U-C: What I See

Sunday, September 17, 2006

From the first night of planning with the Peace Fellowship


It's late, late at night on the first day of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship National Committee planning retreat. About forty of us are gathered from all over the country (including college students from six Presbyterian Colleges and one Seminary) in order to dream a little about what our commitments, our work and our organizing strategy will be over the coming year.

We began this evening with a brainstorm about those commitments, and it was really quite moving. Integrity, humility, openness to working with others, and reconciliation were lifted up as attitudes that should characterize our work. Being right with God, commiting to follow the nonviolent Jesus, openness to the movement of the Spirit, and an unwavering desire to do justice were named as the fundamental building blocks upon which our work is built. Folks talked about accompaniment, a desire to renew the church and local congregations, and an uncompromising commitment to nonviolence.

Then, though, the conversation got more interesting as we entered into a time of "confessional questioning." Folks in the room were invited to lift up doubts that they have about our work, or about their own commitments as peacemakers, and to share openly with one another about the areas where we're not sure of ourselves.

We talked about the struggle to maintain a healthy tension between our prophetic role and our pastoral role as leaders in our churches, communities and even our own families where some of our loved ones are serving in the military.

We wrestled a little with whether there is a difference between pacifism and active nonviolence, and what each of those words mean.

We talked about whether we in the peace community have been strong enough in our condemnation and clear witness against all violence, including extreme acts of terror and violence. We tried to define what it means when we say we are against war, and how we define war.

There were a lot of other questions, as well. We wondered, together with the young adults who have joined us this week, about what it's going to take to inspire the next generation of leaders in the faith-based, activist community, and we wondered whether it will be possible to build our mission around strengthening local congregations.

We started the day today by reading Isaiah 55. The whole chapter is wonderful, but I find the words of verse 12 especially moving as a vision of what God might have in store for is if we dare to live faithfully:

"For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."

What if those words are true? This week, having begun with confession, we're looking forward to a week of trying to dream up such faithful, exciting, daring acts that - if we summon the courage to carry them out - even the mountains will burst into song and the trees will clap there hands.

All God's creation in celebration. Perhaps God deserves nothing less.