I sent a quick note to a student. In his response was, “peace of Christ and his name.” Not a new phrase for certain and one I often receive. At times it is shortened to simply peace. I’ve been (our world too has been) without much peace as of late, and while this is an ordinary greeting or sign off for many, today it struck me with particular force. I use the word “force” intentionally—as in that phrase from Star Wars—”may the force be with you”—not to reduce what the peace of Christ is or means, but rather to indicate the power of such a phrase. May a particular formative peace be with you. This in itself is not a mere set of words; it is a life-shaping stance. But for what and why?
Much conversation within seminaries resolves around the themes of formation and practice. This is not an entirely new conversation; this is simply a new iteration of an old theme stirred to life by the vast changes of technology. Technology unleashes an entire set of challenges and changes and at the forefront is the inability to claim primary control of information and ideas and news events. We are found out through video, texts, photos taken in the moment of an incident. Words take on a power often because we lack taking time both of discernment and our unwillingness to understand the source itself of what we feel and what we do.
I and colleagues discuss whether things are as bad as they seem, or is it simply that we have access to so much more information and news, and there is a search for anything which stimulates our neurons—especially those of fear and flight? It is hard to know at this moment, given the narratives of the past. It is always more clearly seen after the fact.
I grew up in a “peace” church. I grew up shaped by a primary theology in which pacifism was paramount and central to Christianity and therefore was the single shaping orientation for relationships, personal and family (even my siblings were to be treated with this ethic in mind, a true test), and as adult in my professional life and in the politics of everyday. This was the primary formative ethic of my faith. As an adult, I quickly learned this formative stance was hard to practice; it was the subject of ridicule and distain. And at times, I did not know what to do with the feelings of anger and confusion. I discovered my grandfather had spent time in prison for his views in World War I; and a great-grandfather had been tarred and feathered in Kansas for his stance. For them, it was clear. I was not always so brave or so I thought. I also discovered while living in Germany and Japan, near military bases, that there were many fine people who understand the formative practice of peace and pacifism differently. These were people I respected and admired; people I worshiped with and worked alongside. What might it mean to sign or greet one another, the peace of Christ be with you, as a habit and practice? With those whose views are so different from mine on a number of vitally important issues. As a culture and society, as a church and institution, there is a critical lack of peace. As with most themes of this sort, we differ on what it means in terms of our vocation or calling; of our willingness to defend against evil; on our study of ritual and practice and community. What gathers the disparate fragments we have made in our own interpretive strategies about not only the peace of Christ, but the meaning of Christ as a primary shaper of our intentions and practices and habits is that unseen force which remains as real as this keyboard I’m typing on and yet as elusive as the cloud in the clean blue sky on this sunny day.
I have failed to practice what this peace means. I have come to understand that it does not mean giving up or becoming passive or withdrawing from the world simply because it is too hard to make sense of things. Though it does not mean that with Christ all is immediately well; it does not get me off the hook from claiming that the formative vision and narrative of my childhood faith is the wrong one or a naïve one at best. What do I know of formative language of peace now that I am old enough to have a tiny grandson? That this peace matters, the peace claimed in a name called Christ shaped my ethical stance, though I fail at it all the time I remain formed by what it promises in the real and everyday way of seeing and relating to the world.
The D.Min. program offers the opportunity to consider what formative practices may mean for us and for the people with whom we minister. Some of us are chaplains, military, hospice, hospitals; some are non-profit employees, some are church planters, or intentional interims, or pastors of congregations formed long ago. We’ve much to examine, absorb, and learn these days. Here at Pittsburgh Seminary is a gift of time and space for such a task.