Making Peace with Peacemaking

Nick Nagy, “Peacemaking in the Middle”

Over the winter break, our editorial assistant, Nick Nagy, took a close look at people of his home state, Indiana, and by association the rest of the Midwest, who, especially since the 2016 election, have been characterized as “hopelessly isolationist and dismally Trumpian.” Nick’s lead-off article in our January issue raised a number of questions about the social and relational starting points of peacemaking:

• What is the broad stroke cultural characterization of your geographic location?
• How does it affect how you can be involved in peacemaking?
• How does it influence what peace looks like?

In this essay, Nagy resists a growing societal inclination to color with the same broad brush all the individual people living in large swaths of land painted monochromatically red or blue on the electoral map. His is a Kurt Vonnegut-inspired gesture, highlighting different choices some people make in creating a culture that works differently, their refusals to contribute to a cultural insularity.

• What reactions do you have to Vonnegut’s notion of cultural relativity as a source of hope?
• In what ways does cultural insularity work against peace and peacemaking efforts?

Nagy sees his neighbors in Indiana “getting into the thick of the peacemaking enterprise through engagement, conversation, and action.” The path he takes in this regard is worth some deeper reflection:

• First, describe the engagements, conversations, and actions he gives as examples. With whom is this peacemaking happening? What is the content of the engagements, conversations, and actions? What are the signs that peace is being made?
• How are engagements, conversations, and actions effective against cultural insularity? How are they effective as peacemaking efforts? Where do they fail or falter, and why?
• What is the nature or character of peace as described by this author? What does this essay contribute to your understanding of what is peace and what it is not?

Diana Gibson, “An Inconvenient Incarnational Peace”

Like Nick Nagy, Diana Gibson also makes the case for peacemaking taking place in interpersonal relationships. The real, human faces of people “make peacemaking relentlessly incarnational.” The word “incarnational” indicates that the faces Gibson describes incarnate the Divine or the holy, a notion that provokes further questions:

• What does it mean to Gibson that peacemaking is incarnational? How does she relate seeing the image of God with peacemaking?
• What keeps us from seeing the image of God in each other?
• What keeps you from stretching your heart and mind “even wider?”
• Can you think of examples of peacemaking that are not “incarnational”? Can peacemaking be other than incarnational?

“While our stance for peace must be passionate, so must our love,” Gibson argues.

• What is the relationship between peace and love according to Gibson?
• How do you understand the relationship between peace and love?

Like Nagy, Gibson identifies avoiding conversation with those whom we disagree to be a failure at peacemaking.

• On what basis does Gibson make this claim? Do you agree or disagree?
• What possibilities for peacemaking have you squandered?

The author offers three suggestions for incarnational peace and prophetic resistance: 1. be not afraid; 2. be steadfast; 3. be creative.

• How do you see these suggestions as necessary for peacemaking?
• What is the greatest challenge to you and why?
• What is the nature or character of peace as described by this author? What does this essay contribute to your understanding of what is peace and what it is not?

Jamye Wooten, “No Peace until All the Children are Well”

Like Gibson, Jamye Wooten sees faces as a starting point for peacemaking. Here, he looks into the faces of young children in Baltimore, sitting in schools that have no electricity or heat. He, too, might say that peacemaking is incarnational, that one’s stance for peace must be passionate as must be our love. But Wooten also insists on justice as the evidence of love, and the equitable distribution of power as essential features of peace and of peacemaking.

Clearly the children in Baltimore “are not well,” he insists, challenging us with new questions:

• What are the implications for peace in Wooten’s assessment of the priorities of the community?
• How do you see the connection between the quality of life for children and the things that make for peace?

Wooten quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. on the collision of immoral power and powerless morality.

• What does this mean for strategic efforts at peacemaking? Think about individual efforts and also collective actions.
• Where do you see the collision of immoral power and powerless morality influencing current peacemaking initiatives?

Again Wooten quotes King: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.” And he goes on to say, “Preacher Pacifiers and powerless morality will not lead us to longstanding peace. If peacemaking and moral movements are to have any lasting results we must shift the conversation from feel good discussions around justice and love and begin a discussion around power and equity that is focused on making sure ‘All the children are well.’”

• How does this illuminate and/or challenge your own understandings of peace and peace-making?
• How do you imagine Nagy and Gibson might engage this quote in their essays on peacemaking?

Wooten decries peace as not just the absence of violence, but rather the absence of the violence that creates violence.

• What is the nature or character of peace as described by this author? What does this essay contribute to your understanding of what peace is and what it is not?

All three articles in review

The three articles in the series on peacemaking in January’s Bearings reflect the complexity of the task of peacemaking, not to mention the complexity of identifying what peace actually is in our efforts to make it. The whole of peace is most certainly greater than the sum of its parts.

Perhaps even more, those parts can seem paradoxical. The physicist Niels Bohr famously said, “The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.”

• Where in the three articles do you see truths in opposition to truths?
• What does that reveal to you about the nature of peace and peacemaking?

It is perhaps easier to say what peace is not rather than what it is. How do the authors characterize peace more powerfully by describing what it is not?

Nagy says, “intimate, interpersonal gestures may seem tangential to the larger idea of peacemaking” that it is imperative “to cultivate peace in interpersonal relationships or else we will struggle to obtain peace on a larger scale.”

• Do you think interpersonal gestures are “tangential” to peacemaking?
• How might Diana Gibson respond to this? What about Jamye Wooten?

According to Gibson, Christian peacemaking requires prophetic resistance against the powers of death in our world. And prophetic resistance requires strong, visible worlds and actions that imagine a different world.

• What is the relationship between the “yes” of seeing the incarnate divine in the faces of others and the “no” of prophetic resistance to the political, social, and religious structures marked by cruelty, corruption, and violence?
• What are the points of connection between Gibson’s essay and those of Nagy and Wooten?

Wooten writes, “But some 50 years later moral convictions and concerns seem to dominate the discussion in faith-rooted justice spaces. Conversations around peace and justice devoid of power. Power seems to be a discussion that many are uncomfortable having.”

• How do you imagine Wooten might respond to Nagy’s and Gibson’s articles given his concerns about absence of power in conversations about peace?

We return again to Dr. King for one final reflection: “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

• Describe what you understand as the relationship between justice, power, peace – and love.

21stCenturyCulture, Baltimore, Children, Diana Gibson, Incarnational Peace, interpersonal relationships, Jamye Wooten, Justice, Kurt Vonnegut, love, Martin Luther King Jr., MLK Jr., Nick Nagy, Peace, Peacemaking, Power, Reflection

Pamela Shellberg

Dr. Pamela Shellberg is the Scholar-in-Residence at The BTS Center, crafting “Course Corrections,” a program for imaginatively responding to changes in the church and in life based on the biblical template of Paul’s life and writings. During the 2015-16 academic year, Pam was the visiting professor of New Testament studies at Andover Newton Theological School, jointly appointed by ANTS and The BTS Center. She is the author of Cleansed Lepers, Cleansed Hearts: Purity and Healing in Luke-Acts (Fortress Press, 2015). A teacher in schools for lay ministry in the Maine Conference of the UCC and the New England Synod of the ELCA, she thinks and writes about the metaphors in poetry, art, and music as lenses for bible reading and as tools for interpretation. Pam may be reached via e-mail.


Cover Image: FunGi_ (Trading), BANKSY (San Francisco, December 7, 2011). Via Flickr. Cropped. CC2.0 license.

Inside Image 1: Nick Nagy, Untitled (2017). Recolored, Cropped. CC2.0 license.

Inside Image 2: Mobilus in Mobili, Women’s March on Washington (January 21, 2017). Via Flickr. CC2.0 license.

Inside Image 3: Danni Williams, Via Facebook (2018). CC2.0 license.