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Seeds of Peace
It was awkward at first. As the room filled, each participant looked for and sat with their own group. The imams sat together while the pastors gathered in their own area. Our Street Psalms group of leaders from various cities throughout the network entered the room as visitors, and we too sat together. Also in attendance was the Chief of Community Security from Nairobi who had been assigned to join us in order to “assure our safety”. He reminded us of this several times, each time with greater emphasis. Each time he did, we felt a little less safe.
Gideon and Esau, who lead the training hub in Nairobi (CTM Kenya), had brought us to visit a community where they have been gathering Muslim clerics and Christian pastors each week for the last year to search their respective sacred texts for peace. Neither group is trying to convert the other, but genuinely trying to hear from each other on how to preach their texts for peace in communities wracked by violence.
The group dynamic shifted when one of the pastors invited us to get out of our seats and sit next to someone we didn’t know. Things changed. Conversation was sparked. We relaxed. One of the imams made fun of himself for his tendency to talk too much. A pastor made light of his own wordiness. It wasn’t much, just a glimpse, but it was there. The start of something different, seeds of peace were being sown.
Soon we will celebrate the birth of Jesus – the Prince of Peace. Most of us reading this will do so in relative safety. We will read about wars and rumors of wars but for most of us, those are a long way off. And yet, according to historian Will Durant, there are only 29 years in all of human history in which there wasn’t a war somewhere. In the 20th century more people died because of war than in all of history combined. So much of the violence has been religious violence. Unfortunately, the prospects for the 21st Century don’t look much better. Violence is baked into culture.
It’s also in our sacred texts.
If we were to read the Bible from cover to cover this month, it would be the most violent, bloody book we would read all year! Game of Thrones has nothing on it. According to Philip Jenkins, who has authored books on religious violence, the Quran is less bloody and less violent than the Bible, but both texts have plenty to spare.
What Gideon and Esau are modeling in their community is a table big enough for clerics and pastors to sit together weekly to search their texts for peace. This seemingly impossible group is together looking for ways to teach and preach peace in the context of violence.
This may seem like a small act in the face of much larger forces. And yet it filled us with hope that day and still does. It’s the hope of Christmas. It’s the hope of a vulnerable baby being born to a vulnerable mother in a borrowed barn, noticed only by shepherds, a few foreign travelers looking for signs of God in the world, and an insecure, violent king.
The Prince of Peace comes to us under the radar and off the map. He comes to us without fanfare, transforming the world from the bottom up, not unlike this gathering and many others throughout our network. This is just the sort of thing God loves. It is the way God comes to us in Christ. It is the hope of Christmas.
O Come, O Come, Emanuel. Give us the eyes to see you being born today in hard places and give us the courage to celebrate what we see.
What is being born in you this Advent season and how is that challenging your expectations?