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by Kate Kooyman
“Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9)
I failed only one class in my life: band. In sixth grade. My grade was entirely based on a piece of paper that had to be signed by my parents — the record that I had practiced my trumpet for 15 minutes every day. I hadn’t. They wouldn’t sign it. I got a 17% that semester. (I also quit playing the trumpet.)
Practice has never been my strong suit. I’m fairly bad at things that require intentionality, determination, and adhering to a schedule.
I was recently reminded by someone wiser than me, when discussing how to cope with a new world which seems to be teeming with harassment and hate, that the heroes of the Civil Rights movement did not simply become non-violent in the moment of their protest. It wasn’t an instinct; it was a skill.
They met weekly, together enacting scenarios in which they would be faced with violence, and developed their instincts. They honed their craft. They practiced non-violence like some practice push-ups or flashcards or the trumpet.
How do we become people of peace? We act peaceful, over and over.
One thing that I’ve learned from Restorative Practices is that most faith communities have never committed themselves to an overt practice of trust-building and relationship-strengthening. We all agree we want it, and that it’s vital to the functionality of the church, but we lack a plan to get there. So when a conflict arises, we have no muscle memory for confronting, for listening, for expressing our needs, for addressing the hurt that was caused. It’s as if we somehow believe that we should just naturally know how to do this, because Jesus. But we don’t.
So, I fear, church has become a very unlikely place to learn how to make peace — since our practice when conflict comes is to avoid, deny, or change our membership to the church around the corner. But imagine a congregation that saw conflict — disagreements over worship music, over LGBT inclusion, over politics, over how money is spent — as an opportunity instead of a threat. Imagine a congregation that had become so accustomed to everyone’s voice valued and sought-out, even when those voices were saying very different things, that they knew how to move forward even when the stakes were very high.
If a practice is not overt — enacted, pursued, embodied — it does not exist.
“Keep doing the things” that look like Christ, Paul tells us. Perhaps it’s time to recommit the practice of peacemaking, not just pray to receive the virtue.
(This piece was originally published as part of the annual Advent Devotion series that is distributed by the Christian Reformed Church’s Office of Social Justice and World Renew.)