What will it take to bring peace?

Yesterday I attended a peace gathering, intended to be the the last for the summer after a July full of them. They were times of prayer and marching in solidarity and love around the neighborhood, particularly by the locations of recent shootings, which are all too common in that neighborhood.

The peace gathering began at 6:30 p.m.

Just a half hour before it began, a couple blocks away from empty lot where we met, a 20 year old named Devon was shot and killed. He had just gotten off work.

We gather for people like Devon.

A couple of his relatives attended the gathering: a teenager who appeared calm and quiet in the moment and an older woman who couldn’t believe what happened, not to Devon!

Under clear skies and cool summer air, we spent time praying for the relatives in the empty lot where we’d collected and walked past the site where Devon’s life was stolen as we marched.

The pastor who organized the event called out, “I love you!” to neighbors relaxing on their front steps.

We invited some young men to join us as we walked, and one responded, “No, I don’t wanna get shot.” Despite our numbers and police entourage, our nonviolent walk through the neighborhood held the potential for harm to certain people, and we respected that. The gathering was ultimately for them, after all, so that their neighborhood could someday be safe and free from gun violence.

The weekly gatherings were also a time of music and food, collaborated and put on by an energetic local church and the local police force. On July 31, the Original Warrior Gladiators, the church’s young dance troupe, performed for everyone and ushered Holy Spirit into the gathering (see cover photo).

The Peace Warriors, a group of young men and women, taught us some claps and went over principles of peace including nonviolence and ones targeting the spiritual root instead of the person enacting injustice.

We hurt for young men like Devon.

It was an evening of mixed emotions. There was hype as the Peace Warriors jazzed up the crowd and educated us (see video here). There were smiles as friends conversed and ate hot dogs and Fruit by the Foot.

But there was also solemnity as we prayed for Devon’s relatives. After all, deaths like his are why these gatherings took place. There was passion as we prayed for the neighborhood.

Overall, it was inspiring to witness the community meet together in this capacity, to be led by youth, and to see the police, whom I’d distrusted, participate in and help facilitate this nonviolent peace event.

What’s the main takeaway, then? Maybe it’s that although the neighborhood is friendly, it’s caught in seemingly endless cycle of violence and trauma. Efforts like these summer peace gatherings and the ongoing work of local churches and groups like the Peace Warriors make a difference in changing that.

Maybe it’s an encouragement to connect with your local peace activists to create change, show solidarity, provide resources, and add value to your community. Whether you are feeling broken and need the support of others in this kind of space or you’re coming with education in conflict-diffusion, counseling resources, or as a prayer minister, you are needed and wanted.

Maybe there is no one point, but sharing about the gathering was also a way to process Devon’s death.

However you’re feeling right now, feel free to comment below and reach out if you need resources. Comment if you have any to offer, as well. Peace.

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.
-Psalm 29: 10, 11 (NIV)
PC: KSB

The way of peace is a way of life

Basic principle of Anabaptist belief #10: Peace modeled by the Prince of Peace.

Anabaptists believe that the peace position is neither optional, marginal, nor related mainly to the military. On the basis of Scripture, Anabaptists renounce violence in human relationships. We see peace and reconciliation—the way of love—as being at the heart of the Christian gospel. God gave his followers this ethic not as a point to ponder, but as a command to obey. It was costly for Jesus and it may also be costly for his followers. The way of peace is a way of life.

Are you interested in practical theology, putting your faith in action, and experiencing the overflow of the Holy Spirit? Today we’re discussing radical peace from an Anabaptist Christian standpoint, which I recently discovered, resonated with, and found to be incredibly beautiful. Welcome! Let’s dive in together.

2017 Rally on WRD, PC:KSB

PC: KSB

Peace isn’t shallow or complacent. Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, suffered literal, bloody death for the sake of reconciliation, so that we sinful humans might live at peace with the one and only righteous God, here and for eternity. Our souls can rest because we don’t have to worry about our status with God anymore. Instead, we are now commanded to do as has been done unto us. This ministry of reconciliation is powerful and mandated for all Christians, or “mini-Christs.” Anabaptists believe that the peace position is not optional, not marginal, and not related mainly to the military.

This peace, a result of having God’s Spirit dwelling in us, also extends from our spiritual life into the physical world we live in each day. Peace seeks justice, harmony, the wellbeing of others, particularly those who are not physically or societally “well.” (The sick don’t need a doctor, after all.) And it does this without violence; it loves instead of hating or taking revenge. Anabaptists renounce violence in human relationships.

Isn’t that beautiful? Here we have Christians – and not only individuals but also on a structural, organized level – standing up against violence, including violence towards marginalized people. One need only look up their missions work to see that this is true.

To renounce violence in human relationships is to agree that domestic violence is a sin, and to recognize that the physical, verbal, and emotional violence breaks the King of king’s heart. Moreover, rape is a sin, it is never the survivor’s fault, and the intense violation there breaks God’s heart as well as the survivor (usually a woman)’s body and potential place in society.

Gun violence by anyone, gang violence, massacring towns with machetes and drowning the victims, the prolific abuse of power to violate marginalized and poor people – these are sins, and they go directly against the holistic peace or Shalom God intends.

My rapper friend Blackman Bausi (see “The world changers“) always says that peace is love. Amani ni upendo. This means working together towards harmony, against violence, towards lasting solutions. He’s a big proponent of that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, his home. And the Anabaptists agree: We see peace and reconciliation – the way of love – as being at the heart of the Christian gospel.

IMG-20180104-WA0003

Blackman Bausi and I in Goma, a few days after recording “Give Me Hope,” a song crying to God for hope as we work for justice and peace. Photo belongs to KSB and Blackman.

Again, this call to peace is not something we can choose to ignore. Not if we’re trying to honor God and walk in step with his Spirit. Turning the other cheek instead of retaliating, standing up for those who cannot fight for their own rights, putting others first, persevering… God gave his followers this ethic not as a point to ponder, but as a command to obey.

Jesus put his status on the line for people who needed his physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Some responded in kind, with love and dedication, and others left him without so much as a thank you. Jesus put his bodily life on the line for people who spat in his face, tore the flesh off his back, and made him out to be the worst kind of criminal when he was actually offering chance at redemption and reconciliation with their Creator.

And some of his disciples, including contemporary Christians, undergo similar fates. But what kind of faith, hope, or love do we have if we do not live our lives in thankfulness and obedience to the Lord who went through hell to bring us to himself? And there is blessing at the end. It was costly for Jesus and it may also be costly for his followers.

I find that different Christian denominations and faith streams inform each other’s understanding of God and his Kingdom. In this case, the Anabaptists put it well. The way of peace is a way of life.