A third way to peace

by Kristin on October 5, 2009

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by rs-foto

I think it’s pretty safe to say that nothing gets more in the way of peace than our differences. Different values and beliefs, opposing goals, different affiliations and approaches to problem-solving—they all tend to result in something bad, whether it’s constant bickering or deadly violence.

This has been on my mind a lot, lately. I listen to news stories on NPR about the health care debate and the escalating problems in Afghanistan. All of the tension is rooted in differences. I try to address issues at my daughters’ schools, where a classroom of kids can have so many different educational and emotional needs—how can everyone be properly cared for? I think about why my first marriage failed, and my overwhelming frustration with the many ways we were different. Could we ever have overcome that?

Ephesians is all about embracing a whole new way to handle differences

The pastors at my church have been teaching this fall on the book of Ephesians, so we also decided to study it in our small group. One of the first things our pastor pointed out is that the word “you” is used by Paul over 100 times in  Ephesians, but only once is the “you” in the Greek singular form. In other words, Paul isn’t talking about an individual faith or personal goal we should each be striving for, he’s talking about a communal process of faith.

It’s hard enough for a group of people to band together and do something collectively; when stark differences are involved, it can be nearly impossible. That’s what’s so amazing to me about the book of Ephesians. This collective group Paul is writing to includes both the Jews and Gentiles—two groups that had historically seen each other in stark contrast and division. And they weren’t joining together to throw a party or start a business, they were focusing on the very thing that divided them most, and starting a church. Surely, if they were to accomplish such a crazy thing, they’d have to start by abolishing their differences, right? That seems like a reasonable route to peace.

We all know how differences are generally put to rest in a marriage or other personal relationship: lots of coercion, compromise, give and take. You make one decision, I’ll make the next. In less healthy interactions, the person or group that is more powerful—bigger, stronger, more educated or wealthy—just forces everyone else to conform to their ways.

In the early church, the Jews had that power, both in terms of number and because they had a historical claim on the God the new church was worshiping. They could have easily demanded mass Gentile circumcision or adherence to any of the other Jewish customs and laws. In Acts, we learn there was plenty of debate and discussion about what exactly they should enforce.

But as it turns out, with Jesus it isn’t a “my way or the highway” sort of deal. It isn’t even a painful compromise—we’ll do some things your way and some things my way, so we’ll both be sort of happy and sort of frustrated. Jesus makes it possible to choose a “third way.” Here is how Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:14-15:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace….

The rules, the law—done away with, entirely. Even the wall, the very symbol of division, destroyed. It’s not like it was left up but a doorway was cut in the wall so you could take turns visiting each other from time to time. It was taken down, completely.

A dose of hope for the cynics

It’s easy for the cynical among us (a category that often includes me) to say “Well, that’s a nice idea, but it isn’t very realistic. It’s symbolic at best, and anyone who looks at the history of the church can see that the followers of Christ have done a terrible job living this out.”

And that’s true. Much of church history makes me cringe, and not want to have anything to do with it.

But what’s also true is that this whole movement, which has survived for nearly 2000 years, was built on this principle of embracing, incorporating and celebrating differences. And it wasn’t just a nice idea. It happened. It worked. Not the way things work when we try really hard and put all of our effort into it, but in the more mysterious way things work when we trust something bigger.

And I believe this “third way” can keep working in our world, wherever there is no peace because of our differences.

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  • Cyndi

    I think you are so right if we can strive to live like Jesus and accept our fellow man reguardless of our differences we could change the world that we live in. My family is full of people from different races and backgrounds and we make it work because we have made the choice to celebrate our differences. I will not say that it is always easy but we have chose to live the third way and let Jesus be the example of our lives. Thank you for your honesty and willingness to share the truth.

  • Mark

    Interesting post. I cannot fathom where you find the time to crank these out! I can’t even keep up with the laundry…or dishes, etc. Keep it up!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Cyndi, I’m so glad to hear that your family is living this third way out, as best you can. You’re absolutely right—we have to make the choice to celebrate our differences, and no, it’s often not easy. One of my pastors, in his teaching on Sunday, used the analogy of singing in harmony. There’s so much beauty in the contrast and “difference.” That beauty is not in spite of the differences, but *because* of it. That means there’s more complexity, too, and it takes more work to get it right.

    Mark, thanks! It’s true, just staying on top of day-to-day life requires a lot of time. Luckily, I don’t work full time, when it comes to the work that pays. I also have been writing so many hours a day for so long now that I can usually “crank these out,” as you put it. :) Sometimes I wonder to what purpose, but I can’t dwell on that for long.

  • Alisa

    Unity in the body of Christ is so key. Without it, our witness to the rest of the world is weak. God intends for us to be “set apart” but not “separate”; He wants us to be “distinct”. When Christians submit their lives to Jesus, they become one with Him. Then when they interact with others, Jesus will be so irresistable they’ll want Him for themselves! And this way of living keeps on spreading.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Alisa, thanks for sharing your hope-filled picture of what unity looks like. It seems like a clear path, but we have such a hard time following it, don’t we? Jesus seemed to have no confusion over how his people should live, yet we, as Christians, have so many interpretations of what it means to submit our lives to Jesus.

  • Gibril Amram Azariah Bangura

    I only started reading your posts today Kristin and this one on “the third way’ got my attention. I want to point out however that this third way is Jesus. Jesus is the compromise point in life and every one who truely wants unity must know that we were all at extreme ends in life and when we accept Christ we also accept the fact that we want to move form our extreme stand points to the center which Jesus. It is at this points that differences are tolerated and terminated not by compulsion but by understanding who we are in Christ.