I never intended to become a peacemaker.
The first time someone called me a peacemaker, I cringed inside. I was 13 and noticed the girls in my youth group were getting really clique-y. For weeks, I watched the clique gain momentum. They planned overnight trips and stole away to the fellowship hall to take Seventeen quizzes. Everyone who wasn’t in, was clearly made to feel “out.” It was common for me to find one of my friends crying in the pews because she wasn’t invited to the clique’s exclusive trips to Taco Bell, their Friday night clothes and cosmetics swaps, and super pious “on fire for Jesus” altar prayer circles. I mean, really offensive and troubling things, y’all.
Clique life is the worst.
I think because I was the only black girl in the group, I didn’t expect an invitation to these things so I didn’t feel as snubbed. What I did feel was the strain on our youth group. It bothered me how easily the girls misunderstood one another and how the rumor mill was powered by angry words. What I did notice was how often Cheryl, our pastor’s wife, would have to counsel young girls behind closed doors when exclusion from the clique made them like they weren’t enough, loved, known. The drama was feeling like a Jerry Springer episode, but with Scriptures thrown at each other, instead of the b-word, because we were still good Christian girls, after all.
I knew something needed to be done. I just couldn’t figure out what.
Until the girl-fight in the parsonage parking lot.
It all came to a head when the clique began to implode on itself. A boy they all liked asked one of the girls to a dance. Offended and unwilling to hear her friend out, the clique’s leader chased the girl down to confront her. After a string of accusations, the clique leader turned to get into her car and yelled, “We’re done! And you better bring back that Country Apple lotion from Bath and Body Works I gave you last week. You can’t have it any more!”
You and I both know those are fightin’ words. I knew what I needed to do. Friends don’t let friends fight in church parking lots. Or take back gifted Bath and Body Works products. Or lose their ever-loving minds over a boy.
Our youth pastor was putting away sound equipment, when I found him. I pleaded with him, “Barry, you’ve got to do something! Everyone’s upset with each other. The girls are fighting and it’s not right!”
Laughing, because he’d been pastoring youth longer than I’d been alive at that time, he invited me onto the stage ”Ok, but first come help me put these mics away.”
I hesitated. Girl-maggedon was about to go down just ten feet from the parsonage. All was at stake: Barry’s job, the youth trip to Six Flags, our salvation … everything.
“It’s ok, Osheta,” he said. “We saw them throwing dirty looks at each other during worship, Cheryl is taking care of it now.”
I was relieved. His wife was was the calmest woman I knew. I once saw her charm a gang-affliated boy, who only came for pizza and movie night, into playing the “chubby bunny” marshmallow game.
To this day, I still think of that boy with the sagging jeans and Kris Kross T-shirt chanting, “Chubby bunny” around a mouthful of marshmallows and a goofy grin. The joy emanating from this boy who we all thought was “dangerous,” was nothing short of a miracle.
Mediating and restoring order was Cheryl’s superpower.
I knew Cheryl would make everything alright. The Bath & Body Works would stay put and the clique would be dispersed.
“Well, then … ok, I guess. I’ll go wait for my mom to pick me up.”
“Osheta,” Barry started, such tenderness in his voice, “Thank you for caring for the group the way you do.”
He opened his arms for a hug. Barry was like a father to me. He was part of a small group of men who took me under their wings and cared about my spiritual formation. So I leaned into the hug and he said the most puzzling thing into my hair, “Oh, Osheta. You’re our little peacemaker.”
I was not a peacemaker. I didn’t feel qualified for such a lofty title. Whenever I read Jesus’ teaching that, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” I thought he meant people who were in positions to affect peace on a grand scale—politicians and movers and shakers of the ancient world. I thought he was speaking to the zealots in the group, telling them to calm the heck down and I imagined he winked in approval at the calm, sweet women at his feet. Those darn Marys whose better portions were their gentle and quiet spirits. My spirit was and is not gentle, nor quiet and I’m surely not content to just sit at Jesus’ feet. I need to be up, moving, changing, doing, planning. Go, go, go! I’m not as meek as I’d like to be. I’m very good at snark, smart-assery, and sassy head wobbles. Please, don’t test me.
And yet for years after that youth meeting, that word stayed with me: “Peacemaker.”
“You’re a peacemaker,” he said.
So I committed over Lent one year to pay attention, learn, and let the Holy Spirit challenge my watered down picture of peace and those who make it. I called it my forty days of Peace and Jesus showed up.
As I studied his life, I realized that peacemakers are a brave, bold, even rebellious bunch who occasionally flip tables, tick off religious people and tell stories about a kingdom that’s flourishing with inclusion, hope, redemption, and order. Peacemakers challenge inequality, offer their hands to the outcasts, and call the ostracized, “Daughter.”
Peacemakers lay a table-scape of immeasurable love where they break bread with enemies and wash their feet. Courage thrums so surely in their veins that peacemakers can look Roman officials in the eye and say they have no power over them. They cannot and will not stop the advancing of peace against their violent empire.
After those forty days, I decided I would proudly be a peacemaker, because the world needs us. I think this is why Jesus blessed us on the Sermon of the Mount with a promise that peacemaking is knitted into our spiritual DNA. I think he knew the world needs us and we need him.
So, my confession is this: I am a peacemaker. Even though I don’t feel like it and even though I never wanted to be one, my one calling on this earth is to make her a little bit more whole through small, everyday practices of peace.
I think there’s room for you too, even if you don’t feel it. If you’re a woman who loves, I have an inkling, my dear, you already are a peacemaker.
We are women who listen to hard stories, tell the truth, and say “no” when necessary. We see the world through the lens of Shalom—relationships as they should be, the restoring of the world’s wholeness with forceful good. We are women who say to a brokenhearted world, “I see you, you’re weary and angry. You’re thrashing about and you need to find your rest. Look here, rest lives within the walls of my home, my heart, my community. Look here and find your peace.” All these practices of peace require moxie and subversiveness. Our practices of wholeheartedness point to our unique giftedness to make peace right where we are.
So, come sit by me, in the snarky girl section of the Peacemakers. We’ll take our loving orders from Jesus and smile as he makes eye contact with the Marys and to our surprise, we’ll glow when he makes eye contact with us too. Whether meek, bold, gentle, rebel, loud, or soft-spoken, if we see the world as she should be, then we are all are peacemakers.