I am writing today from Atlanta (Georgia, in case you were wondering) at the conclusion of the three-day Ecumenical Korea Peace Conference. This has been an amazing — and deeply educational — few days. I know the basics on the post-WWII Korean history — told from the United States perspective. I have been to Korea twice — once in 1994 and again in 2012. The growth and change in that eighteen years was unbelievable. I’ve been aware of the past couple years of “news” coming out of North Korea, and like most Americans have been deeply troubled. The I came here and talked to a whole lot of people from both North and South Korea. Incredible how little I actually know about anything Korean…
I have been exposed to a steady stream of partial information, mis-information, skewed information, facts and factoids, and a boatload of filtered and fabricated mythology about a country torn apart, divided, dis-integrated, and living in distress. Families separated two generations ago that to this day cannot be reunited without unbelievable sacrifice and hardship. My ignorance of the situation is much greater than my perceived knowledge. I mean, I know the Koreas are still “at war” — armistice is a far cry from peace, and a peace accord has never materialized, ending the Korean War. The need for a peace treaty is critical. And our current sanctions against North Korea are hurting all the wrong people. The sanctions are the most unChristian acts of a supposedly Christian country. None of these opinions have been impacted by this conference — other than to pump up the sense of urgency. No what I take away from this time is a clearer understanding of all the ways it has not been in our interests to end this conflict — we are making WAY too much money to actually work for peace. The demonizing and vilification of North Korea as a media coup is even more sickening than I expected. “Axis of Evil” anyone? Bad judgment and ignorance gets painted as insanity and evil — a much more compelling vision that keeps the misinformed flock glued to the news channels.
Our current “foreign policy” destroys as much as it builds, and it is motivated by greed, power and control — not ethics, morals, or peace-making/mercy-loving values. But, see, here’s the rub. In a situation of geo-political strife and division there is no such thing as a “simple solution.” Repeatedly, the question was raised at this conference, “why are we making this so hard?” Well, we are and we aren’t. The bulk of the Christian coalition gathered here to confer on peace assume a base-line of peace, patience, love, compassion, mercy, justice, kindness, healing, and foundational civility and respect. Bad assumption. We cannot even agree on these values within the Christian community — who are we to impose them on others? Is there such a thing as an “imposed peace?” If one side gets to set the terms and define the parameters, that isn’t peace. If the only way to get along is for everyone to fall in line with one way of thinking, well, it’s no wonder we can’t find peace (let alone “make” it).
The best part of this conference time was the intentionality by which no one was labeled “good guys” or “bad guys.” For the Korean peninsula, there is no “us/them,” just a broken all of us. The dominant U.S. media caricaturing of “evil North/blessed South” makes any progress harder. Guess what? There is a “bell curve” on both sides of the DMZ (demilitarized zone) of bad-to-good. Our penchant of comparing the bad on one side to the good on the other is simplistic, stupid, and destructive (demoralizing, volatile, violent, mean-spirited, petty…).
There are some human nature issues we never adequately address. First, we don’t really want to love people we don’t like. Second, we do not want anyone else gaining a greater benefit than we receive ourselves. Third, we like feeling superior to others. Fourth, we don’t like it when others are happier than we are. Fifth, we are always looking for no-cost sacrifice. Sixth, we value comfort over goodness. Seventh, we like those most like us the best. Eighth, we dislike anyone who inconveniences us. Ninth, we like getting and having more than giving and doing without. Tenth, I could do this all night — there is no end to such a list. Face it, we only like the parts of the gospel we like — we ignore or argue with the rest.
Peace-makers may be blessed, but this is because they are so few and far between. We place so many conditions on who we will love, accept, tolerate, include, forgive, and believe that we make unity, harmony, reconciliation, healing and peace all but impossible. And we hold so many divergent opinions on what it means to be “Christian” that our witness is suspect at best. Last week I spoke to a pastor who said quite sincerely that the ONLY pathway to peace required enough guns and bombs to bring our enemies into submission. This is an unique or rare opinion.
I cannot change anyone else. That’s not my job. I can only work on myself — and work with those who share my vision of a more just and loving world. By definition, this means I am working against others. Each time I call for love and acceptance of gays and lesbians, I am in opposition to those who disagree. When I talk about the hateful injustices done to many Palestinian people (actual friends and acquaintances) I find myself angering those who are incredulous at my ignorance. My heartfelt belief that we have an obligation to care for the poor and marginalized is deeply offensive to those who cannot believe my liberal B.S. In all these things, I can only state what I believe and work to bring my actions into alignment with my beliefs and words. I wish we could all get along and, in those places where we disagree, seek creative third (fourth, fifth) alternatives that bring us to a place of alliance and cooperation instead of staying stuck in our passionate impasse.
So, I pray. And I work really hard to accept people where they are and take every opportunity to speak “my truth” in love. And even so, I must confess, I still think we could work this all out — if everyone would just think the same way I do.