Living in Peace

Sixth Sunday of Easter

may 1, 2016

Now, I know some of us don’t want to hear anything from Frank Bruni, the op-ed columnist from the New York Times.  He is usually as far to the left as Ross Douthat is to the right…and each of them engenders strong reactions in people from time to time.  I know.

But this past Wednesday Bruni published a terrific column that touched on something that each side of the aisle can embrace—or, conversely, that each side of the aisle is guilty of.  The title of his article was “The Cult of Sore Losers.”  And he spoke in there of how some Democratic runners and some Republican runners are guilty of being sore losers.  He talked about Cruz and Trump and Sanders.  And here is how he ended his column.  Don’t worry—it’s bipartisan:

“The refusal to grant victors legitimacy bundles together so much about America today:  the coarseness of our discourse; the blind tribalism coloring our debates; the elevation of individualism far above common purpose; the ethos that everybody should and can feel like a winner on every day….

If grievances are never retired, then progress has no chance.  If everything is rigged, then all is fair, not just in love and war but on the banks of the Potomac, where we can look forward to four more years of inertia and ugliness.”  [Frank Bruni, “The Cult of Sore Losers,”  New York Times, April 27, 2016, p. A23.]

He is calling a spade a spade here.  He’s fingering the way that our petty little egos have been allowed to run rampant over the common good.  

I think he’s spot on.

And when I read that column on Wednesday I immediately thought about today’s gospel.  Jesus is talking to his friends at the Last Supper on the night before he died.  Scholars call this his “farewell discourse.”  And in this discourse he gives them a gift that the world cannot give.  He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  [John 14:27]

Our world today has many Christians, but not much peace.  There are wars in the middle East and Africa, inner city gang wars in our own country, unrest and prejudice everywhere.  People in companies regularly stab each other in the back so they can get that promotion.  Families routinely break bonds, laced with huge helpings of grudges.  Even churches are not immune—places where Christians congregate for common prayer are also places where they engage in common conflict. 

What happened to the peace Jesus gave to us?  Why is there so little to go around?

I wonder if we may not have dealt with our own “stuff” that gets in the way of our living holier lives.  Our egos are childish and we think OUR way is the only way.  We often find it hard to forgive once we’ve been hurt. 

Now, we’ll return to this idea in a few minutes but first I want to share how some places in the church are dealing with our shared tendencies to let our egos be in charge way too often.

Take a look at page 20 in our bulletin (or the list below).  It’s a photo of a poster that hangs in our ECCT headquarters in Meriden.  It’s what is called a “behavioral covenant.”  Now, sure, it’s in a church center.  But, believe me, what’s in this list is valuable everywhere—at home, in the office, and out in the world. 

So--I’m not going to talk about each different line in this thing, but I’d love to take a look at a few of them now. 

What point on this list intrigues you the most?

 

Here is the covenant:

·      “Try on”

·      It’s okay to disagree

·      It is not okay to blame, shame, or attack, self or others

·      Practice “self-focus”

·      100% Responsibility for own learning

·      Practice “both/and” thinking

·      Notice both process and content

·      Be aware of intent and impact

·      Maintain confidentiality

[© Visions, Inc.]

 

Each of these things presumes that we’re willing to put our egos in their proper places—out of the driver’s seat and into the back seat—for the sake of peace.  And that comes only as the fruit of years of hard spiritual growth.  Actually a person cannot even begin to mature spiritually until he or she has agreed to let God take over, to consider that their way may not be a very good way, to see that they actually are puny and insignificant.  Powerless.

Richard Rohr writes, “Until and unless there is a person, situation, event, idea, conflict, or relationship that you cannot ‘manage,’ you will never find the True Manager.  So God makes sure that several things will come your way that you cannot manage on your own.  Self-made people . . . will try to manufacture an even stronger self by willpower and determination—to put them back in charge and seeming control. 

“Usually most people admire this, not realizing the unbending, sometimes proud, and eventually rigid personality that will be the long-term result.  They will then need to continue in this pattern of self-created successes and defenses.  This pushy response does not normally create loving people, but just people in control and in ever deeper need of control.  Eventually, the game is unsustainable, unless you make others, even your whole family, pay the price for your own aggression and self-assertion – which is the common pattern.”  [Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water:  Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, Cincinnati, Ohio:  Franciscan Media, 2011, pp. 3-4.]

So—what do we do? 

Practice prayer.  Practice surrender into God’s will.  Practice letting go of having to be right.  Listen with an open heart and mind and give others credit for their own ideas and intelligence.

It’s a hard row to hoe.  But, to quote Rohr again, “all mature spirituality is about letting go.”  [Rohr, op. cit., p. 6]

It’s scary, but it’s the ONLY way to cultivate that ineffable gift from Jesus.  Peace.

Amen.