And yet, I find myself in Sanford a lot lately. Not physically, of course. Just mentally.
I find myself there because, well, the streets of Chicago can be scary, too. There are times when I’m walking around my neighborhood and I’m looking for the suspicious character…and find myself being the suspicious character in some neighborhoods.
But luckily, I have a tool that counteracts the fear of suspicious characters. I’m not talking about a gun, a baton, a taser, or some other self-defense tool or technique.
I don’t have those.
I have “The Peace.”
“The Peace” is what I share every Sunday morning at my church, where I go around to shake the hands of people I know, and people I don’t know. And as I do it, I say, “The peace of God be with you!” It’s a peace that I extend with my hand. It’s a peace that I, sometimes, extend with a kiss.
It’s a peace that I extend to everyone. Everyone there.
And I do it, week after week, first and foremost, to teach myself. To teach myself how to be the peace, to live in the peace of God, that peace that I’m extending.
Secondarily, I do it to receive the peace of the other person. To allow myself to be vulnerable to them, to receive their blessing, that we hold to be the tangible blessing of God.
My hope is that in living in this rhythm of intentionally greeting people I don’t know on a weekly basis, I might be shaped and formed into a person who doesn’t fear the stranger, the “other” in front of me.
Some weeks I feel it “takes” better than others. But I go back, week after week, believing that the process is teaching me a spiritual muscle memory that will pay off.
Because otherwise we end up worshiping idols. Like the idol of security. Security that comes with packing a firearm with you. And as a good friend said recently, “The idol of false security always demands blood.”
And that’s what we saw in Sanford: the idol of false security taking its blood payment.
But for those of us who profess to be Christian, we have a different model, a different norm that we practice week after week in the liturgy. The Peace can teach us, if we pay attention, that vulnerability leads to relationship, that openness leads to community.
The Peace can teach us how to act with courage, and not to seek out false security. Courage, as I see it, is holding the appropriate amount of fear, but stepping forward nonetheless.
If Christians profess the faith of a Christ who is calling the universe toward unity (read Ephesians 1 if you’re wondering what that mystery might look like), then why are we so silent on this issue? Why are we not lifting up the tools that we have, that we use, that we practice to counteract this issue?!
I think we are inactive, and largely silent, because we fail to take The Peace seriously. We don’t reflect on the liturgy anymore; it’s simply the bridge between the sermon and communion.
That, or worse, it’s a time to greet our friends. Exclusively.
But what if that time, in every community, could be a time when we actively counteract the violence around us? Where we reach out to the other not with a sword (or gun), but with an open hand?
Of course it appears as if other things muddy these particular waters. Racial tensions are very present (and very real). Policies and laws that glorify the individual rather than the community provide for troubling legal escapes. But the fact remains that the church has a wealth of knowledge in the communal practice of our liturgical gathering to speak about this issue, and even those that muddy the waters!
Where is that voice?
This is one of the reasons that I’m a reluctant Christian. We’ve become so numb to our own worship practices that we can’t see them as tools for daily living. We might as well get in line at at our local chain coffee shop, put in our ipods (and, isn’t it funny that all of those products begin with “i”…we’ve stripped the community out of everything), and never greet those around us.
What does it mean to participate in a meal where all are invited forward and none leave without something? What does it mean to bathe a person in the waters of grace and tell them, definitively, that we affirm their existence as a child of God? What does it mean to weekly greet people we do not know, to welcome them into our personal space without asking them for something? What does it mean to sing corporately songs of longing, songs of peace, songs of lament, shunning our ipods, iphones, i-gadgets for just a while?
You’d think such practices, if internalized, could be life changing.
Or, in this case, life-saving.
We have tools for this. We’ve just forgotten how to use them.