By: Rev Dr. Linda Smith
The prophet Micah inquired, “What does the Lord require?” This should compel us to ask some fundamental questions that we as Religious and community leaders must engage often in order that we might be enlightened about barriers that stop us from achieving the harmony we seek. What is this heaven and new earth that is emerging among us? (Rev 21) Are we attempting to put new wines into old wineskins? (Matt 9:16) Are we inviting people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable: those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, different faiths, sexual orientations, races, classes and abilities and a host of other imperatives? These questions must be at the center of our thoughts and dialogue when it comes to addressing the barriers that stop us from living in harmony. Because without a deep reflection and opening to these questions, the barriers will continue to hinder us from the peace we so desire. Here are six points I think are essential to breaking down the barriers that exist.
1) Environment and communities of tolerance and authenticity– We must have an intentional built in system of truth telling in the community, all of us together, says Walter Brueggemann. It is the truth telling that makes us free. When we can embrace the fact that my story and your story is God’s story even with the pain and anxiety, it is in the truth telling that healing takes place. We can no longer just preach at people, they must be involved in the process. We must engage people in Restorative practices that allow people to empty themselves in order that they might receive the new. At my congregation restorative practices are integrated in several ways where people are able to engage and have a voice. It is amazing the healing that takes place.
2) Denying Self Interest – We cannot do this alone. Many of the great messengers, Jewish, Muslim and Christian, identified denial of self-interest as the key to peace. Now if life is to be complete, we must move beyond our self-interest. We must move beyond humanity and reach up, way up, for the God of the universe, whose purpose changes not, said Dr. King. Jesus, the great prophet, the messenger of God, teaches us to deny our self. Peace begins with the individual. When we can examine and get rid of the negativity in our own lives, we can solve problems without violence. As a church, our mandate is to bring healing and wholeness to the broken world and it first starts with each of us individually
3) Racial Injustices – The world needs to be restored from long term injustices in order to move forward. It does me no good to talk about injustices with people who are like me; I need to be able to have a dialogue with the other so that they understand. So many people are hanging on to past hurts injustices that go unacknowledged, building hate on top of hate, anger on top of anger. People go to faith communities seeking solution and healing only to find a reinforcement of these hurts deepened by our inability to bring reconciliation to the lives of a hurting humanity.
4) Hindrance of voices – What is a community without a voice? We are called to give voice to the voiceless, however we are accustom to silence the voice of the voiceless. God spoke through the prophets to the people. But Jesus spoke directly to the people, engaging people in dialogue and their own healing. When a person can speak awareness and awaken takes place and they are released from shame and guilt, thereby open the path to healing. When I was in India, I was amazed by the many circles of dialogue taking place, from the children infected with AIDS, to sexually abused women. Many other marginalized groups had a voice. How does the contemporary church engage voiceless in the conversation? Walter Brueggemann said that church’s work is the gathering of the others, not the ones that obviously belong to our social tribe or class or race.
5) Inability or know how to engage the marginalized of our society in compassionate manner – Many times we are quick to throw crumbs to the marginalized in our community and return to our comfortable setting, thinking that we have ministry to people in Jesus’ name. When we do this we further the barriers between the community and the marginalized. Unity is supposed to bring us together but our inability and insensitivity to the other further alienates. As long as we are ineffective in dealing with the marginalized in our community, the poor, and the disenfranchised, we will not be effective in creating peace. We are mandated to make the marginalized in our community a part of the ministry of the church. It can never be an afterthought. Jesus did not minister every once in a while but it was part of his daily tasks. We cannot stand for a partial faith. In other words, we cannot stand for poor and burdened people being deprived of basic life essentials in order to enable others to live luxurious lives. As a part of a church that ministers to the marginalized of our community, I am often reminded that people simply want to be validated as human beings and to belong to the whole.
6) The inability to understand the other in each culture is the greatest hindrance to peace and harmony – We bite our teeth and suffer the pain and press our way forward in a gospel that sometimes seems weak. When we gather at the table, we make believe and pretend that all is well. We no more walk away and the pain reoccurs. Why? Because we have not had the opportunity to share our pain and acknowledge that we have been hurt. For many years I have worked to engage the marginalized, a mother with children or a black youth, not because they have done anything wrong, but because when pain has been inflicted upon one, healing can only take place when a voice has been given to that pain. When I can reach across the table to my Muslim brothers and sisters and acknowledge their pain of being alienated and vice versa than healing take place and we can now walk forth in harmony. What is our responsibility to the other?
The Rev Dr. Linda Smith has a Doctorate of Ministry in Transformation Leadership from ABSW and is an alumni from the School of Theology and Ministry, with a Master of Divinity.She is currently serving in ministry as the Pastor of the Church of Mary Magdalene and SKY Urban Empowerment Center, as well as being a Professional Spiritual life and leadership coach, with a prior professional career in Human Resources.