This Advent my church has taken advantage of growing relationships with other faith communities by inviting representatives from other faiths to come and facilitate conversations on/in peace. For three of the four weeks in Advent, a representative from a mosque, a Buddhist monastery, and a synagogue came to the church that I serve to lead a conversation about the basics of their tradition, the nature and character of peace within their tradition, and then each discussed challenges their communities face in attaining peace.
It has been holy time. We began with a representative from Islam, who spoke about salaam and its centrality within Islam. He discussed what jihad is and how its meaning has shifted through time. He talked about gender, politics, and the historical relationships between Islam and Judaism as well as current realities of being a Muslim in America today. The following week a person representing Tibetan Buddhism came and talked about the Four Immeasurables, what it means to belong to a religion in which there is no god, what deities are, and the function and role of prayer. He talked about the causes of suffering as well as what karma and merit are. Last, a representative from a Conservative synagogue came to discuss Judaism, shalom, shalem, prayer, ritual, the Sh'ma, commandments, chosenness, and the challenges that confront both Jews and Palestinians.
As a pastor, it has been my intention for these talks to achieve a number of things. First, as Christians prepare their hearts and minds for the birth of the Prince of Peace as well as preparing ourselves for the Second Coming of Christ, we have to ask ourselves what peace is and how it manifests in the world. Peace is not an abstract idea, which we sing about in sweet carols about a sweet baby who lives in a sweet family surrounded by sweet animals and sweet shepherds. Peace is concrete. The power of the Prince of Peace is that Christians profess that peace is coming into this world embodied in the poor, born in squalor, proclaimed by the destitute; it struggles into life. Peace does not just "happen." It is birthed - painful and real, embodied and messy. It is perhaps one of Christianity's greatest gift to the world to profess that peace is real, it comes to us, and it is messy and embodied and it has ramifications for all of creation. So, this Advent, as our nation struggles with divisive politics, as North and South Korea rattle swords, as personal liberties in our own country continue to dwindle, as peace in Jerusalem seems further and further away, I thought it important to take a long look at peace - within Christianity and around the world.
I also wanted us to "make" a little peace this Advent. One of the most powerful and efficient ways to make peace is to look upon another not as a stranger but as a friend. Through these conversations, people did not discuss "Muslims," "Buddhists," and "Jews." Rather, people heard about life stories from real people who live real lives and who share in the same human drama as do all people. Strangers became friends through the sharing of stories, through laughter, through questions asked and answered, and through the lifting up of hopes and dreams. People named the challenges they see to achieving peace, and we sat there together fully aware that we could not make peace come to all humankind, but we could experience the common humanity of those in the room. Just by sharing space with someone who looks, dresses, acts, prays, sings, eats, and lives quite differently, a little peace was made this year. I think the Prince of Peace would like that.
Last, Christians - especially mainline Christians - often struggle to name who they are as Christians - to know what it means to live guided by the Prince of Peace. As similar as many of the religions represented are, there are significant differences between Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and Christians. I hoped that these conversations would help Christian participants better know themselves and our own traditions. All three of the presenters, when asked what Christians should do to be peacemakers, replied, "Know your story (book) (roots)." All three people from other faiths encouraged Christians to better know our scriptures, our traditions, our rituals, and our histories. It was heartening to see a Muslim tell Christians that we would be better followers of Christ if we read our Bibles and became instructed in it. It was wonderful to see a Buddhist tell Christians that he thought we would find ourselves enriched if we learned our own traditions well. It was important to see a Jew help Christians see that Jesus was a faithful Jew, and that to be his followers, we need to know what Jesus' Jewishness meant/means.
As we close out the third week of Advent and enter the fourth week and welcome Christmas into our hearts, congregations, homes, and world, what are we doing? For what do we gather? For whom do we wait? What is meant for us in the singing of the Magnificat and the Benedictus? What are the implications of God's holy peace for how we live our lives, how we see the world, and how we greet the stranger? As the candles are lighted during Silent Night, do we wait for that mystical moment when God's holy vision is fully realized and all the earth is completed in grace and love? That is peace. That is shalom. That is salaam.
May the peace of Christ be with you this and every day.
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