A Path Towards Urban Renewal: Peaceableness

In the previous post, I began to talk about my view of what urban renewal ought to begin with; a proper worldview. This doesn’t mean having a perfect worldview, but it does assume certain things. There’s no way to true renewal apart from a God-centered worldview, a set of lenses that sees God’s heart for people, neighborhoods, cities, and nations. This means at the core or urban renewal is a confrontation with ourselves and the world views that live by that need to be challenged. We all want the world to look a certain way, and we all have our opinions and judgements, but few of us live our lives in line with those opinions and do not want to be judged with the same standards of judgements by which we judge others.

So renewal begins with us, asking ourselves, what kind of people do we need to be in order to resist the destruction that our prejudices and judgements create? What are the virtues of true renewal? Virtue number one is to be people of peace and to be peaceable with God, ourselves, people, and the non-human creation. To begin, let’s get a biblical understanding of what peace is.

In 1 Timothy 3:2-3 Paul writes about what it looks like to be an approved overseer of the church: An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable (other translations use “not quarrelsome), free from the love of money. (NASB).

So peaceable in this text has the understanding that it is not looking for a fight. The word “quarrel” is often times seen as an argument, but it actually refers to an “angry” argument. Someone who is quarrelsome, is not just someone who is looking for an argument, but someone who is angry and looking to beat people in arguments. Arguments and disagreements are bound to happen in life, but looking for arguments in anger, so that you can win and prove yourself to be right is to be quarrelsome, or not peaceable.

James speaks of peaceableness as a key ingredient to the wisdom from above: But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18, NASB)

Hebrews 12:11 tells us that righteousness is a “peaceful” fruit of loving disciplines, which implies peace-making is not always passive.

From the very words of Jesus; Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

This is one of the main tenants of discipleship, to be a peacemaker, to move into places where peace does not exist and to display what it looks like.

Listen to the words of Jesus in Mark 9:50: “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” To be at peace with others, true peace, is to be salty and useful. But what does true peace look like? It doesn’t always look like we think it does.

Jesus says something in Luke 12 that stirs the pot and moves us into more questions: Luke 12:51: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” What’s Jesus doing here. Is he contradicting himself? I thought one of His names was “Prince of Peace”?

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the One who says often, “Peace be with you”, knows that for true peace to be made, there must be a stirring, a realization that we are not alright and all right. Peaceableness then sometimes entails bringing to light that which others want to corruptly keep hidden… this will cause division and anger, but peace will prevail eventually.

Maybe an understanding of shalom will help in this discussion. Shalom is a Hebrew word that has been translated in English as the word peace. But shalom is a loaded word in the Hebrew language. Shalom does means peace, but it means more than that; peace with justice, universal peace, flourishing of all creation, the way things are supposed to be. Shalom is one of those words that we learn what it means the more we see/realize the absence of it. Where shalom is absent, we begin to grieve the way things were supposed to be and then we receive a new set of lenses with which to view and interpret life because of that experience.

To be peaceable is to be shalomic, displaying the way things were supposed to be when God created the heavens and the earth and all of the life that inhabits planet earth. Where shalom is absent, we are called to move into those places to display and model it, to be peaceable, not quarrelsome. To learn the discipline of living in the tension of disagreements and bringing light to those who are not at peace. To be able to navigate difficult friendships, networks, differing political parties and beliefs. However, being a presence of peace will often disturb first. It’s like turning on really bright lights in a dark room when people are sleeping or just waking up; angry shouts are hurled at the one who turned the lights on.

I have a friend who shared with me a time when he was a young leader and he tagged along with his mentor to attend a board meeting. Little did my friend know that he was being brought to a firing squad that wanted to crush his mentor. Let’s give his mentor the name Frank. There was tension in the organization and many decisions were made that hurt people. When they arrived to the meeting, the board members started out quickly by verbally bashing Frank and the blame game began.

My friend goes on to share all of the nasty things that were said about Frank, and all along he knew that most of them were twisted lies and half truths. He was sitting there waiting for Frank to blast them with the real facts about what had happened, but after the verbal assaults stopped, Frank asked the board if there was anyone else who was angry at him and had anything to share. Another guy then spoke up and shared more of his frustrations about the situation.
After everyone got their anger off their chests, Frank very sincerely began apologizing for the hurt that he caused them during the conflict and disagreements and began asking each of them if they would forgive him. One by one, these angry men received his apology and offered forgiveness, then there was a long pause of silence. Then one of the board members spoke up and said, “You know what, we all just sat here and blamed and blasted Frank, but none of us took responsibility for our roles in this mess. Frank, you have been above reproach in this mess, and always took responsibility. We are the guilty ones for using you as the scape goat. Would you forgive me for being a part of that?”

Frank forgave him, and then once again, one by one, these grown men were confessing their faults in the conflict, and with tears, forgiveness and reconciliation took place, and the way things were supposed to be began to take form. Peaceableness is a transformative power that God desires to use to restore individuals, families, neighborhoods, cities, and nations. Frank employed peaceableness in this meeting instead of it’s opposite virtue; contentiousness.

The late Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for his peaceful protest amongst his enemies. In one of his essays, “Non-violoence: The Only Road to Freedom,” King says that the way to shalom “will be accomplished by persons who have the courage to put an end to suffering by willingly suffering themselves rather than inflict suffering on others.” King called for the Black community to match their most bitter enemy’s capacity to inflict suffering on to them by enduring suffering; to match their enemy’s most vicious anger towards them with God’s most extravagant love for their enemies. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says, “for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).

In Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger say this about contentiousness: “Like a parasite living on a host, contentiousness feeds on rage and rancor, antipathy and animosity, to fan the fire of discord and accelerate the spiral of violence.” (214).

Peaceable people look for non-violent ways to address conflict, although I do not believe this means that there is never violent ways to deal with evil. Peaceable people don’t deal with others in stereotypes or labels, rather they seek to know people beyond hot topic issues. Peaceable people expose the empty promises of the worldviews of consumerism and materialism not by loud arguments, but by lives of simplicity and contentment. Peaceable people know when to say enough. Peaceable people are essential oils to the soul of humanity and the changing tides of culture. Peaceable people seek peace with God, themselves, people and the non-human creation with equal fervor. Peaceable people are part of God’s plan for urban renewal in cities throughout the world.