I hope that the beginning of Autumn is treating you well.
It certainly feels good to move into a new season. For me, a new season is a time to lean into refreshment.
Yet at some level, the change of season doesn’t solve the world’s problems as we wish it would.
In fact, many of us feel like this cultural season isn’t fresh at all, but is simply getting worse.
Between all of the natural disasters, racial injustice, church divisions, and violence across our world: fresh is the last word that comes to mind.
But what if it is in a world of increasing tension that freshness is actually born?
Could conflict give rise to fresh creativity?
My friends Jer Swigart and Jon Huckins invite us to step into this tension with a resounding “YES.”
In their new book, Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World, they invite us to step into a new season as everyday peacemakers.
In our day, the word “peacemaker” comes loaded with an idealistic vibe that many of us have decided isn’t actually possible to live out.
Sure, we can be kind to others and post good articles on our social media channels, but many of us feel defeated and powerless when it comes to all of the conflict in our world.
Which totally makes sense given the constant bombardment we face with news story after news story coming out about the many conflicts our culture and world face.
But what if we all took up the posture of peacemakers, the very people Jesus says are “blessed” and look like the “children of God”?
Jon and Jer invite us to step into the vocational possibility of every Jesus-follwer: peacemaking.
A new fresh season begins now. It begins with us.
In the winter of 2014, Jon and Jer invited me to go on a trip with them to Israel-Palestine to learn from peacemakers on the ground. They lead an amazing organization called The Global Immersion Project which seeks to immerse Christians in international conflicts to cultivate everyday peacemakers for their local contexts. I documented my experiences at my blog, which will give you a better idea about the nature of that trip.
I took away many things from that experience, and the core of what I share with people is contained within their new book.
It can be summed up with four words:
On my trip to Israel-Palestine, I was coached with a group of other learners on what might be possible if we took on these postures of peacemaking.
- We saw the sights in the Holy Land. But then we learned to see beyond the holy sites. We saw that behind the tourism and glam of Holy Land tours are real people who are suffering and real people calling out for a new future.
- We immersed in the stories of Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers, not only through listening, but often through breaking bread and friendship.
- We learned from them, what contending looks like in practice. What we discovered is that in the midst of conflict, in any context, contending is the costly and creative step required to move toward signs of resurrection. And what better place to learn about resurrection-like restoration than the place where it *literally* happened?
- We discovered that restore isn’t a mere buzzword or idealism: it can happen. The Israelis and Palestinians that I met who are seeing beautiful signs of hope emerge are but one example that beauty can arise from sacrifice and creative love.
What I experienced in real time with Jon, Jer, and all of those connected to The Global Immersion Project, has been wisely distilled into Mending the Divides. It is a manual to inspire peacemaking and to map out a process for individuals and faith communities to make practical steps forward as peace practitioners.
Peacemaking is God’s mission. We are invited to join this mission. Jon and Jer show us how we might take Jesus up on the invite!
I could give you several insights from this book, because they abound!
But perhaps I’ll give you one quote that offers the heartbeat of the book’s vision, and then outline an example of the practical wisdom the book brings to us.
“Friends, God’s restoration continues to be realized in our world today as we embrace our vocation as everyday peacemakers. As we see, immerse, and contend, we are restored … others are restored … broken systems are transformed … and God’s peace becomes real in our world.”
Don’t you want to join in and live as an everyday peacemaker?!!!!
We all long for significance, Jer and Jon invite us to actually lean into the very thing most followers of Jesus desire: to make ‘real’ the transcendent goodness of God.
Good ideas are great. Good ideas refined by real practices of peacemaking changes lives and communities.
To this end, the authors invite readers to discern their own steps in the see, immerse, contend and restore journey.
One of the first things we might do is: identify our own interpersonal conflict. Perhaps we instantly can think of a family member or a coworker with whom conflict festers. Maybe it is rooted in a neighborhood situation. Whatever the case may be, leaning into our own interpersonal conflicts, with these four postures as guides, may invite us to live as everyday peacemakers.
The second area to examine and consider is to identify a local injustice. Where is there pain in your city or region? Who is silenced? Harmed? Where is the racial injustice, refugee struggle, housing crisis, or any other cry for peace in your city? What would it look like to “see” this struggle with the eyes of a peacemaker?
Thirdly, perhaps there you will identify an international struggle to lean into. Before becoming a peacemaker in these situations, what do you need to know about the conflict? How has the church (if at all) contributed to this conflict, for good or for ill? Often, when it comes to Israel-Palestine, for instance, American Christianity has allowed a particular theological lens to lead to favoring one people group over the other.
However, as I learned over and over again from my Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers: Why do American Christians come here to see all of these “dead stones” when we, their fellow “living stones,” their sisters and brothers in Christ, are suffering? American favoritism has led to suffering: what would it look like to remember both sides of the wall in Israel-Palestine? This is but one example of many that Christians seeking to engage in peacemaking in international spaces might consider. It all starts with seeing and immersing.
Practicing the wisdom contained in Mending the Divides could be life-changing. The work of peacemaking, in everyday life, not only can transform conflict in the way of Jesus, but can change you. Peacemaking transforms our souls as we learn to see the Divine Image of God in the other.
I highly recommend this book for individuals and churches. It is among a few books that I think every Christian church in the West should bring into their curriculum. Mending the Divides has the potential to transform the church into being known as a peacemaking force of creative love in our world! Read it and share it with others!
May we, together, enter a fresh season of peacemaking!
Author: Kurt Willems
Kurt Willems is a pastor, author, and spiritual director. His first book, Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems our Pain, releases in March 2021. Kurt is also the host of the Theology Curator podcast. He has a master of divinity degree from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and a master of arts in comparative religion from the University of Washington.
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