“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” — Jesus—
So, yesterday, I made my request for forgiveness for those whom I offended in a post made on FB. I also disclosed that some of those who contacted me in their pain and confusion also asked: Why wasn’t I involved in reconciliation and peacemaking?
For those who asked, first off: Thanks. I suppose in the present cultural climate, as well as in the stream of a former political tradition, after an election in the USA, we’re all supposed to “come together for the sake of the country/democracy.” Or so a version of that idiom goes.
In a limited way, that idiom still possesses power in our social interactions, although my read of the power may not be what is embedded in the request for reconciliation, peacemaking, and unity.
In the latter, the power should lead toward a justifiable sense of victory in the election, and a readiness to collaborate with the new administration, to set aside conflict and enmity, and to work toward a smooth transition in power.
Also, the declaration of the idiom should also become an occasion for those who voted contrary to reaffirm their commitment to democracy, however bitter the loss, and to work towards the peace and prosperity of the nation. So, the idiom often goes, and in the past, it worked.
But, who it worked for has been exposed and illuminated in irreversible ways. That discussion will be deferred for another post.
How the idiom now limps along could be up for discussion here as well. Instead, I want to attend to why the idiom is quickly becoming evacuated of its power.
In other words, the plea for reconciliation and for unity cannot move quickly past the words, the precipitating violence, and the identities of candidates with histories of antagonism. The persons who hear the words, receive the violence, and become displaced from the antagonism not only deserve to be heard and known:
For them, any real attempt at reconciliation cannot bypass the offense: it merely generates a false sense of unity for those who possess the social and cultural power. Let me explain this with a very scary moment from last week that involved my wife.
She was riding the train home, seated next to a black man, and across from her was an elderly Latina and a man wearing a yarmulke. At a following stop, a white man entered, dressed in camouflage gear, rolling in his bicycle. Behind him was a black man, dressed in a hospital gown with a wristband on, and presenting quite disoriented. The white man began to loudly berate the gown-adorned man, who appeared to be quite oblivious to the volume of the criticism. He then disembarked at the next stop.
The black man seated next to Annette attempted to distract the white man from the criticizing the other black, but that only escalated him into further shouting, including comments about the election results, that he was a retired veteran, and that he could say whatever he wanted to say.
At this point, Annette noticed that everyone around her was not white. And, that the white man was banging his bicycle against the elderly Latina. Then black man leaned over to Annette and told her that the white man had a knife in his coat: and the white man heard the comment. He became enraged, and threatened to assault everyone on the train because he could and that he did not need the knife. The black man attempted again to walk the guy back from his anger: and then Annette, the black man, and everyone else exited the train at the next stop. Violence avoided. The threat of violence: not avoided.
These events routinely occur through those with social and cultural power, especially whenever their sense of unity feels threatened. And, often, the feeling of a perceived threat generates injustice: such as verbal assault and the promise of battery. Of course, there are other ways those feelings get expressed: but, injustice often manifests as a result.
Any proposal for reconciliation and peacemaking, then, must address the injustice, the lament, and then—and only then—enter further processes for reconciliation. I would add: let’s not just address the wrongs, say “sorry,” and call that “reconciliation”: let’s get our attention on what will promote human flourishing, i.e., shalom, and make that one of the end goals of reconciliation.
From within the Christian tradition, Jesus offers power and companionship for not only human flourishing, but also for the antecedent messiness that accompanies reconciliation.
What a blessing that would be, and it would demonstrate the identities of those involved in such peacemaking.