Rector's Blog Throwback Series: Hoping for Peace
Editor's note: This blog is part of our Throwback Series and was originally posted on December 17, 2021.
“This year I resolve to be more sexist.”
It was New Year’s Eve ten years ago and we were standing in my kitchen. It was just my friend Rebecca and me – our spouses were in the other room, and I revealed to her my resolution. Before we go any further and I try to explain myself, let me be clear that this was a terrible resolution. At the time though, I thought I was on to something.
“More sexist?” Rebecca asked. She - my dear friend, a fantastic priest, a brilliant human, and very much a feminist – did not brave the holiday traffic to come an hour plus north just to deal and spend the evening listening to my nonsense. She didn’t like it, and she quickly said, “That is stupid. Please explain.”
So I did.
I was three years into this marriage, I said, and I had realized something: I kept expecting my spouse to be like me, to think like me, to respond and react like me, and it was making me miserable. It was no help to either of us. And I thought to myself, if I just acknowledged that she was a woman and I was a man and we would therefore be different about all sorts of things, I could then begin to accept those differences and we might have a little more peace in the household. So, I reasoned, I needed to be more sexist.
This was a terrible idea, and Rebecca told me so. But, in her seemingly infinite grace and patience with me, she said, “Well, this sexism thing is dumb, but I want you to let your wife be herself, so I’m going to tentatively support it for now.”
The good news for all of us is that I’ve never been able to keep a New Year’s Resolution for more than a week. And while I’m sure I’m still more sexist than I should be, my sexism now lies in the realm of the unintentional. It’s also worth saying that, aside from my sheer lack of resolve, my basic views about sex and gender have changed significantly in the last decade. I don’t really buy into the whole men are from Mars women are from Venus binary that once offered me such simple solutions – but that’s a conversation for another time.
In the meantime, I’m going to venture to say one good thing about that bad idea of mine, and that’s this: I was beginning to understand that for me to know any kind of peace, I was going to have to accept the person I loved for who they were and not for who I wanted them to be. The gender part of that idea was wrongheaded. But my friend Rebecca, in her wisdom and kindness, saw that underneath my ridiculousness was a person who was trying to understand acceptance.
We talk about wanting peace a lot. We talk about our hope for a peaceful future, with peaceful relationships, a peaceful nation, a peaceful planet. But it seems like every version of peace we imagine requires everyone else to see things the way we see them. During the height of the Roman Empire, there was a time commonly known as the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace. It was known as such because of the relative lack of war and bloodshed that was being experienced in the major areas of the Empire. But throughout this Peace, Rome was in a state of constant battle and conquest on the margins of its empire, always fighting, always conquering, always subduing others and bringing them under Roman rule. And the internal peace and stability came under threat of great violence. That’s the kind of peace most of us understand: A peace that is achieved by constant violence and threats. So long as that violence is kept far enough away, we feel safe.
Do we really hope for peace? Or is our hope just to feel comfortable and unbothered?
When my children fight, do I really want them to learn how to get along, or do I just want them to go in the other room so I don’t have to hear it?
Christians often refer to Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Paul simply calls Jesus himself Peace - the way John calls God Love. And yet Jesus rarely makes people like us comfortable or unbothered. Jesus doesn’t strive to create a happy and content middle, but heads to the margins of our lives and communities in order to reveal God’s presence and blessing in the places most unlike us.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus declares, and then lives the rest of his life as an exclamation point to that declaration. Jesus makes peace, and he doesn’t do it by creating false binaries or forcing others into his way of seeing things. Jesus shows up. Jesus makes himself present. Jesus listens. Jesus recognizes faith and beauty and holiness and humanity in lives that look nothing like his own.
Any peace my wife and I have found with one another has not been based on being able to properly categorizing each other. Labeling her has not worked. Embracing her dizzying complexity and recognizing God’s presence in her holy humanity has taken me much further down the road to real peace than dismissing our differences as a gender issue, or worse (much worse) trying to make her see things my way. Paul says that the kind of peace Jesus brings surpasses all human understanding. And that’s good news too, because I understand so little about the people I love most.
I also have very little understanding of the times in which we currently live – times that seem constantly threatening, endlessly uncertain, eternally divisive. A hope for peace that is remotely realistic, then, cannot be a hope for everything to become clear and simple and pure and obvious. Jesus’ peace does not make the difficult, complex things simple. Jesus’ peace helps us see the holiness in the difficult and complex. The acceptance of God’s presence and blessing outside of our comfort and ease is the work of the peacemaker.
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