Last week I was supposed to drive up to Raleigh, as Andy and Barney used to say, to speak to the Presbyterian Campus Ministries group at North Carolina State University. I was deterred by freezing precipitation, so I went this week instead. The group meets for a meal and a meeting each Wednesday in the basement of the West Raleigh Presbyterian Church—the congregation that is using my book as their Lenten focus.
I drove in fairly heavy traffic listening to the folks on NPR talk about the contentious case before the Supreme Court, the aftermath of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress yesterday, and something else that made me decide to switch over to the mix CD I had in the car and let the music take me out of the violence and into some hope. I needed a little peace.
I walked into a room of thirty-five students who were laughing and talking in the gathering room, which was littered with second hand couches and pillows. Some of the students were in the kitchen preparing dinner: jambalaya! When the food was ready we moved to the fellowship hall, filled our plates, and then sat down at round tables for the meal. The five students at my table were sophomores, except for one freshman, and charging off into food science, industrial engineering, and art and design.
After we ate we came back into the couch room and four of the students led us in singing. Our hymns were “Desperado” by the Eagles, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White Ts. I turned to the girls sitting next to me and said, “I feel right at home. We sang ‘Desperado’ when I was in college.” I even gave myself permission to cut loose on the last verse when it comes time for the back up singers to wail, “Let somebody love you.”
As they sang to each other about opening the gates of their hearts, they demonstrated their togetherness by the way they treated each other. When I got home tonight I looked back over my lunchtime reading: more of bell hooks, this time quoting M. Scott Peck:
An important aspect of the realism of community deserves mention: humility. While rugged individualism predisposes one to arrogance, the ‘soft’ individualism of community leads to humility. Begin to appreciate each other’s gifts, and you begin to appreciate your own limitations. Witness others share their brokenness, and you will become able to accept your own inadequacy and imperfection. Be fully aware of human variety, and you will recognize the interdependency of humanity.
Sadly, accepting human variety means that we must also find a way to positively connect with folks who express prejudicial feeling, even hatred. Committed to building community, we are called by a covenant of love to extend fellowship even when we confront rejection. We are not called to make peace with abuse but we are called to be peacemakers.
The dictionary definition of peace points either to moments of quiet and stillness, such as I was seeking on the highway, or to the cessation of violence. What it misses is the active force of peace, as said well in the slogan of the Baptist Peacemakers Fellowship some years ago: peace, like war, is waged. And it is waged together. You’ve got to let somebody love you.
Though we often think of peace in contrast to violence, I wonder if its true opposite is fear. At the heart of prejudice is fear: of the unknown, of change, of loss of significance or power. Those who use their political power to foment discord and despair operate out of the fear of losing their control. Peace—serenity, calm, determination—grows from the power of community, the courage of love. There is no “them,” only Us. The work to be done is not in seeing who to leave out, or how to draw the lines so we always get our way, or how to make sure nothing changes. We are called to be peacemakers: to make sure everyone knows fear is not the last word, to throw open the doors so all have shelter and food, and remember we need each other—every last one of us.
P. S. — Here’s a little bedtime music.