THE BLOG
07/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Fighting for Peace in the Current American Civil War, Part 2: What Is Peace?

I don't want to just sit around and bitch. I'd much rather see something positive happen, which means I need to define where I want to go. If I'm going to be "fighting for peace," I should be clear about what that "peace" is for me.

Now frankly, I am a Christian, but I want my definition of peace, though grounded in my particular brand of Christianity, to make sense to the widest audience. I think I've got something here that should translate pretty broadly; however, if you have a different way of putting it, I want to hear it. I'm interested in how you came to your idea of what "peace" is. I'm interested in what your faith tradition or even your non-tradition might have to say, and I hope you identify yourself enough so that I and other readers might know where your idea of peace comes from. I've changed my opinions before and I figure it may just happen again. This conversational stance fits with what I call peace.

"Peace" is the ability to hold an honest conversation.

Now, that definition might seem on the surface to be pretty small. In conversation with others who offer visions of "wholeness," "systemic health," and Shalom, my definition feels like sitting around a table in someone's messy kitchen as opposed to standing on a mountain and looking out at everything.

Conversation has no clear end point; it can and should just keep going. So this definition of peace certainly is not a utopian cessation of all war and a state of universal calm and rest. It is not everyone just getting along. It is not a perfect redistribution of all the wealth. It is not everyone speaking the same language, knowing intuitively what everyone else might mean. And it is not getting a perfect balance between government and individual freedom. There is something so static in these concepts that they violate the dynamic nature of life, as if the peace for which we might wish is actually death.

While the ability to hold an honest conversation may seem to be nearly as utopianly difficult to establish as these other visions of peace, if it succeeds, there remains plenty of work to do. It is a prelude rather than the end. There is wrestling to be done along the edge of the river. And then the story continues. And to maintain the dialogue and the honesty can be excruciating.

Conversation may not feel like "peace." In honest conversation things can get heated and pointed. Costs and sacrifices may be pointed out, injustice may be laid bare, and even deep seated traditions which seem impossible to sacrifice without losing one's own self are set out to be seen and, in the light of day, evaluated. In the first blog, one of our friends' comments suggested that "fighting for peace" is an oxymoron. Well, that depends upon how you define peace. With the sort of peace I envision, if you don't continually fight for it, peace doesn't happen.

Say a husband and wife (of any gender, let's be liberal about such things) have a conversation -- a real, honest conversation. One of them will have done too many dishes. One of them will have surrendered more in the decision-making about vacations. And they each have a tradition to be with their family at noon on Thanksgiving. The honesty of the conversation will lead to change, perhaps painful change. Change is part of life and can be one thing we hate to entertain and keeps us from being honest.

But with that conversation there is a relationship that I call peace. The honest conversation bears maturity not just for each of the individuals but also for the relationship that they inhabit. Both of them are better ready to converse honestly at the next situation in life. They become resilient, better ready to explore and experience life.

Isn't that the preferable outcome? Isn't that the sort of possibility that we desire? Isn't the alternative of destroying our enemies (which never, ever seems to work out as neatly as it seems when the impulse first erupts) really less preferable?

Honest conversation is the process at the heart of the scientific enterprise. Honest conversation is at the heart of the religious experience of prayer. Honest conversation is the only way that we can know each other and therefore fully love one another.

And when one is at war, as we in America are with each other, it is only honest to admit that. Real conversation cannot happen until we honestly admit the truth of our conflicts.

Next time I will return to the issue of this moment being Civil War. Later on I will write more about how to get to honesty and how peacemaking beyond definitions of death is possible and truly preferable.