I live with three wonderful women. All four of us are peace studies majors trying desperately to figure out what that means. Our last party was to celebrate the 6th anniversary of the UN resolution 1325, which highlights women in peacebuilding–a bit pretentious, I know, but I take any opportunity I can to have an evening of poetry, singing, sharing, and dancing–especially when it is in celebration of courageous, yet often ignored, women. Our door is open and guests have poured in and out since the beginning of the semester. This weekend we had a more unexpected group of guests. We hosted 6 West Point cadets–friends of friends who needed a place to crash. Life is full of beautiful surprises. We ushered the men in uniform into the guest bedroom–appropriately adorned with “make love, not war” painted brightly across an old sheet, Tibetan prayer flags, and Yoda.
We laughed together, ate together, shared with one another, toasted to Rumsfeld’s resignation–and prayed together. In many ways, I found myself more closely connected to them than I do to most of my peers. We share a deep passion for people. We have found ourselves in our respective places for similar reasons: the world suffers and we want to find ways to begin relieving that pain. They have sacrificed much more than I have for this goal–and their dedication puts me to shame. It’s a question of “positions” and “interests,” as I used to frame it in my conflict transformation trainings (its amazing when you finally start to learn what you have spent so much time teaching…)
Relationships are at the heart of peacebuilding–and as someone who rejects violence absolutely, the irony of this vocation lies in the fact that the majority of my relationships will be with people who engage in violence. As I was reminded this weekend, it is about more than dialogue, it is about friendship, meeting one another in our difference, and struggling to piece together the brokenness of the world. It’s about sitting around on a couch drinking hot chocolate, listening to Arabic music, and trying to figure out what in the hell peace means with a bunch of West Point cadets.
Sometimes I feel the Mennonite church has built too many barriers with the people we need to share with most. Perhaps we are scared–sincere and deep sharing is a two way street: you touch and are touched–and as much as change is possible for those you engage, that change is just as real for yourself. But if we are truly to move beyond dialogue, to build relationships based on love, we need to embrace our vulnerability and step into the unknown.
One of my favorite poems was written by a Salvadoran during the civil war. It’s an important reminder to find the divinity in those we sometimes dehumanize–and a call to recognize the power of our interconnectedness. There is always hope in the way our lives weave themselves together:
Like you I
Love, love life
The sweet smell of things
The sky-blue landscape of January days
And my blood boils up
And I laugh through eyes that have known the buds of tears
I believe the world is beautiful
And that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my blood doesn’t end in me
But in the unanimous blood of those who struggle for life,
The little things,
Landscape and bread,
The poetry of everyone.
So true. How do we expect to “build peace” if we can’t even relate to those who we perceive as too different from us? A challenge to us all.