Why Is Peace So Hard?

stop_no_peace_single_circle_jpg_250x250_q85I 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.

8 replies

    • The future of Korea does not rest in its past. Nothing that has been done can be undone. The ONLY path is forward. The horrors and atrocities of the post WWII period and division of the Korean peninsula, and the poor leadership on both sides with Soviet and American meddling, created a quagmire. Outside interests have been stirring the mess ever since. South Korea emerged and got healthy; North Korea has not. Restoration is essentially impossible, but reunification and a sustainable peace are not. Camp 14 is just one example of why change is so desperately needed. Kim Jung il was not adequate to the leadership of North Korea, and Kim Jung un is even worse. But incompetence, inexperience, and poor judgment — while dangerous — are not the same as evil. He is the product of his culture, and reducing him to a cartoonish villain is going to backfire. People dismissed George W. as a doofus and a simpleton who had no clue about foreign policy, and look where that led. Underestimating and misrepresenting the current situation based on the past is a loser’s game.

  1. Dan,
    I’d like to hear your response to the article on Ministry Matters by Dave Barnhart about the South Korea/North Korea conflict. I like that he invites United Methodists to pray about the conflict at the end, but does he just add to the standard South vs. North propaganda in most of the rest of the article?
    Andy

  2. So, if we thought the same way you did, what would be your preferred set of policy choices? What is your perception of the reality of North Korea? North Korea is not a threat to South Korea? North Korea ended the armistice because….

    Fantasy applied to the real world can be very dangerous.

    • First, where I agree with you 100% — the fantasy that our government and our media feed us on a daily basis IS dangerous, and the underlying concept that we are too stupid and gullible to know better is horrendous. The way we are manipulated and deceived is unconscionable.
      Second, please reread my blog. You are asking for simplistic and reductionist solutions to an incredibly massive and complex situation, made worse by all the political machinations and corrupt business interests. I am saying that a peace treaty is needed. Of course North Korea is a threat — any nation with nuclear weapons is. (The whole concept of weapons for peace is the worst kind of oxymoron. Weapons of mass restoration? Give me a break…) This is a very volatile situation with the wrong people calling the shots. Sanctions are hurting all the wrong people, and the current armistice agreement is doing violence to families, the Korean cultures, and the world. This is no way to live and the U.S. is, and has been, making it worse through our foreign policy — regardless of Republican or Democrat leadership. Bush was horrendous and Obama is no better… My whole appeal is predicated on one simple/simplistic/naïve/Christian premise: peace is preferable to war. If you disagree with that, then we aren’t going to agree on much else.

  3. This may be a little too simplistic–but it may also be too hard– but based on my own experience even within the UMC, we are too busy “doing”.

    Peace is hard because here in America, we have lost the basis of Christianity. The following was written about The UMC:
    “The world doesn’t need us to do something for it. The need is far more desperate and devastating than that. We are not enough. We never have been enough, even in our glory days. The world needs – people need – a relationship with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”–Kevin Watson, “What We Are FOR Is Not Good Enough”, Vital Piety Blog.

    As I have very recently learned, there is a world of difference between showing people God loves of them by doing things for them/”being a conduit of God’s love” and educating people as to who God is, who they are and what God has done for everyone, “including me” so they can be open to the possibility that God loves “me, bag and baggage”.

    From the Wesley Study Bible, Wesleyan Core Term: Testimony of God’s Spirit: “God’s own witness to us that we are loved is the most secure knowledge of acceptance that we could have. It is one thing to be told, ‘God loves you.’ It is quite another thing to experience that love directly. God’s testimony comes to us inwardly, and it has the power to call forth our love in return. When God’s love enables us to love and trust God completely, so that we rejoice and delight in the relationship, we know we are truly children of God.”

    What you are talking about here is what I have come to call “applied Christianity”; it supposed to be the response of knowing God loves us. I will be so bold as to state that there is much of the UMC and probably the majority of Americans who have never directly experienced the love of God/the testimony of God’s Spirit. When we “do things” without that testimony, we are no longer promoting a savior, we are becoming the savior.

    I had to abandon church and educate myself –gain some knowledge as to who God is, who I am, what God has done and is currently doing that includes me–but guess what, it is true, the Holy Spirit is a great healer. One thing I learned along the way was that anything I do has to start with an attitude of gratitude that there is a Savior.

    So, from a lifelong Methodist who spent more than a few decades “tilting at windmills” by “doing things”, including church to a fare-thee well–crank it back to the basics of helping people understand God’s love for “me bag and baggage”; the pursuit of peace will be a natural consequence.

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