peace, if we haven’t the ability to witness violence?// HELLO!

    – Are we blessed when with our social graces we dissolve tension and suppress the spark to revolution? // *guilty face*

    – Let’s dream up a peace in which we can hear the voice crying out in the wilderness, and we can check our own egos and line up behind leaders rising to liberate nations that we didn’t have the eyes to see. // *deep inhale*

    – Let’s hit the fear of instability….// *ouch*

    – Let’s kill … our fear of what the Holy Spirit can do when it is fully and truly unleashed. // *gulp*

    – Let us practice peacemaking for Christ, and not for empire.// *deep exhale*

    Esther, you never cease to amaze me friend. I wish we could sit around a fire, sip on mulled cider and talk into the wee hours of the night.

    I love and NEED your fierce and wild ways.

    xoxo,
    Teen

    • Thanks, Tina. I just spent a month gathering up the fire, right from the woods themselves, and sometimes it just comes out like a firebolt. Thank you so much for not hitting back.

  • Thank you Esther for these words…they are completely and utterly true.
    We are missing the point in the church when it comes to real peace and we are hurting everyone around us. In fact we are enabling bad behavior as we gloss over important issues and bury our anger.
    More than a year ago my family went through a very difficult time. I can remember the morning when I woke up and said “no more”. Very quickly the support I thought I would find in my church disintegrated and only one family stood by us from that church, a few reached out here and there, but one fought the fight with us. The rest cried out for peace, the fake kind, the kind that was destroying our family.
    Then we encountered a wise counselor who told me that true peace making is not the same as peace keeping. Peace making is what happens after the war is fought. Peace keeping is similar to people pleasing and when it comes to important issues actually hurts people.

    Our family overcame and we are enjoying the fruits of that victory after the war now. But we had to leave that church. We couldn’t stay because suddenly we were “that family” who no longer nodded and just pretended that everything was fine. This fake peace is actually destroying the church and it’s witness…I hate every ounce of it now that I allowed myself to feel anger and to do something about it. Our family will never keep peace again…we can’t…so I pray the church revives, because Jesus was NEVER a peace keeper. The one who threw tables over in the temple knew that you could be angry and not sin.

    Esther, as you can see, I resonate deeply with what you have written. Thank you for telling the truth and speaking out…it’s been my heart’s cry to speak out this message! It’s so needed!

    • Thanks for sharing your vulnerable story, Patricia. I join your prayer that the church revives, and that we speak out together a message of healing and hope.

    • Amen. “Jesus was NEVER a peace keeper” so true.

  • SimplySuzi

    Exactly what us timid types need to hear. Who wants to rock the boat, to stand up and be noticed as “one of those”? Not me. But, oh, I must. To live my authentic life, to claim my God given purpose, I must stand, I must shout, I must work for true peace – one that restores dignity and justice for EVERYONE, and grace and love flow unimpeded. Thank you, Esther.

  • pastordt

    POWERFUL words, Esther. Truly. Thank you for speaking them so very well.

  • so powerful. It’s so important to clarify what “peace” means – we’ve been sold a lie that it means gentle and calm for far too long. I remember years ago, I was a teenager or early 20s and I thought about the phrase “peace like a river” and then thought about what rivers look like – what they are capable of. They are so much more than a babbling brook or a trickling stream. They are huge and massive -they shape land and smooth stones and sometimes rage and flood and topple trees. they are modes of travel, sources of life and laughter.

    • “They shape land and smooth stones and sometimes rage and flood and topple trees. they are modes of travel, sources of life and laughter.”

      So true! I’m not sure why only the Hallmark passive calm river comes to mind…

      Thanks for this Nicole!

    • I love that! Peace like a river. What a beautiful image to share.

  • Bethany Olsen

    Preach it!!!

  • You are so great at drawing me out of toxic anger. Love this, love you.

    • Love you, Caris. Peace may be on the other side of a whole lot of nasty crap, but I still do believe in it.

  • Thea van Diepen

    I would argue that the “peacemaking” you’re talking about stopping isn’t peacemaking at all. Peacemakers don’t deny conflict; they step right in the middle of it for the purpose of healing. Peacemakers don’t overlook pain; they get right in the middle of it and sit with those who are hurting.

    The “peacemaking” you refer to has forgotten this kind of honest vision, of both looking and seeing. It has gotten so caught up in refusing to take sides, in refusing to perpetuate conflict, and in seeing the positive in negative situations (all of which *are* part of peacemaking), so much so that it has become unbalanced and forgotten what it was meant to be.

    It has set aside working *through* conflict in favour of *avoiding* conflict. So, you’re right, it needs to stop.

    But it isn’t peacemaking.

  • Melinda Cadwallader

    Have I told you lately that I love you? If you were sitting next to me you would be able to hear my heart beating wildly right now. Your words are so spot on. And how incredibly timely, as we come upon Veterans Day, a day we celebrate the real-life peacemakers, the ones who have defended – and lost limbs; the ones who have protected (for us) a treasure that cost them more than we will ever know, and perhaps would even like to know (for our tender ears may just not like it very much). Veterans know a unity and brotherhood that we Christians could learn a lot from – how to fiercely fight FOR something good, because that is the true peacemaking. Its not pretty, its quite greusome. But I guess thats why it takes the right people to be leading; the right hearts who are not afraid to get rough and tumble to fight FOR truth; the right leaders who bravely assume a greater responsibility over the body of Christ. I am hearing you loud and clear, sister.

    • Love to you, Melinda. It’s always hard to hear from the wounded ones, isn’t it? But necessary…

  • now this is a good word. yes, give us a willingness to listen, to weep, to get messy and uncomfortable, and to do the work. appeasement and nicety resemble not the hard wrestling, solidarity, or fruitful re-creation of Christlike peacemaking. amen, lady.

  • Suzanne Terry

    I love this so much. Yes, yes, yes!

  • jtheory

    love this, especially in light of a word study on what Shalom (peace) means

  • Roos Woller

    Thanks for the honesty and truths in this message. Lets get our hands dirty and be apart in making “peace” not keeping it. Such a wake-up call.

  • Esther – yes to peacemaking for Christ, not the empire! Yes to speaking about hard things for the sake of liberation, not appeasement. Yes to resisting the injustice and oppression of the empire… even if the church ladies think we aren’t that nice. I’m okay with being uncooth for the sake of justice for my neighbors. I’ve got a drum like Miriam, and I plan on pounding it. There are freedom songs to be sung…

  • marviadavidson

    Esther,
    You’ve given us much to ponder. Much to deliberate. Much to pray on. Much to chew. That the “whole” body of Christ would rise to peacemaking that bridges gaps and invites Jesus is what I’m after. I have no idea how that should look, but I’m pretty sure it’s gracefully messy. That more men and women of color would pierce the invisible veil we keep placing around Christianity, as though it only belonged to one race of people, would be peacemaking – the kind that disrupts the status quo. To be invitational like Jesus. Oh! but isn’t that scandalous. Grace is sometimes that way. And thank God, Jesus didn’t mind becoming dirt to save the dirt (humanity). He sees no color, no gender. He sees hearts. May we too, do the same. Thank you for speaking up. I echo Dana B who said peace when there is no peace, may God convict our hearts. May our souls be softened, ready to hear, and ready to believe and obey.

    • I don’t know how it should look either! That drives me crazy!!! (ha) But I think your words are apt and also inspire process. He sees hearts!

  • Well, I share this conviction. Here’s an excerpt from a journal entry from two weeks ago (following a series of “I am angry” statements.): “And all the while, I hear many of the people of God crying ‘have peace, have peace’, when there can be no peace. ‘Let us be people of peace’ is an impossible dream if there is no justice. We can say words like grace, peace, love, fellowship or follow-your-dreams, but if those things are not being experienced by everyone, then they are just nice thoughts. They have little effect on the real actual living, moving world.”
    Peacemaking or peace-being is something that has to be sought after. It takes active participation. It has to be effective, influential; unmistakable and visible fruit of the work of the Spirit in our lives. Anything less is just not real.

  • Sandy Hay

    Such great timing. My bible study is just starting the Beatitudes. This is coming with me next week. This will rock their boat 🙂

    • Awesome. Let us know how it goes!

      • Sandy Hay

        I’m also reading richard Rohr’s “Jesus’ Plan for a New World:. Between the two…plus prayer I should be set 🙂

  • Did you swivel out of your chair and drop a mic after you finished writing this? Because I have the visual.

    I think we need to become angry about injustice. But I think before we do that, we as women particularly, who have been so conditioned to not be whiny, bi*chy, “emotional”, need to learn how to be angry and how to express it. I know I have had to unlearn what I’ve been taught by society and pick up those basic tools of voicing what is authentic inside of me. Still a work in process. Having your words help, I feel a fire growing inside with each sentence. Thank you, Esther.

    • “Did you swivel out of your chair and drop a mic after you finished writing this? Because I have the visual.”<— HAHA. I hear you, Cindy! Isn't she fabulous?!

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  • Sparkplug

    I was just thinking of this last night before I read it this morning. If we don’t stand for what we believe is right, we are just like the Stepford wives. Change can only come if we stand up, get involved and make things happen. I have seen alot of very nice smiling women not wanting to rock the boat and thinking this is what I’m suppose to be like, quiet, meek and no opinion. I just can’t be like that anymore. I can be quiet and meek but I think now I will have an opinion and now will express it.

  • HI Ester, I totally want to be your friend! We are using an inaccurate definition of peace. Peace is when we can have dynamic tension, find win-win situations, listen to diverse voices and have peace in our hearts. It does not mean pretending and covering up! I am so done with that. In my work I am called to help congregations create a new context- One element of that is to question things like peace. We can’t keep being like this. it makes me crazy too. Thanks for this great post!

  • Amy Archie

    I don’t understand this at all complacency and getting comfortable and not being militant is not a “white” trait. Why does she have to make it about color?

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