Piecing Together Peace: Faith, transformation, and the restoration of broken narratives

Added about 6 months ago by ​Barbara Glasson

Barbara Glasson, President of the Methodist Peace Fellowship and author of Peace is a Doing Word, encourages us to reconsider the rhetoric of war and engage in the ongoing, often challenging work of shaping a more peaceful world.

In the current international climate, we may despair of there ever being such a thing as peace. The destruction that so swiftly happens when violence erupts so quickly destroys decades of relationships, of treaties, of intentions. Hopes for living peacefully are bomb-blasted into smithereens, anger breeds anger, grief breeds grievance, cycles of destruction seem impossible to challenge. We run out of language, we want to rage, to shout into the abyss of human suffering. How is it ever possible pick up these splinters and restore a place of flourishing and hope? Who will heal the traumas of the children who have witnessed atrocities, whose young lives are scarred and broken? Peace is one of those words. We think it is a good and desirable thing, but it’s hard to define. It can feel like a piece of wishful thinking rather than a real hope. 

Saul was a violent man. His passionate beliefs led him to actively seek the persecution of Christians. And yet, after his experience on the Damascus road he not only turned on his heel and walked the other way, he actively changed his outlook in order to restore communities of love and justice. Paul’s re-building of the relationships, despite the ones that he had deliberately destroyed, was his true conversion, not just seeing the light of faith but the transformation of his identity and demeanour. Peace is not simply the state of being when there is no war, violence, hatred or destruction. Peace is rather a presence of something different, a reverse of something or maybe we could say, a “conversion”. Conversion of life, both for individuals and communities means the risk of walking in a different direction altogether and being totally changed.

A man brings a shoe box into the workshop at the Repair Shop. Inside are a hundred pieces of broken pottery and TV viewers across the nation shout from their sofas: “Put it in the bin!” But the story told is not just about a broken bowl but about people fleeing from persecution, who rescued this family treasure from the home that was being bombed, who travelled across Europe and made a new life. Each piece will be cleaned and glued and placed back together; the cracks will be smoothed and the paintwork painstakingly restored by those with the patience and skill to do so. It will always be a bowl that was broken, seemingly worthless, but somehow this process will transform the story and bring healing and hope.

Peace is like this, the belief that the story can be redeemed, that the patient, painstaking commitment of humans to humanity can prevail, not by wishful thinking but by conversion, by hard work and perseverance actively piecing things together again, time and again, over and over again, repeatedly and relentlessly being prepared to walk away from justifying conflict and choosing a harder way.

We have so often used the rhetoric of war to denote Christian strength, as “soldiers of Christ” we have sung that we are called to “put our armour on, strong in the strength that God supplies through his eternal son”. Although we can assume that Wesley was referring to the heavenly battle against sin envisioned in the Letter to the Ephesians, we can so easily slip into a justification for fighting battles with those who disagree with us, assuming the moral high ground. How often we miss the point that our strength is not might but perseverance, humility, love. These things may be ridiculed as weakness, but they are in time and in fact stronger than all the powers of hatred and destruction. There is hope here, like yeast in an unpromising lump of dough, like a seed in the parched and arid earth.

Faith gives us a new kind of strength. But it also calls us to embody this in ways that may not be recognized, that may look pointless. We need to weather the ridicule and claim the strength we have within this sense of powerlessness. Our strength is a call to action, to call out violence wherever we see or hear it, to challenge the vocabulary of warfare, to resist all the rhetoric that defines others as alien or enemies and to notice those who risk themselves in many ways to bring restoration and healing.

Faith calls us to say that war is never a way to attain peace, that conflict may be inevitable but hatred needn’t be. Faith calls us to continually build community, to welcome “the other” to feed the stranger, to walk the extra mile – not in pious ways but with our sleeves rolled up and our brains in gear. Faith is about conversion of life, not so that we can hit someone else over the head with a sledgehammer of certainties, but rather so we can take the broken bowl of humanity and believe it is beautiful and envision that beauty even when the bowl is shattered.

We are often already doing this in ways that are often hard to measure in a society that is driven by quantifiable results. Community development work is peace building by another name, but the result of its piecing together of communities is often reduction in violence, less mental breakdown or reduced civil unrest, and these things are hard to measure. The Church can often collude with this, wanting measurable outcomes from investment in communities, rather than seeing the painstaking need to build trustworthy relationships that can be called upon in times of trouble. Peace is only built in this ongoing way, through the cohesion of fragile pieces that will hold together within a shared story, and this sometimes means investing long-term in projects with few quantifiable results. Peace is this hard work of holding communities together, relentlessly, faithfully and sometimes despite all odds.

Our conversion of life is to be people of hope in the hardest of places. We are called to embody non-violent resistance to all the forces that shatter our society and the integrity of the world. Ultimately war will not make peace and violence will never answer conflict. When we feel as though we are helpless in the wake of this logic we are not. Faith, hope, love they abide as strong and active verbs and peace can be pieced together in their action.

Peace is a Doing Word: Prayer Patterns for Peacemakers uses poetry, story and prayers to reflect on what practicing peace means in every moment of our daily lives. It is available in paperback and e-book from Sacristy Press.

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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