Follow the Peace?

I have heard it said that to heal and thrive we must each “follow the peace”. What exactly does that mean? When I first think of peace I think of a cessation from fighting as in a war after the white flag is flown. Dictionary.com defines peace as : cessation of, or freedom from, any strife or dissension. I like that.

I’ve been back in the area where I spent much of my life. I moved here with my parents when I was 12 from Wyoming. Before that, I had spent most of my life in the panhandle of western Nebraska in a low income neighborhood, close to the Sioux Native American community and with an influx of hispanic immigrants during the sugar beet harvest. I met my first African American there too. I think I was six years old. My worldview became one of community in the context of diversity as those early childhood experiences made their imprint on my life.

Here in this place, I also lived in a low income housing area. It was one of the the nicest houses we’d ever lived in but it was a development funded largely by HUD loans. For the first time in my life someone in my school asked me how much money my father made. I had no idea and wondered just exactly why that mattered. I learned quickly that when you move to a small town in the Midwest, your business quickly becomes everyone else’s and what the group thinks is vital to your well being. It was not cool to come from this particular area of town and my peers made that very clear.

As humans we seem to establish much of who we will be as adults during that first decade of our lives. It certainly shapes how we will approach adolescence. My parents, brother and I were rather free spirits when we arrived here. After that first year in this low income development, my parents realized rather quickly that it would be better for us to move into a new area. The difference in how people treated us after that was very clear. It still kind of ticks me off that it mattered that much but it simply did.

As time went on my dad found a way to invent something and start a business. Poverty like we had when I was young didn’t enter my life after that. I also started working myself so that changed things as I grew up. I was the first one on either side of the family to leave home and go to college. I was also the first on both sides of my family to graduate from it as well. When I left the area for school, I really didn’t ever plan to return. I met my husband in college and we planned to go on staff with a Christian organization in Africa. Circumstances prevented that from happening as soon as we hoped and as a result we chose to come back to this area and participate in a church with a zeal for Evangelical Christianity, Christian community and world missions. There are many days when we still think, “BIG mistake”.

The decade we spent in the church was continually full of anything but peace. It was as if the original group-think I came to experience upon moving into this small town was put on steroids. The church started as a result of a conflict among the leadership’s interpretation of the Bible. Fundamentalist look at the Bible in a very literal way but few realize the impact of early childhood experiences and social imprinting that create one’s view of the world. We interpret the Bible as WE are a lot more than we do as IT is. Each person reading it and discerning for one’s own self what the verses mean and bringing their truth into the group should be a rich and meaningful experience. All too often in the world I knew as an Evangelical, this approach becomes a fight for spiritual and social control where one’s own personal interpretation and experiences are exalted above others.  Demands are made, with God’s will “clearly” identified in each person’s study. Since my time as an Evangelical I have witnessed no less than, and very likely more than, a dozen group conflicts that hands down have  always ended  in someone being very hurt, some pitching their personal faith altogether, and all too often one finds one of the groups banding together to  leave and start their own “perfect” church where THEY have every confidence that GOD has led them. I now understand why I found life in “Mormonland”, aka Utah so easy.

When Brigham Young led his people to the Salt Lake Valley, he was armed with one persons truth. Joseph Smith interpreted his gold plates and created what he called “the true church”. He and his followers went off into the west after much persecution. Their suffering on the journey and in the early days of their faith created a solid foundation for them to build upon. The Mormon culture is a very top down culture. The prophet speaks and everyone listens (for the most part :). While there I listened to Gordon B. Hinkley speak during their annual conference. He was a gentle, wise man. I also spent time and got to know many from the LDS church. It’s really pretty healthy to raise your family in that culture. At the same time, as someone “else” with a strong faith of her own living among them, I became a safe place for those who thought their upbringing and church involvement was something they couldn’t wait to shed after they completed their mission for their family. They were often eager to know my story. At the same time as one from the outside, I also met many others who were on the outside of the church altogether. Anyone not Mormon quickly finds other nonMormons to relate to. My life there was simply “my” life. I went to church but the church I attended didn’t claim to own me or my children. It was a free space for me. My heart connected with Christ in many unusual places. Then abruptly, my husband got a call and we were on our way to relocate in Minnesota. Reverse culture shock is anything but peaceful.

We moved into a very conservative town of 8,000 people with no less than a dozen and likely more Evangelical churches. Life outside of those churches is very difficult. We are on the very north edge of the Twin Cities. We tried visiting a liberal Methodist church with a vision much like our own but I’m feeling a bit too old to cross over the denominational hurdles and though I do enjoy the people there, it doesn’t seem like a good fit for me.  A week before this visit home, I spent time with a new friend I met at our local bookstore. She took me out to a place called the ARC. Action, Reflection and Celebration is what ARC stands for. It’s an ecumenical retreat center with an onsite community that provides hospitality for those coming out for a retreat. I felt at home there. I felt peace there. Conflicts are welcomed there. It’s a place where you go to find your peace with God and man so you can serve God in the world you live in. I may seek to volunteer there as time permits.

I want community. I want peace on earth. I know that I can no longer contribute to it through the old wineskins of church the way I once knew it. It is way past time for us as people of God to stop trying to control one another through exalting our interpretation of ancient texts above those of other pilgrims on the journey through life. God is spirit. God is life and breath. The Bible is a gift from men who walked with God at a very different time and in a very different world than the one we live in at present. It is not God and studying it doesn’t make us God either. God is love. The two greatest commands Jesus left us with were to love God with our mind, body and soul and to love our neighbor as ourself. That’s what I want to be busy doing wherever God has me. I find this is how I will “follow the peace”.

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