by Dr. Linda Seger author of Jesus Rode A Donkey: Why Millions of Christians Are Democrats
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27
Yes! Peace – how much we want Inner Peace. One of my favorite T-shirts which I saw in a catalogue says “Inner Peace. Come on get on with it! I don’t have all day.” I have often prayed for Inner Peace while trying to multi-task and feeling frenetic or simply feeling grumbly. And I wish it came faster.
We also ask for World Peace. One of my favorite scenes in a film occurs in Miss Congeniality when all the beauty contestants are asked what they most desire and they all have the same answer: “World Peace.” All said with a big smile. A good answer.
I’m not convinced that Inner Individual Peace and Social and World Peace are two different coins, nor am I convinced that they are two sides of the same coin. I think they are the same side of the same coin.
But what gets in our way of either one?
There are many reasons, but one that I experience relates to the many boundaries we won’t or can’t or are afraid to cross.
We experience conflicts and divisions inside of us. We want to have Quiet Time, to feel the peace of God, but we also want and need to get work done, to care for our families, to respond to the demands of our career.
We feel the divisions when we move into our social world. The Bible commands us to see everyone as our neighbor. We’re asked to care for them, respond to them, love them. In the Good Samaritan Story, we’re asked to expand our idea of who the neighbor is. And most of us can do that, to a certain point. But, there are stopping points for almost all of us – and it’s difficult to give up our irritations and stereotypes and even, sometimes, our self-righteousness in order to do that. So, the walls and boundaries stop us. And crossing them to help create peace seems almost impossible.
So what do we do about it?
I grew up in a small town in Northern Wisconsin, (pop- 2500). It was all white and almost all middle class except for two very wealthy families and two poor families. We never saw blacks, except when we drove through parts of Milwaukee and Mom told us to lock our car doors. There clearly were “those people” and there were us. And I learned, in some corner of my mind, that there were vast differences “out there” and I needed to be careful. That fear began to sap something out of my quiet and peaceful little world. And, somewhere within me, even in high school, I suspected something was wrong with this interpretation that I had learned.
At some point during high school, I began to identify some of my stopping points.
Racism – yes, against blacks and Mexicans. I don’t remember my racism against Asians since none were around nor against Jews because, my mother’s best friend was the only Jewish woman in our little town. Mom really liked her and often talked about how bright and insightful and confident she was.
In the last 20-30 years I have tried to identify my stopping places and to walk up to my boundaries and sometimes cross them, while being aware of the boundaries that are comfortable enough to cross and the ones where I step back and decide “I won’t cross that one today.”
And there are so many wide rivers and dividing mountains that keep us from seeing others as a Child of God.
The list is long: The Homeless, (“They smell.” “They might be terrorists.” “We gotta get rid of them.” “Don’t encourage them with food or help.” “They shouldn’t be around us.”) The Mexicans (“criminals and rapists”), the Muslims (“terrorists!”), homosexuals and transgender people (“sinners”), and the list goes on – Republicans, Democrats, the poor, the wealthy. Politics has stopping places for everyone.
Others have religious and cultural and gender stopping places. I know Christians who can’t have a normal conversation with anyone who isn’t their faith. I know other spiritual people who had such difficult struggles with the church as children (with the nuns with the ruler, ready to slap the little hand for any infraction. Or the hellfire preacher who scared them away from the church, so that they want nothing to do with fundamentalist or evangelical Christians) And there are those who want nothing to do with the airy-fairy New Age or any Eastern spirituality. It’s easy to put people in boxes, categorize and stereotype. It does nothing for bringing about Peace because it irritates us inside and these attitudes add fuel to an already burning fire.
I have, at times, deliberately set out to break down my barriers. In the 1960’s, I joined a Church Group on Racism made up of about 2/3 blacks and 1/3 white. We had discussions. Went to each other’s’ churches. Spent time in each other’s homes. After that, I tried to be aware of what inside me held me back from engaging.
In the 1980’s I joined a group where Christians and Jews worked together in small groups to break down their stereotypes of each other. Now I am part of the Sanctuary Church Movement in Colorado Springs, working on learning and meeting undocumented immigrants. Recently I’ve been working on my boundaries with transgender people.
But breaking down boundaries walks a difficult line. On the one hand, we can seem condescending or as if we’re “practicing” on the person to deal with our own stereotypes but not necessarily liking them for themselves. Yet, if we don’t step out, we stay in our boxes. I am choosing, for now, to try to cross those boundaries as kindly as possible – and with prayer. I don’t think we have Inner Peace or World Peace if we have something against another person or group.
Some of us address the issue of Peace by trying to work on our own inner stopping places, and then venturing out to break down the stereotypes and fears that exist between us and the Stranger. We work at believing that “Nothing human is foreign to me” as opposed to – “Nothing foreign is human to me.” We rely on the power of God’s Love for us, to help us fill our lives with love for ourselves as well as for the least likely among us.
Dr. Linda Seger, Th.D., is uniquely qualified to write this book – a theologian, author, and speaker, she holds three M.A. degrees: Drama from Northwestern University, Religion and the Arts from Pacific School of Religion, and Feminist Theology from Immaculate Heart College Center. Her Th.D. is in Drama and Theology. Linda comes from a long line of Lutherans who were theologians, ministers, and missionaries. She is a Christian, a Democrat and lives in Cascade, Colorado. Seger lives in the Rocky Mountains near Colorado Springs with her wonderful husband Peter and their magnificent cat, Dexter.