Who's Got Time for Peacemaking?

By Scott Hughes

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NRSV)

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, NRSV).anatomyofpeace

If you’re like me, then Jesus’ call for his disciples to be peacemakers has always seemed otherworldly. Peacemaking is something diplomats and other government leaders do. Paul’s admonition that we are called to a ministry of reconciliation seems a bit more reasonable and personable, however difficult in its own right. While I’m all for government officials and church leaders being peacemakers and ambassadors of reconciliation, those callings seem a distant world from where I live. The world I’m living in revolves around two early teenage boys with school and sports; a wife who also works; bills and responsibilities with community and church; and on and on. Who has time for peacemaking and reconciliation?

Thanks to The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute, my attitude toward peacemaking has become a lot more personal and concrete. This is not a book review, and I won’t even attempt to relate much of the book. (Though the narrative style makes it an easy and worthwhile read.) Not only does The Anatomy of Peace reveal how practical and personal the need is for peacemaking, the most impactful part of the book for me was the conviction I experienced as a parent.

Arbinger pyramid e1499958622358

I’ve included an image from the book that relates the core of the book’s message. While the notion that peace that begins with a way-of-being or starting with our own perceptions and attitudes was not new (the old put your oxygen mask on first analogy), what was most insightful was how little teaching and correction actually influences others. In the authors’ words, “I become an agent of change only to the degree I begin to live to help things go right rather than simply to correct things that are going wrong” (18). Additionally, “Peace – whether at home, work, or between people – is invited only when an intelligent outward strategy is married to a peaceful inward one” (225).

My main strategy as a parent trying to influence my children too often focuses on the top part of the pyramid (which is not good). I’m a teacher at heart. I enjoy being a parent and watching my two boys mature. I had thought the reason they are such good kids (other than being my wife’s offspring) is due to the great lessons they’ve learned from my wife (mostly her) and me. What this chart reveals, while certainly not going into the depth it deserves, is that to truly influence someone, we need to start at the bottom of the pyramid (not the top)! In fact, the authors observe, “We can think of the pyramid as something we are always living from the bottom up” (244-245). In other words, if I desire to influence my children relating only by the strategies in the top two levels of this pyramid, I’m not likely to achieve my desired result. No matter how creative or profound my teaching, focusing on correcting things that are going wrong won’t work well, if at all.

Peace whether at home, work, or between people is invited only when an intelligent outward strategy is married to a peaceful inward one

Notice that the bottom three layers of the pyramid are all about relationships – my relationship with myself, with others who have influence (on the person I desire to influence), and with the other person. (I would add that the bottom level of this pyramid should include my relationship with God. If my relationship with God does not provide at least some measure of abundance, then I’m also less likely to be at peace with myself.)

The conviction I have received from this book is that if I expect to positively influence my children with any lasting effect, I had better focus more time on building stronger relationships. This will require the longer, more difficult work of offering forgiveness, asking for forgiveness, extending compassion, receiving compassion, and looking to their interest instead of my own (perhaps even playing video games or some other activity I don’t like!).

I have related the lessons of The Anatomy of Peace to my role as a parent. Yet, as the authors point out, the principles are true for peacemaking in any relationship. I believe the lessons of the book apply to The United Methodist Church in this time of anxiety and uncertainty as we wait for the special called General Conference in 2019. Perhaps The Anatomy of Peace points “our way forward” for those not on the Way Forward commission. Perhaps it points to the work we should be doing in our local churches. Certainly, most churches could list the many activities that take priority – discipleship formation, worship, missions, and so on. While those are obviously important, Jesus also called us to be peacemakers and to the ministry of reconciliation. That difficult work begins in our families– our biological families and our church families.

Questions for Reflection:

What do these ideas suggest for one relationship in your family?

What do these ideas suggest for a relationship in your church family?

How might Courageous Conversations (or similar events) help us build relationships that foster learning?