Praying for Peace

I’ll never forget where I was on the evening that Osama bin Laden was captured and killed. On that night, I was crawling into bed before a  week-long workshop in conflict mediation. I would begin this training early the next morning. I knew it would be a long day but before I settled into slumber I checked Twitter. I scrolled through my news feed in disbelief. It seemed like a practical joke, but there it was in black white. Osama bin Laden was dead.

Of course, I remember where I was that day too. I remember what it felt like to answer the phone in a foreign country to learn that my home had been attacked. I remember the desparation and fear of trying to find my step-mother’s whereabouts in New York City. I do. I remember. I will never forget.

I don’t want to add another one of these pivotal moments where my peers will ask, “Where were you when?” Ten years later, the desperation and fear I felt has been replaced with shock. My fellow Americans began rejoicing the moment the news broke. They celebrated that “this monster” was dead. I was unsettled by this by rejoicing. Indeed, I was young when it happened. I had just graduated from college. I was still covered by my parents’ health insurance. I had yet to pay my own rent. I had only just begun to realize the reality of what my life would be when members of my church and community were killed on that tragic day in September. On Sunday night, I watched college students celebrate with the waving of flags as I wondered, “What story have we told them that these youth celebrate so joyfully?”

It’s that story that is making tomorrow’s sermon hard to write. I’m not preaching from the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Easter 3A. Instead, I’m turning my attention to the end of Matthew’s Gospel — the part after the story we heard on Easter Sunday. I’m wondering how the story continues at the same moment that I’m struggling with the way our nation’s story has continued after September 11, 2001.
It’s that story that hung over me all week as I worked to mediate conflict in congregational settings. In conflict resolution, there is an intentional process of listening and mutual understanding that moves the participants toward peace. That possibility of peace requires the active and voluntary engagement of those participants. Of course, I was attending this workshop to build my skills as a local church pastor in the United Church of Christ, but I cannot stop thinking about my country.

In conflict resolution within the church, we begin with some reminders about our shared faith. We pray to recall that we are all created in the image of God and that our faith calls us into love. These points are easily forgotten in times of conflict but they are inherent to beginning the peacemaking process. They are the things they we must never forget. Peace cannot come with disrespect. Peace can’t come when we rejoice in the other’s monstrosity. Peace can only come when we see the spirit of God in the other. Churches fail at this as much as government leaders and terrorists. Church members come with their own ideas of right and wrong. We layer these attitudes and ideas upon our sacred text and proclaim it as gospel. We fail as much as our governments do, but I can’t quite give up on the hope that peace can be achieved. I can’t quite settle comfortably into the fact that anyone’s death abruptly ends the conflict between two people or two nations or two cultures. I mourn that we missed the chance to see each God in each other. It’s something we seem to repeat over and over again. It’s too easy to respond to hate with hate, but my faith in Jesus Christ invites me to see you — no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey — as clothed in that same grace. I’m challenged to see beyond the evil and the hate. I’m pushed to see you as God’s beloved even if you can’t see that in me. It’s hard. At times, it feels impossible and overly utopian but after this week of conflict mediation and vengeful rejoicing, I find myself muttering with Jesus, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”
It’s the only prayer I can offer as I hope our young and old learn to tell a story that truly does lead toward a resolved conflict and greater peace throughout our world. As the President and General Minister of the United Church of Christ encourages in his pastoral letter this week, it is a time of deep prayer and reflection. I pray that our world might know more peace.

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