I got snared by the Peace Trap this afternoon.
This afternoon my Park Hill colleagues and I gathered to make final preparations for our joint remembrance on September 11th this coming Sunday morning. We have been working together since early in the summer to jointly create this opportunity for people to commemorate and reflect upon that day and the decade that followed. The group consists of clergy who represent Lutherans, Presbytarians, Church of Christ, Jews, Muslims and Episcopalians. Despite our different religious traditions (and yes, Lutherans and Epsicopalians and Presbytarians are different traditions, in spite of my Jewish tendency to lump all Christians together as one in our minds), we are still somewhat like minded. This like mindedness extends from the way we desired to commemorate September 11 to how we understand similar contentious social issues. And yet, after months of planning an experience such as this one – we were still discussing the use of or absence of certain words, ideas and symbols for Sunday’s commemoration. For a moment I felt the tickle of irony forming in my mind as I internally snickered about the possibility of peace. If this group could not get it together …
And then I caught myself as I fell into the Peace Trap. You know the Peace Trap – the ‘Hallmarkian’, ‘Disney-fied’ idea about the nature of peace. The ‘end-of-days’ and messianic vision of what the world will be like when we (finally) all get it together. The Peace Trap is the understanding of peace that means the ‘Us’ in the world will finally defeat the ‘Them’ in the world (and the ‘Them’ in the world will finally understand that the ‘Us’ was right all along. In the vision of the Peace Trap we create/find/discover a world without conflict and no one ever feels as if his or her ideals or values are challenged or threatened. That kind of thinking is the Peace Trap.
The only way to unsnare oneself from the Peace Trap is to take a good, long hard look at the true nature of peace. Peace is messy. Peace is about acknowleding feeling unsettled and compromised … and then choosing to live with those feelings because there is something greater than the discomfort of feeling those things. Peace is about accepting the differences and dissonance that follows, because growth and evolution occur only when there is friction and conflict. After all, we can only make peace with those forces that oppose or threaten us- whether these forces are painful memories, unsettled issues, difficult people or others whom seek our pain or destruction.
The word we translate as ‘peace’ from the Hebrew is the word ‘shalom.’ It derives from a Hebrew root that speaks to ideas of completed-ness and whole-ness. Being ‘complete’ is larger than simply an absence of conflict or threat. Being ‘whole’ is greater than simply feeling like everyone agrees with us or knows we are right. For our world to be complete or whole each and every disparate part within the world would need to accept the rest as part of that complete whole. At the same time each disparate part would need to maintain its own separateness. The same goes in imaging our communities, our families, ourselves as whole and complete.
Those moments this afternoon of still trying to determine what words and symbols belonged in our celebration … were essentially peaceful moments. Many different clergy, many different religions, many different people maintaining a larger vision for wholeness, while living out the realities of our different-ness. It was hard. It was fun. It was meaningful. It is life.
Seek peace and pursue it these days of Elul … and beware of the Peace Trap.