Friday, January 16, 2009

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Yesterday, I was verbally accosted on the phone (at work) by a very mean and unhappy person. For 30 minutes of the 45 minute conversation (when I could get a word in edgewise) this man, who was upset about a rather insignificant event, unloaded on me with argument, insult, excessive demands, and minor threats against our company (you know the ones - I'm gonna blog you into oblivion, call the Better Business Bureau, picket your store... ad infinitum)...

Now this is not the first time I have been on the receiving end of an unhappy customer in the business world. Years ago, as manager of an automotive service center, that was a weekly occurence. Nor is it the first time I have ever had anyone speak like that to a pastor, I have been spoken to worse (in louder terms and fouler language) by a member of the church (which is a bit harder to take, given our common family bond and the command of our Lord to love one another deeply - but that is a whole other blog for me to reflect on). For whatever reason, this man on the phone yesterday was upset (= hurting) and he felt he needed to dump on someone - and, because I was the only manager around, he dumped on me.

The interesting thing to me is - I really didn't mind getting dumped on! There were times that the conversation turned laughable - because every one of his objections was easily overturned by a calm demeanor and pursuit of solving the problem instead of whining about it! My fellow employees were watching... they said I should put him on hold and not pick back up... or simply hang up on him as his language turned personal and abusive. But all through the conversation I was thinking, "This guy is such a jerk... but something deeper is going on in his life." And I felt compelled to sit, listen, take it, not argue and fight back, but workin a spirit of peace in behalf of this sad, hurting, mean, and unhappy man.

I got him the information he demanded... I walked him through some internet challenges... I stayed an hour and a half late and researched his requests, sending an email with more than he had requested - and an offer to continue to help. My fellow employees shook their heads. And though, I probably did nothing to turn this man or his attitude around (and I don't really look forward to talking to him again - or meeting him if he ever comes in to the store)... I took the path of peace - and in doing so, sensed the good pleasure and smile of the Father.

Peace is heavy on the heart of God these days. I believe God grieves over warring nations. I imagine that God's heart breaks when people (like my phone friend) treat each other with disrespect and abuse. I am sure that God is weary of the warring folks who claim to know the saving grace and presence of Christ but do not know how to live with one another in love. 

But, as I heard Barbara Brown Taylor say in a sermon on the Prodigal Son, peace always comes at a price - it involves a profound crisis of identity... you cannot live in peace with others and stay exactly who you are or who you want to be, sometimes you have to make huge concessions... sometimes you have to sacrifice your own honor, swallow your pride, let people walk over you... not as an act of weakness, but out of deep strength and conviction that what matters most to God is not our being right or having the upper hand, but living together in peace.

Oh that the church would learn this lesson well! The fragmentation, the backbiting, the ease with which we dismiss one another (pastors and people), the willingness to divide over issues (petty or pertinent) - all speaks to how far short we have fallen of Jesus' vision for his church. This is the church that he said he would build, and the gates of hell would not prevail. But sometimes it is not the gates of hell that are our biggest enemy...we are! But Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers. Or, as Peterson paraphrases: "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family." - Jesus to his church (Matthew 5:9, The Message)

Soli Deo gloria

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