..It sounds so easy. It’s not.
Who or what do we think of when we think of the word “peacemaker”? Who are the people in our lives that we would consider likely candidates? They are most likely the non-confrontational, mercy people in your circle of friends. They don’t argue or fight. They are the non-violent, pacifist types. We like them, they are safe to be around. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that these nice folk are peacemakers, based upon those attributes alone, because fear of conflict may well be a root motivation for them and while fear of conflict is natural, a true peacemaker cannot allow fear to direct or control. What is it that transforms one from being a person sensitive to conflict into a full-on peacemaker? In my humble opinion, it is not just the experience of , but “the embrace” of life’s most dynamic change agent, suffering.
It is truly one of life’s enigmas that authentic transformation of a life, it seems to me, is always the product of tragedy, trauma, or pain on a level that overwhelms the emotional, psychological survival tools we develop along the way. It is not a suffering we ask for or can initiate. It is not an experience we can control, otherwise it would not be true suffering. However, suffering alone does not produce transformation or the whole world would be redeemed in some fashion by now. Suffering seems never to be in short supply. As has been said by those wiser and deeper than I, “In deep silence you can feel the pain of the whole world.”
The additional necessary element to transformation is “the embrace”. We must come to that place where we stop running from the fear that drives our lives, turn and embrace our experiences of suffering and/or the attendant fear. What are we afraid of? Suffering. How do we run? We are brilliant and very creative, we have created a bazillion ways to avoid facing our fear of pain and suffering. The easiest illustration that comes to mind is the concept of insurance. The U.S. insurance industry nets over $1 trillion a year in premiums! We are without a doubt the most insured nation in the history of the world. Why is there insurance for everything imaginable? Fear. Sit down and just brainstorm the number of insurance offerings available to us these days. It’s quite a social commentary.
Have you ever done a personal fear inventory? Set aside some time and consider just how much of what we do in our day-to-day lives is fear-based. Obviously, there are some real dangers that require responsible thought and action, but unfortunately, for many of us, fear plays far too great a motivation for getting up in the morning. We manage our lives driven by what might happen to our families, our significant others or ourselves if we were to let down our guard. We become OCD, schizoid, paranoid or some other newly labeled psychologically dysfunctional group. Of course, it is likely that we have been serving the fear master for so long that it has become a part of us, it is our default setting and it works… kinda.
For me, one of my most profound fears was that I would become a man just like my father. You see he abandoned his young family, sold everything out from under us and over time managed to self-destruct all the way to San Quentin. Not a great role model. My grandmother, who was one of the most merciful people I have ever known, one day said, without intending any harm, “Oh Johnny just don’t be like your daddy.” That statement, combined with the already ingrained shame by association, set me on a path that culminated in my mid-30s, when through a profound spiritual experience, I was shown quite brilliantly that I had been living most of my life driven by the primary purpose, not to be like my father. The fear of being like my father was so strong, and yet below the radar of my own consciousness, that while he had practiced transgressing the law, I became a practitioner of the law. I was paid to put people like him in prison. (I am some kind of classic psychological case study on so many levels!)
Negative examples can be very powerful, but they cannot win the day in the long run. The fear I speak of actually led me to obtain an education, supplied me with the power to endure, persevere and succeed on many levels. But, there is a price to be paid and at some level a fear unchecked can eat away at our soul and steal our lives. Once I embraced this revelation, about my father and my motivation, I was left floundering for a time, which confirmed to me the veracity of this mystical message. I began to lose motivation at work and passed it off as “burn out”. Ultimately, I had to make a change because I could no longer honestly perform the role. In reality, and only in retrospect did I realize (honestly, only as I wrote this) that my motivation disappeared once I made peace with my father. I, also, consequently made peace with myself. The fear that had driven me for most of my life was disarmed and that form of motivation cut off.
As an important aside, my foundation of faith supplied me with the necessary courage to acknowledge and face that fear. That faith was based in no small part by the manner in which the revelation came to me. I did not seek it. I was not even consciously aware that I was operating under that specific fear. The revelation was a mercy, grace manifest. Perhaps others can summon the courage to face their fears without faith in God, for me it was central to the revelation and the transformation.
Back to my thesis. Peace making is not for the faint of heart. I became a peacemaker, not of own accord, at least not of my own initiation. A peacemaker of my own soul. I had to come to terms, not a cease-fire, but a real resolution in order to disarm my fear. It started with the embrace, an honest appraisal and acceptance of what is. The truth about my dad and about me. I had to forgive him, seventy times seven. I had to come to the place where I could be genuinely thankful for those things that my dad gave me either by his words, his actions or via DNA. He was not evil, what he did was “evil” in a sense, but there were reasons for his actions that I will never know, but as a fellow human I can understand, even without knowing what they were. Once, actually as many times as necessary, I forgave my dad and began to acknowledge the good things he gave me, the fear of being like him began to dissipate. The patently obvious truth that I was not my dad became easier to not only believe as a psychological and biological truth, but I was actually able to receive that truth deep into my soul. I could then begin to know me in a new way, to forgive me, to love me, maybe for the first time in my life. The result… freedom, peace, wholeness. And, a hope for a future previously unknown, unconsidered, unexpected.
Incidentally, the biblical terms for peace, in both Hebrew and Greek, have to do with much more than simply the lack of conflict, rather they carry the idea of wholeness, completeness, health, welfare. A peacemaker is one who not only stems conflict, but restores life and hope.
If you care to, read the Beatitudes again sometime and you will note that there are eight groups of people who Jesus delineates, yet only one group is called “the sons of God”. Peacemakers held a special place in the list of those who would be blessed. It’s a high calling. It’s not for wimps. But, neither is it only for the “gifted”, the “anointed”, etc. Jesus wasn’t speaking to the highest caste of folks on that hillside. He hadn’t hand-picked the cream of the crop of Jewish society. It was me. It was you. It still is.
So, when we are touched by the current political and cultural civil war, a cold war that threatens the very fabric of our nation, marked by acrimony, division, even hate, consider taking up the challenge to be a peacemaker. Let’s make it our aim to speak the truth in love. To be quick to hear and slow to speak, especially with our loved ones. As we consider our own bias, and lay aside our own need to be “right”, let us consider the big picture.
We, as individuals, have no control over the machinations that drive Washington, D.C. or Wall Street. The media thrives, makes huge profits, on all the upset they themselves exist to stir up. Fear is their primary hook. The sky is always falling! They continually sow seeds of discord, division and strife and they could care less who gets hurt in the process. They are corporations. What is the primary goal of such corporations? Profits. The talking heads spew forth whatever is necessary to secure the almighty ratings lest they lose their source of income.
So what are they stirring up currently? How about the Senate confirmation hearings on the latest Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh? That was easy. There is a lot of emotion, a lot of energy (not necessarily of the healthy variety) and big difference of opinion as to the veracity of Ms. Ford as over against that of Mr. Kavanaugh. The talk shows are at full throttle. The network ratings are jumping. The public eats up every possible clue or hint or new angle. It would be a soap opera, but unfortunately the lives of real human beings are being deeply impacted by the goings-on.
If you find yourself supporting Mr. Kavanaugh might it be because you yourself are a male, or you have a son or a father or a brother who could find themselves in the very difficult position of defending such a charge? You fear that if this could happen to Kavanaugh perhaps it could happen to you, or someone you love. The fear might prompt you to question, “How far is this MeToo movement going to go, anyway?”
If, on the other hand, you side with Ms. Ford is there a possibility that you are a female and you or a friend, or a sister, or a daughter, have been victimized in much the same way and you are sick and tired of men conducting themselves in such a manner without any accountability? The sense of injustice and the fear associated with a culture that allows men to get away with this brutish behavior, while interrogating the victim publicly and, thus, exposing her to further shame may make it very difficult for you to hear Mr. Kavanaugh.
I understand that this is a complex issue and I don’t mean to be flippant or trite. For the purposes of this post my treatment of it is brief, but I trust you get my point.
In truth, can we absolutely know what happened 35 years ago between two people that none of us know personally? We weren’t there. The only testimony taken was from the two parties. We can listen to their testimonies and judge their respective credibility employing every tool known to mankind and come to some conclusion if we wish, but there is nothing close to a guarantee that in the end we will be right. We only know what the media provides, and, likely, only from the menu of our choosing. Yet, we are keen to take a position, a stand, and defend that position even if it may mean an argument with a spouse or a friend. Even if it may jeopardize a relationship. Why?
Even if we knew the truth. What would it change for us? We don’t get to vote on the issue of confirmation. We get to vote for our Senator, who votes on the issue. Our remedy is to vote for or against that Senator in the next election. Or, in the alternative, vote for a different President if you don’t like the nominees put forth. Really there is not a lot more that we can do. One thing for sure, getting angry, upset and fighting with our friends and family is not going to change the result in Washington.
The senate will vote. Kavanaugh will either be confirmed or not, irrespective of what we believe. If confirmed, he will serve out a life term along with a court of eight other justices. If not, another “victim” will be led to slaughter chasing that pinnacle of lawyerly status, Supreme Court Justice. Given the political climate and what is at stake, the likelihood is that if there is another round it will be every bit as ugly.
How will this effect my life? Not much. That’s not to say that there aren’t important issues at stake. But, I will continue to live according to the principles I have carved out over six decades of falling, flailing and occasionally finding some success. I know I have a civic responsibility to know what is going on and to engage at some level, but I don’t and I won’t allow them to steal my peace or, more importantly jeopardize my relationships. You all are too important to me to let that happen.
A good friend sent me a great alternative to the current conflagration, a photo of her grandson running down the sidewalk. What better place to focus one’s time, energy and emotion? Wisdom.
If I were king of the world (let’s all stop and thank God that’s not the case!), I would call for a six month media boycott. Can you imagine? All of the crap that they have stirred up would settle to the ground. The media would go bankrupt or they would be forced to change their game. Normal folk could get back to living their lives peacefully, with dignity, no longer hating their neighbor or their brother or sister because they have the wrong letter in front of their name. No longer would we be addicted to the TV, or our phones, or our computers waiting for the next delicious, salacious crumb to fall from the media table of our choice. Outpatient rehab centers would be overwhelmed!
I know, I’m a dreamer. But, maybe I’m not the only one…