Lesson 3: Speaking the Message of Peace

PeaceI am looking for a way to peace in our deeply divided society. Just about everyone recommends conversation and that is exactly what seems impossible in our present situation. That really came home last week as I was reading responses to last week’s lesson while listening to David Brooks’ Yale Divinity School lecture “The Crisis in Moral Formation.” Brooks maintained restoring ethical behavior depends on people being fully present for one another, speaking honestly and listening fervently. The responses, which by the way were far more than I had received for six months, overwhelmingly lamented the breakdown of truthful communication because we are already at war with one another.

I was interested in Brooks because he was comparing what seemed to be opposites, somewhat in the fashion I found myself doing when looking at the “either or” stance in our public conversation. He attributed the breakdown in moral development to placing freedom over personal relationships, achievement over equality, self over community, and skepticism over trust. The healing response he proposed involved restoring an appropriate balance between these. I had been toying with the pluses and minuses of a “both and” approach. Listening to him led me to think matters were far more complex than I or, for that matter, he was thinking.

I found myself remembering a talk given at a peace church conference many years ago. The speaker predicted the major 21st century societal problem demanding Christian response would be unregulated competition. He assumed the community to whom he was speaking understood competition was getting out of hand and took for granted winning at any cost was unchristian. He got right into describing how co-operation was an essential aspect of love that had to be taught at this time. Using I Corinthians 12- 14 as the definitive biblical treatment, he spoke of love inspiring Christians to share their God-given gifts for the good of the community. He talked about sharing being more important than winning and mentioned Jesus’ claim that achieving true greatness meant serving the needs of others.

The speaker obviously believed his purpose was to help his listeners speak the gospel message. He was supplying words they could use to understand it themselves and employ in explaining it to others.

Perhaps because he was a pacifist, I began thinking of Revelation’s message for the contemporary church. Of course, I am not thinking of the crazy self-serving misinterpretations about future events. The prophet is really speaking about Christian conduct in the midst of war with the Roman Empire and offers the most pacifist message in the Bible. He maintains our only weapons are the Word of God, prayer, and, if necessary, martyrdom. Although our first reading might lead us to believe God makes up for that in violently destroying evil, a second more careful perusal reveals the deity simply allows violence to destroy itself.

All of that leads me to think in our situation, where creative conversation is all but impossible, our task might not be struggling to reach some kind of “both and” resolution. Perhaps we are simply called to speak as clearly as possible the gospel message in hopes that our witness will eventually subdue evil as it did in the Roman Empire. That would mean not seeking a healthy balance, but explaining carefully the importance of personal relationships, equality, community, and trust when it comes to the values mentioned by Brooks. And just as the pacifist saw the times calling for a closer examination of the place of co-operation in the love command, so we might elaborate on the necessity of suffering in our time. That’s what I’ll try to do next week.

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