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What is Peace?

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Jesus’ life was a storm of controversy. The apostles, like the prophets before them, could hardly go a day without controversy. Paul said that he debated daily in the marketplace. To avoid controversy is to avoid Christ. We can have peace, but it is a servile and carnal peace where truth is slain in the streets.

Rc sproul

As someone who has struggled with experiencing lasting peace due to anxiety I have had many times where I’ve wanted to withdraw, lash out or end a relationship… and at times I have even done so if I am honest.

I am in my mid fifties now and in the last 10 years our cultural landscape has drastically changed.

We live in an era where ideas can be pushed to market extremely quickly. All it takes is marketing... even a horrible concept or idea can gain traction. Marketing is everything now.

In this arena of image over content there are many new teachers that have gained traction. Some have degrees, others... like myself do not . As such, we need to put on a critical thinking cap to wade through the noise every day.

There are many widely spread quotes about self-care that are in their truest state utterly narcissistic. By the standards of todays social media... anyone who does not bring immediate joy and peace into our lives should be pushed out. Further to that anyone who speaks anything that hurts us must be shut out of our existence. We have become judge, jury and executioner over all fellow humans and the punishment for all is banishment from our presence when we find the offending party guilty of their crimes. There is no jury of our peers in this narcissistic fad... there is only our judgement largely based on our current emotional state and perhaps a 7.5 second tik-tok. This has given way to a new cultural label called "cancel culture".

When we are in a place of pain or hurt from something someone said or did the “fight or flight” space in our mind agrees in a deeply emotional way with anything that reinforces the deep seated negativity towards the perpetrator. The isolating and censoring of certain relationships sounds amazing in the moment with its instant relief! To be honest it often brings short term relief… but does it bring lasting authentic peace?

There is most certainly a space for telling an offending party “hey I was really hurt by what you said… I need to pause briefly to process this. Let’s set a date to talk”. This response sets a boundary but also gives us time to process our feelings… which is needed for true healing. As I see it for authentic and deep relationships there must be honest, sincere follow up where everything is on the table for discussion... that is if we truly want lasting peace in our relationships.

While there are times a relationship should be cancelled… I think many of us have the sense that our societal rush to judgement is making us extremely shallow. Offense alone has become enough to end a relationship… and therefore our ability to be compassionate humans that are capable of empathy and kindness to hurting people has diminished. Everything is filtered through its impact on our feelings. We create additional collateral damage by taking the position that any fallout from decisions we make to protect ourselves is not our problem but rather the problem of those we offend... in other words it's every man or woman for themselves!

My first experience being cancelled was when I tried to help a young couple through some marriage challenges. I was young and inexperienced myself... not recognizing I was over my head. I was presented with a situation where one of them played back an audio recording where they were clearly trying to entrap the other. I told this person they were being abusive in doing this... it was not accepted well… in hindsight I should have just said they should seek professional help… my comment ended the relationship I had with them. It hurt that I was no longer considered worthy and could not be allowed space to have any kind of connection. I have regretted my words - whether they were right or wrong is irrelevant... what I was trying to do was right but my method was wrong... so I was wrong. My point is that there is no recourse in cancellation... only regret.

I have wanted to cancel relationships myself… I’m not proud of this… my wife is compassionate and kind however and she has been a crucial part of increasing my capacity to show grace and compassion when needed.

It was well over 25 years ago that our relationship with my wife’s mom and dad was extremely rough. They were very concerned with us and said some really unkind things in the process. At one point - her mom... who was very strict about dress and tradition said to my wife “your hair looks like a dog”… I’m so proud of Mary's response because she didn’t skip a beat in replying “some dogs are pretty” and just changed the subject.

We had some intensely emotional visits in those days... In the 20 years following we never quit going to visit… we were there in the room when her dad slipped into heaven… a somber and beautiful family moment. He had lived a full life and died peacefully in his sleep. We had a good relationship with him in the last 5 years of his life and it's something we are incredibly thankful for.

Every time we went to visit mom - even before Dad passed away, we hugged her and told her “I love you”…. Over time the relationship grew and changed and we learned what not to say in her presence - out of respect… and we saw a change over time that was surreal…joy replaced fear and empathy replaced judgment. We deepened our relationship immensely by being intentional about her as a person instead of solely self focused on our wounds. Our wounds did not give us a right to inflict more wounds elsewhere. We realized our part was to set boundaries... not create new wounds.

As I write this I think of how easy it would have been to cut and run 20 years ago…. We could have self justified our actions easily and and entirely missed their humanity… and missed grace altogether.

Ah... but such is the truth of todays “reel” world… we are smarter than our ancestors, and obviously so much better than them as well. Those character flaws we see in these past generations... we would never have had such flaws. We judge those before us, whether it's parents or ancestors based on our life experiences and make bold claims that while they were flawed we would not have been...

We did not cancel my wife's parents… much to my wife’s credit. We chose to love them, we did set loving boundaries... that was hard. We agreed to disagree on some issues. We were, thanks to my wife's stalwart and steadfast respect for her parents able to maintain a deep and growing respect for them and... as their fears subsided, our relationship grew! -Also, as our maturity and faith grew, we could see our failures as well... which grew our admiration and respect for them further. We could see each other's humanity! We decided - together with her parents to live in the real world instead of our own self absorbed "dome" of emotional response.

Today… and for the last 10 years when my wife and I walk into my mother-in-laws presence we are greeted with incredible joy… at 96 she can hug with strength I didn't know she possessed. After a long hug filled with “I love you’s” we break away and she looks straight into each of our eyes individually and while she holds our hands she says “thank you so much for coming”… joy is evident in her voice... and the tears in my eyes may also be evident.

Friends… no amount of money can buy such moments… those moments are BURNED into both my own and my wife’s hearts. The indelible, incredible joy of grace… as the hymn goes "Grace that will pardon and cleanse within"!

True peace does not occur in the absence of conflict… and honestly if peace is our goal it has become our God… further to that - peace at any cost is not peace but simply the absence of conflict

Jesus does not show us the way to peace at any cost… He shows us the way to eternal peace at great personal cost. Every parable, every word He spoke laid out the cost of following Him.

It is time for the Church and every follower of Christ to lay down the idol of “peace” or rather... the "absence of conflict" and pursue authenticity...

Authenticity with our Creator, our fellow man and ourselves.

We must learn to engage and talk through difficult things

We must learn to grapple with hard questions

We must learn to seek wholeness - both personally and corporately as opposed to simply staying away from conflict. Conflict avoided is destruction delayed.

As Matthew says - as he quotes Jesus:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?"

He is calling us towards a life that makes impact to those around us... this passage found in Matthew 5 is filled with so much wisdom...

Stay strong and be the change!

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