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What Kind of Community?: Swan Island Peace Convergence:

September 25, 2012

Currently a few of my facebook friends are on the second Swan Island Peace Convergence. The convergence combines literal resistance to the normatising of ethic of particiption in Global Violence (in this case specifically relating to Australia’s military presence in Afganistan) by nonviolent presence in a Defence area, with celebration, training, and ritual expression of the practices and culture of non-violence.

To get a fuller view of what this is about check out http://swanislandpeace.org/

(Even if this doesn’t reflect your own political conviction, its worth it for the photos).

So my news feed features beautiful images of this temporary community. Whether a reflex instagram or the skilled eye of artistry by photographer/activist jon-osborne these images tell a story of a community that is creating, celebrating, thinking, living, risking and praying together. There are children in many of these images, and it is clear that this is an intergenerational community, which is not just speaking peace about a remote situation, but is also striving to live that peace together.

I am often heard to critique the common western church practice of dividing into age groups and expelling the children from the ‘main space’. I regularly issue this challenge: if we can’t work out how to be together with our own children, whom we love, how can we possibly consider loving our enemy? What is the meaning of ‘reconciliation’ in the vocabulary of our faith?

It would be a strange thing, wouldn’t it, if a ‘peace convergence’ was a divided community. There is something of integrity at stake here in the value of inclusivity, and together action. If this the convergers didn’t actually ‘converge’ across age, gender, economic and other so called ‘status’ boundaries, that would be odd. More than odd, their action would be thwarted. If peacemakers weren’t able to reconcile the differences of age and abilities and accents of culture, that would be odd. More than odd…

We rightly would expect that in such a community of peacemaking, these would be core values shaping how they gather and act.

So what about churches? Are they communities of peace? Often called communities of faith, though this can be misunderstood as an expression of the ‘faith’ of the human participants. What are christian communities? What is their defining shape? Far be it from me to impose a shape, but many churches would look to the cross as their defining symbol. There are many writers who speak of our life in the Christ of the Cross as being a ‘cruciform’ or ‘cross shaped’ life, by which they mean, bearing the character of the central action that the cross brings. What is the ‘shape’ of what happens in the cross?

The dynamic of the cross is reconciliation, peacemaking – if you like. We are reconciled to God, and in God reconciled to one another.

To be a community of the cross, is to be a community of reconciliation, of peace. So between a church and a peace convergence there might not be too great a distance.

And if a peace convergence most naturally would seek to express its gathering in actual convergence, what of the church. You can see where I’m going with this….

On the whole, when I get pushback against the idea of communities of faith operating intergenerationally and expressing that regularly as in their primary gatherings, the resistance is on the grounds of one of two priorities. Either it is argued that ‘It’s what people want’ (separate zones and activities for different ages), or that ‘It’s what people need in order to have age appropriate learning’.

I can summarise these two ethics of reason in a word each: ‘Greed’ and ‘Progress’.

These are the two dominant values of Western culture in our epoch. It is the reason we are at war. But surely, these are two values that are antithetical to the gospel. Jesus calls us to lay down our lives for each other, not by shooting at each other, but by relinquishing our greed and our desire for upward mobilities of all kinds.

To accept the grace of the cross of Christ is to identify with a self emptying God – the God of anti-greed. And to identify with the grace of the cross of Christ, personally and corporately is to confess non-advancement. If it is by grace that we are in right relationship with God, the ethics of advancement are annulled. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by gaining. In the cross, gains are loss because all is graciously given.

Peacemakers remind us of this. If I advance ‘beyond’ you, I cannot meet you in peace. Our relationships break. If I ‘win’ against you, I cannot meet you in peace. Our relationships break.

In churches it often sounds like this. ‘If the children are with us, we can’t have a proper sermon. The adults don’t get fed.’ (Doesn’t that just sound greedy?) or ‘It’s good for the children to have their own activities at their level, so they can learn about God.’ (Are there really ways to ‘advance’ levels in terms of grace?) Again, we are provoked to ask, what is the purpose of gathering? Is it really to ‘advance’ ourselves?

Earlier I described the convergence community as I saw it in my news feed…

“these images tell a story of a community that is creating, celebrating, thinking, living, risking and praying together. There are children in many of these images, and it is clear that this is an intergenerational community, which is not just speaking peace about a remote situation, but is also striving to live that peace together.”

I would be pretty happy if that was the way church looked.

I don’t think  everyone in this cohort is all together all the time. That’s not what is required. That’s oppression and conformity, not peace. But what is evident is thesense of one purpose and configuring around the one purpose, rather than configurations around definitions of difference.

There are no easy answers to the complexities of histories and injuries in our world, either in the strange forms that churches have evolved, or in terms of political and national relationships. It may be too bold a thought that the world could possibly ever be reconciled or made new. These are, it seems, intrinsically articles of faith, because we know we cannot make them happen by our own exerted excellence and superior skills, ethics or energies. When we try to fix the world in this way, we end up with more mess.

The Swan Island Peace Convergence is a case study in the formation of an intentional peacemaking community. It’s overt expression will last less than a week. There are all kinds of ways in which reflecting on the activism, temporality (in many senses), specificity, resourcing and leadership of the Convergence can benefit a power laden, progress-driven, win-oriented, self-promoting,  divided or peace-obscuring church – if there happen to be any of those around.

3 comments

  1. Thanks for this article Beth. I will share it on the Swan Island Peace Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/SwanIslandPeace

    Dan


  2. Beautiful article 🙂 I don’t think the experience would have been the same without the children there. I think that kept us all grounded a bit, and seeing that space turned into a play area where the children drew on the road with chalk and played hand ball gives me hope that one day Afghan children, and children around the world affected by war will be able to do the same.


  3. Yep, thankfully the Afghan people are now on a road to peace.



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