I like planning ahead, especially when it comes to planning Sunday services and sermons. Last summer, and moving into fall, as all of the tension in the United States seemed to boil over, side-effects perhaps of necessary lockdowns due to COVID, affects on the economy, racial tensions spurred by the deaths of several persons of color at the hands of police, to name a few causes of unrest. Add into that mix a host of difficult to distinguish trouble makers and rabble rousers happy to make things worse, to say nothing or as little as possible about the viciousness of the rhetoric leading up to the Presidential election, and you have several problems crying out for peace. Because of all of those things, or each of them together, I began to think about doing a sermon series on peace for the weeks after Christmas.
Part of what I presented in that sermon series was a number of practical ways to live a peaceful life. I write from the perspective of a Christian pastor, rooted in stories from the Bible. My hope in sharing some of these points is that even if we do not share the same faith or approach to faith, we share the same humanity.
Throughout the years, when I have read the phrase, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called Children of God” (Matthew 5:9) I thought it was about professional peacemakers, diplomats and other power brokers at an international level. But as I began to consider this passage again, it struck me as much closer to home, more individually and with a sense of obligation. I think too about the song, ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth” (See author info below) and the last line that is often sung with such passion and gusto in church, “…and let it begin with me!” Do we mean that? It is a little like the words in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us as we forgive…” Do we mean that too?
As those phrases and that question, “Do we mean it?” came to me several practical ideas began to weave together, and present themselves to me, so I offer them here for your consideration. Lofty ideals need to be tethered to practical applications.
1 – Everyone is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) even those with whom you profoundly disagree. Look for the gifts that God has given them. This might take some work. Ask God to help you see their gifts. Take it a deeper step, and ask God to help you see individuals as God sees them (yes, even your annoying neighbor, in-law, or co-worker).
2 – It may be stated differently in other Christian denominations, but in the United Methodist Book of Worship and Hymnal as well, one of our Baptismal promises reads: “We promise to accept the freedom and power God gives us to reject evil and injustice in all its forms.” This is a solemn promise. I do my best to rely on that promise in my every day life. Some days I fail, but I believe that God will give me the grace and power to keep that promise. It does not happen by osmosis though, it is a promise that requires our willing participation.
3 – If you want to make peace with family, friends and neighbors, and if you want to teach peace by example, stop using labels for people. Labels belong on cans, people have names. Do not call a person “retard” or “retarded” or any other name. Do not use generalized political descriptions like “far left” or “radical right.” That has become a very accepted pattern of speech, but I tell you that it is name calling and dismissive. When you refer to a person like that, they become less a person in your eyes and more the enemy.
4 – Watch your words, not just cuss words. Words can inflame or inspire. What do you want your words to do? Think before you speak. My favorite image for this is that of a tube of toothpaste. Like toothpaste that cannot be put back into the tube, once we have given voice to hurtful words, we cannot simply withdraw them. Like arrows that have left the bowstring, they can wound and cause irreparable harm.
5 –Humility is essential and sorely needed. Micah 6:8 says “Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. (New International Version of the Bible) or “Do justice love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” (New Revised Standard Version). My ethics professor in seminary said it was always important to have the humility to know, and admit, that you might be wrong.” I think most of us would rather push our rightness than to exercise humility.
6. Respect! Treating all of humanity, including your family, pets, neighbors and people with whom you disagree with respect is crucial. In my work preparing couples for marriage, I stress respect as the most important thing. You might think it is love, but love that does not show itself in respect is empty. (As an aside, I am totally not sure how smashing wedding cake in your spouses’ face shows love, or how the tradition got started).
7. Practice gratitude, every day. Recognizing your blessings from God can put you in a much better frame of mind to deal with conflict and to make peace.
8. If you have wronged someone, admit it to them, do not make excuses. So, do not say, I am sorry, but…and ask their forgiveness. Accepting responsibility for your words and actions can be much more effective.
9. Exercise compassion. Everyone you meet is dealing with something, so be kind. The 2021 theme for the National Random Acts of Kindness Movement is “Make Kindness Your Norm.” http://www.randomactsofkindness.org
10. Suspend judgment. It is easy to judge another person’s actions, without knowing their background, or their story.
11. You don’t have to like someone, or agree with them to make peace. You need common ground and a willingness to agree to disagree.
12. Listen! Listen to what the other person is saying about how they feel, what they believe or want, and why. Have you ever been in a group of some kind, where instead of listening to the person who was talking, you got caught up in thinking about what you would say when you got a chance to jump in? That is not listening. Sometimes friends do that, classmates do that and couples do it too. Try to zero in on what the person who is speaking is saying and ask clarifying questions.
13. Look for common ground. You might assume there is no common ground, but if you can put some of these foundation stones in place you might be surprised.
I have had the nuts and bolts of this post on my computer and in reserve in my blog, but just procrastinated. I thought perhaps I had waited to long and these words would not be needed; but peace does not seem to be on any horizon, so I offer these thoughts in the hope that they can help.
Not holding back the tide,
Copyright 2020-2024 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com
“Let There Be Peace on Earth” Words and music by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson; harmony by Charles h. Webb, 1987 Copyright 1955. Assigned to Jan=Lee Music renewed 1983.
Linking up with Esme Senior Salon, #Life This Week (Denyse Whelan) and #Weekend Coffee Share