At Newberg Friends we've joined with other NWYM churches for "peace month." Our weekly worship services have focused on internal conflict, conflict in families, conflict between groups, and this Sunday we'll cover International/Global conflict. A reoccurring theme throughout this study centers on the struggle to accept God's compassion for those we don't like. Sometimes the person we don't like happens to be ourselves and sometimes it's an entire people group. As someone who has struggled mightily with my own sin and shortcomings, I feel like an expert when it comes to internal conflict. As a daughter, wife, and mother, I'm a first hand witness to and instigator of conflict in families. Now that we've expanded our frame of reference to groups and the globe, my personal understanding of conflict resolution has greatly diminished.
A smart woman might stick to the stuff she knows. Writing about topics that I have real experience with might be the wise choice, but today I'm venturing into the realm of international conflict. I sat in my pew last Sunday and scribbled furiously on my worship sheet. So many ideas, so many thoughts about why nations hate nations and millions of people all over the world are experiencing devastating poverty. Now I'm clouding the issue. Why bring poverty into the mix when we're supposed to be focusing on conflict and peace? Because I was sitting on a pew...a cushy one, in a warm room with beautiful lighting, and a decent sound system.
In my mind I don't see an end to international conflict - to poverty - until those with the power, prestige, money, and resources decide they are willing to relinquish control. Poverty is probably one of the worlds most polarizing issues. It pits us against them. Poverty is a symptom of a world that thrives on a "me first" mentality. It divides us into the haves and the have nots; it destroys the concept of we. Often overlooked or swept under the international carpet, I believe poverty is the result of a worldwide epidemic of fear. For a lasting peaceful resolution to take place, me must choose to live and give freely instead of being gripped by the fear that we'll actually experience a radical redistribution of power. It means my pew might not be as cushy. It means that I might only have two pairs of shoes instead of a dozen. It means that my house which currently sleeps four, might sleep eight. Honestly I have no idea what it means, but I believe it won't look anything like my life does right now. And that scares me. We are a nation, and a globe full of people (at least those who live above the poverty line) that are afraid of being equal. The American way is to work hard, amass wealth, and distribute that wealth as we see fit. The problem is that we work, save, and distribute with our own scales - not God's. Those who are comfy are reticent to relinquish. Christians proclaim (myself included) protection and provision in Christ, but we often act and live out of fear. Who among us doesn't resonate with the seagulls from "Finding Nemo" squawking, "Mine, Mine, Mine?"
In my simple thinking, our global conflicts all stem from one central issue: The desire for power. In our collective brokenness we hunger and thirst not for enough but for more. From our love of the all-you-can-eat buffet, to drilling rights, to those suffering at the hands of evil dictatorships, our lust and desire to control, to gain and maintain power has created a global atmosphere of fear. No matter what we learned in Kindergarten, the truth is we don't really want to share. If I give you some, I fear I might not have enough left for me. I matter more than you. If I collect, gather, maintain, or horde, I win. If I only have two outfits to wear to church, you might start looking at me funny. "Doesn't that woman have anything else to wear, why does she wear that same sweater every Sunday?" I can't live with that kind of embarrassment. I don't want to be vulnerable to attack. If I give up all my weapons of mass destruction, I'll be vulnerable to attack. We live in a world based all too often on fear, not love.
I'll go so far as to say that most of our global decisions are fear-based. We're scared to death of one another. We have lost (or perhaps never had) a world in which we trusted in other people groups or nations. Scripture seems to support this theory pretty well. So desperate for the blessing, we kill, trample, and persecute others who might grasp a little or too much of what we want for ourselves. Those without the power and prestige are the impoverished. Poverty and oppression run rampant in our world not because we don't have enough, but because we refuse to share. We are afraid of being equal. As I go all the way back to Genesis 1, I see that God said the world was good and the humans He made were very good...created to be in God's image, created to love without reservation, hesitation, or fear. We were and still are created to be a vessel for the Holy Spirit. Christ has given us the ability to bring hope, to help redeem, to encourage, and to serve. But how often does our brokenness, our knowledge of good and evil, lead us to apathy, denial, and selfish abundance?
Christians love to give. Some more than others. I'm still in the "giving is nice as long as I can still maintain my comfortable life-style phase." It makes me ill. This false sense of generosity has made me buy into the belief that I'm following Christ. The more I learn, listen, and look, the more the lie is revealed. Last Sunday a wise woman said, "one way to resolve conflict is to be a servant." I heartily agree. But the problem with that statement is that for the most part, we want to solve poverty at arms length. It's hard to truly serve others when we're afraid to get our hands dirty, lest we become impoverished ourselves. Once in awhile I let the scales fall from my eyes and I'm caught in this place of freedom and desperation. I cry, "Jesus, yes, show me how you want me to live! Strip away my fear, Give me the motivation and the tools to actually obey your Word. Free me from the false sense of discipleship that I so easily proclaim." The next minute I'm asking my husband if we should buy second laptop and a $5000 sectional sofa. The truth is I have more (clean water, food, square-footage to live, clothes, $$ for health care, etc.) than the majority of people on this planet. I am both blessed and besieged by this fact.
I began this post in my home office earlier in the week. Today I am finishing it while sitting tucked in a cozy quilt-covered bed at a retreat center on the Oregon coast. Last night, after our evening prayers and some thought-filled fun fellowship with other retreat attendees, I begun reading Chris Seay's fantastic book, A Place at the Table. 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor. I am one of the lucky ones... I'm a wife, mother, and pastor, and my schedule allows for time to sabbath away from the heaviness of everyday life. My "to do" list for this Sabbath by the Sea included concluding this blog post and beginning A Place at the Table. Yes, I come to retreats with "to do" lists...but that's another topic. I'm sharing these details as a way to remind myself of the abundance that I have and the responsiblity I've been given to find tangible ways of releasing fear into the hands of Love.