Friday, December 6, 2013

The Peacemakers

I woke up thinking of this beattitude, perhaps as a reflection on the loss of Nelson Mandela.

Blessed are the peacemakers...

And it's true. Blessed, indeed. The world lost a great peacemaker yesterday, but it's only fair to mention that he wasn't always about peace. (Stay with me on this one. I'm not about to bash the man.) The truth is that for his early years, Mandela was a violent man. He came to believe, at least for a time, that the only way to combat the violence against his people was with more violence. Only after trying such a thing, and spending many many years in prison, did he realize the error of his ways. When released, he became a peacemaker and the iconic figure at the center of the black/white harmony in the new republic of South Africa. As I write, the news has just shown the image of his swearing in as president, with four white men serving exclusively as his honor guard at that ceremony.

That's peace.

It's hard to harmonize, though, isn't it? When we think of peace, we think of Gandhi. We think of Mother Teresa. We think of these men and women who don't have violence in their past, who never had an aggressive thought. We think of the gentle, quiet spirits. That's what we think peace looks like. But I would argue that these are not dynamic peacemakers. Peace-spreaders, maybe. Peace-keepers, perhaps. But not peacemakers. Not in the way Mandela was a peacemaker.

Because all of these good people, and certainly such a life should be commended, did not bring anyone together. They didn't settle conflict or bridge gaps. They didn't harmonize differences. They didn't bring people together. They brought themselves into the people as an oasis of peace, but providing a respite is very different than providing resolution. And I think that's why Mandela was so good at it - he, too, was a man looking for resolution. He would never settle for respite.

The same is true of all great peacemakers - they all have a significant measure of un-peace in their past. They have violent histories. They've know the pain. They know the fight and the separation and the struggle. Think about a man like Paul. He was one of the greatest apostles we know of, a man who spread the message of Christ - a message of peace - to an expanding region. But he wasn't always a peaceful man. He was a Christian-killer. He was a violent warrior. He was an arrogant Pharisee. Then his heart changed, and he spent his life working for peace. The peace of Christ, which passes all understanding.

And he was great at it.

Anyone who is good at making peace necessarily knows what the absence of peace looks like. Intimately. They know what it feels like. That's why they are able to appreciate peace - their very spirits are seeking it, too. They understand that respite isn't enough. They know that a cease-fire is tenuous. They won't resign themselves to something so simple as a truce because even in a truce, wounds fester. They wholly pursue healing. They actively seek resolution. Not to broker peace, but to foster it by setting in work a healing motion.

And they are blessed. And as they pursue resolution, true peace that reconciles differences and reduces distances, we see they are truly God's children, learning their Father's trade. Peace.

...For they shall be called children of God.

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