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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"Mending the Divides" (Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart)

TITLE: Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World
AUTHOR: Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (192 pages).

Sometimes, in our daily conversations, we would say things like "Someday it will all be well," "Let us all love," "Why don't everybody just get along?", or "If only this world could be a better place?" The list could easily include world affairs, national politics, family squabbles, and personal conflicts. For all the good intentions and statements about peace, little has been said about peacemaking initiatives, or even better, becoming active peacemakers wherever we are. This hits home for authors Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart as they listen to stories of terrorism, wars, and conflicts that degenerate out of control over time. For all the talk about love, peace, and goodwill, how is that evident in what we do or are doing? How many friends do we have that are different from us ethnically, nationally, and culturally? Even our North American neighbourhoods have experienced the presence of violence. The authors met as students at Fuller Theological Seminary, both passionate for the work of peace, justice, and reconciliation. They asked questions about peace, peacemaking, effective practices, and what peacemaking has got to do with following Jesus. Thus began the "Global Immersion Project" which seeks to equip and activate the American Church for peacemaking initiatives. Huckins and Swigart are upfront about their own backgrounds, admitting that even as they write in general, they are middle-aged white males; focusing on the importance of gender-sensitive; and believing we need to actively contend for peacemaking.

Peace is an elusive subject and reality. Just because we are feeling peaceful does not mean our relationships are well. Just because we live in a quiet neighbourhood does not mean everywhere else is the same. We cannot begin with ourselves or our own limited worlds of reality. We must begin with Christ, God of all Peace. We need to understand the history of conflict and the authors lead us through the first sin of mankind; to the first conflict between Cain and Abel; and the many tussles for human power. We learn that peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of wholeness, completeness, and fullness. That only God can give. Not only that, those of us who are children of God must imitate our Father. One of the biggest indictments on the Christian Church is the poor record of being an instrument of peace. We have not led by example (or frequent enough) in our own communities. We are too absorbed into our own denominations; our distinctiveness; and our respective traditions, so much so that we don't have time or interest to mingle with others different from ourselves.

The authors also point to a theological reason why peacemaking is not a priority in some evangelical circles. Some interpret the last days assuming that violence will ensue, making it meaningless to thin about peace in the first place. Pointing a finger at dispensationalism, the authors accuse some adherents of playing survival mode rather than peacekeeping mode. Recent events also diminished peacemaking enthusiasm. The recent world wars and the continuing battle against terrorism are dampening rather than encouraging people into peace efforts. People tend to see a no-win situation with regard to stopping the wars from happening. There is also a misguided form of discipleship that affects our apathy toward peacemaking.  The overemphasis on "defense, safety, security, and morality" makes us less likely to embark upon peace efforts and more toward preserving the status quo. Instead, the authors advocate peacemaking as discipleship, where peacemakers are not formed but made. It is spiritual formation with a cost. It is open to all who believe. The scope of peacemaking is far-reaching; both local and foreign; and as broad as the broadest ocean. They have a three step-framework to help us become peacemakers.

Firstly, we learn as well as desire to seek the peace. Peacemaking is an active verb. We can learn to help de-escalate tensions or speak a word of calm. Using the parable of the Good Samaritan as a teaching platform, we learn about how the world could disregard basic humanity and dignity. Are people there to be exploited or to be helped? The good Samaritan not only helped the injured stranger, he even gave money and additional resources to ensure the future goodwill of the stranger. Jesus also touched lives, gave sight to the blind, and did multiple acts of kindness and mercy. The four instances of Jesus healing the blind men are four lessons of seeking peace as a way to see peace.  Prayer is a journey of being formed from noticing to seeing; from seeing to seeking;  from seeking to peacemaking; and learning about to learning from. Seeing also means learning to recognize the dignity and beauty of each person; to lament about the injustice of the world; and to repent of our own self-focused priorities. Other things include letting our research be our discipleship journey as well as paying attention to things around us rather than our digital screens in front of us. Secondly, seeing alone is not enough, we need immersion. In order to experience the whole effect, we need to be immersed so as to understand the contexts and unique struggles of the marginalized or disadvantaged groups. Essentially, we be learners more than dictators of other people's behaviour. We take a posture of humility instead of haughtiness. We be present up close and personal, not some distant uninterested individual. Immersion means getting out of our comfort zones and entering into opportunities to make a difference. We can overcome fear through honest identification with others. As we enter into the reality of the hurt and the misunderstood, we will not only win credibility, we take a big step forward in peacemaking.Thirdly, this is about contending and entering into the broken world of others. We need true grit. we need to be clothed in subversive courage. We learn to be agents of healing in a world of hurt.

The authors point out many opportunities for us to mend the divide. By learning to see the brokenness of the world instead of living in pretty and sheltered neighbourhoods, we will avoid becoming myopic in our worldly concerns. By immersing into various contexts, we experience for ourselves what it means to be poor, to be disadvantaged, to be hurt, and to live under systemic injustice. By learning to contend for peace, we become disciples of the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Himself who showed us the way to be healing balms for the nations. From homelessness to poverty; marginalization to gender discrimination; readers are encouraged to take discipleship from our classrooms to the neighbourhoods; and from local concerns to compassions beyond. We need a roadmap as well as a gutsy heart to venture into places where we have never gone before. This is faith. This is how we need to exit our comfort zones. Perhaps, the most important reason why we ought to read this book is the power of healing. I like the way Huckins and Swigart describe the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi, where the broken pieces of clay are carefully put together and restored into something new. While we may not be able to put the pieces back to its original shape and size, we could restore what we can, bring healing to whomever we can, and to be agents of peacemaking wherever we go. If we could begin doing any one of these three, this book would have been a hugely beneficial buy.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Inter-Varsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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