This might become a series. May not. It’s more just me having Andy Rooney moments and going on old-man rants. Hope you get something out of it.
Some days I feel like a complete outsider to every Christian sub-culture. It’s no secret to most people who’ve read my previous writings that I’m sympathetic to the Eastern Orthodox position within the wave-spectrum of Christian thought, but even I get perturbed by Eastern Orthodox people who latch on to a fundamentalist, “black or white” mindset that is commonly known as “hyperdox”. Likewise, I consider myself prone to a more “liberal Christian” views on social justice, but I often am annoyed by the tribalism that can pervade even this group of open-minded individuals, with a rabid demonization of all conservative perspectives. In short, I half-jokingly refer to myself as “an anomaly of middle convictions.”
Yes, I do like to rock boats and poke bears, but I don’t particularly like it when the bears bite back. I’m a provocateur, but I’m provoking everyone. I’m trying to get in the wedge between the two sides and find the middle way. Even when my mom and dad would fight when I was little I’d get between the two of them, say “You’re both right! Now stop!” and try to be a physical manifestation of their love so they’d forget for a second their petty differences.
All this is to say that being someone who desires to see people come to their senses, I’d like to think of myself as a peacemaker. What does it really mean to be a peacemaker though? The reality is it’s a lot harder and more dangerous than it sounds. I reflect on Christ’s own words on what that means. Why do we want to pursue peace and what does it even mean to have peace?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matt. 5:9)
This is supposed to be the point where I should be cracking my knuckles and give you 10 points on what it means to be a peacemaker so you can share it with your friends and say something like “I like number five. That’s so me!” I’m not going to do that. I’m also not going to tackle “Just War theory” or anything on a grander scale, because I think we first need to have a conversation on what this means from an individual level first. I’m not into giving easy answers. Rather, I’m going to let some old, (physically) dead guys tell you what they believe it means, because frankly…they know koine Greek a heck of a lot better than I do.
First up, one of my favorite preachers of the post-Nicene era, John Chrysostom, Mr. Golden-tongue himself:
Here He not only takes away altogether our own strife and hatred among ourselves, but He requires besides this something more, namely, that we should set at one again others, who are at strife. (Homily 15, Homilies on Matthew)
We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled! But with a brother, never be at enmity in thy heart. (Homily 20, Homilies on Matthew)
Another favorite preacher and honorable father of the Church, Basil of Caesarea has this to say:
I cannot persuade myself that without love to others, and without, as far as rests with me, peaceableness towards all, I can be called a worthy servant of Jesus Christ. (Letter 203,2)
And the coup de gras, one of my all time favorite teachers and monks, Isaac of Ninevah has this to say on peace:
Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.
Be crucified, but do not crucify others.
Be slandered, but do not slander others.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.
Suffer with the sick.
Be afflicted with sinners.
Exult with those who repent.
Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.
Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.
Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.
Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.
And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.
See, to me, all of these sayings point to a revolutionary idea. That idea is that no matter how right I may believe myself to be; no matter the injustice I perceive before me, I must actually follow Christ’s command to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This dangerous idea is one that demands a sacrifice of ourselves and to be truly selfless to the point where it hurts. It demands that I give up my right to be right for Christ’s kingdom to be manifest in my life and the lives of others. It’s almost as if Jesus is daring us to let go of our own ideas ideas of justice and peace in a sense and see every person in the image of God. That’s impractical! That’s shockingly reckless! And that scares us because it means we have to give up control. Millions of martyrs throughout history gave up their control and we exalt their memory for it.
The other side to this coin is that when we see people being oppressed or being encompassed by the mob, lynched for their crimes by the masses; no matter how despicable that person may seem, we are to approach that person with love and to shout down the furious hatred rising from the mob, which is breaking into the world like a cancer. Does this mean we never speak out, never stand up and that we let all evil people go free? No. Here’s what it does mean: you do not exchange your humility and peacemaking imperative just because you have some moral upper-hand. You don’t exchange the gospel of peace for a poison, even a poisonous tongue (James 3:1-12), just because you are not identified as a pedophile, rapist, murderer or thief and the other person is. You do and you put tribal justice before a kingdom imperative.
Solidarity is a powerful tool to stand up to power, but it is also a fearsome weapon, able to ensue chaos and a whirlwind that can catch up the innocents in it’s wake. As an example of this, consider the nation’s founders of the United States who saw that such a problem could occur, which is why they segmented the democratic republic and created check’s and balances. The “tyranny of the majority” is just as frightening.
Every person is made in the image of God, from the money-grubbing pastor to the petty thief to the Wall Street executive. Let’s seek justice for those who have been hurt in the wake of injustice by evil men, but let’s remember that the evil that lurks in the hearts of all men can just as easily blind us and numb us from our sins, so we then justify our actions through righteous indignation. In world where hashtags on Twitter and rumors on Facebook can quickly destroy someone’s life, to be a peacemaker is a dangerous ideology because it asks you to give up your vendetta (even if it’s a “just” one) and your control and let the King of the Universe take them into His hands.