Unlocking Expectations: Collaborative Peacebuilding with Neighbors

Unlocking Expectations:  Collaborative Peacebuilding with Neighbors

As part of our overarching communication theme of “Unlocking Expectations” in times of the pandemic in the second half of 2021, readers of the EEA Newsletter are being presented with a variety of perspectives on the topic in several issues of the EEA Newsletter. We are very pleased that Bryan Carey has agreed to answer some of our questions for the final edition on the topic. Bryan and his wife Stephanie work for Peace Catalyst International. In 2016, they moved to the Balkan region with their two children to work with Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant peacebuilders and to help local Christians get involved in peacebuilding work. Bryan hosts workshops, conducts trainings, and teaches about peace-oriented theology, peacebuilding practices, and how Christian groups can engage in community peacebuilding. He also organizes learning experiences that cultivate understanding and empathy for the narratives of other groups, ultimately with the aim to deepen relational connections that allow for collaborative work.

  1. What is the biblical concept of Shalom and how can we implement it in our daily lives?


Shalom is God’s vision for the world when everything is as God intends: flourishing relationships with people and God, self, others, and all of creation. In peacebuilding language, shalom is a positive, just peace; it is not just the absence of tension or conflict, but the state in which people experience physical wellbeing, live with moral integrity, and enact justice in individual and group relationships. Shalom is about relational flourishing and wholeness in all spheres of life. For us who believe in the already and not-yet of God’s kingdom, shalom characterizes the reign of God and clarifies our ultimate vision and hope. Understanding the scope of this vision also shapes our discipleship and work as Christians following Jesus and seeking to live as firstfruits of his kingdom.


I find the concept of shalom to be incredibly practical and helpful in my own life, relationships, and work. I think of shalom as a sort of theological scaffolding to understand what God is doing to heal all four of these relational dimensions in our lives (with God, self, others, and creation). The biblical vision of shalom helps us become attentive to all of our relationships so that we can be aware of our own needs and invite people to help us restore broken areas of our own lives. The breadth and depth of shalom makes us attentive to the needs of others with whom we are in community, seeing them as whole people with a web of their own relationships, needs, and hopes. This framework helps us to care for one another’s wounds and act as healers and shalom-builders in one another’s lives – both in our individual relationships and collectively with each other and creation.  It also provides a blueprint for how our churches can approach work and partnerships, including in how we proclaim our faith, collaborate with other groups in humanitarian aid, engage in justice work, offer counseling or trauma therapy, provide spiritual care, heal social divisions, and more.


Peace Catalyst International has written more about this in their article, “Shalom.” 

  1. Does peacebuilding compromise a commitment to the truth?


This is such an important question, and I’ve found that this is perhaps the biggest obstacle for many Christians to learn about peace-oriented theology, get involved in peace work, or see shalom and peacebuilding as the central framework for God’s vision for and mission in the world. In my experience, “peacebuilding work” in which parties compromise a commitment to the truth as they understand it results in superficial relationships and shallow, ineffective peacebuilding. Instead, peacebuilding work requires a strong commitment to truth-telling.


Psalm 85:10 says, “Truth and mercy have met together; justice and peace have kissed.” In peacebuilding circles, we often recognize the tensions between truth, mercy, justice, and peace, and we wade through those tensions with a full commitment to each in order to move toward genuine healing and reconciliation. Prioritizing peacebuilding does not mean that we wash over differences. However, it does mean that I am conscious of several things. Truth and mercy must meet together; I cannot hammer people over the head with what I think to be true. There’s also a lot of truth about which we can agree upon with people of other faiths and ideologies that can provide a solid foundation for collaborative work toward what we believe to be God’s ultimate vision of shalom. That collaborative work provides a solid foundation for relationships, and then we’ll find that our conversations about truth, mercy, justice, and peace will all go deeper in the context of those collaborative and mutually transformative relationships.

  1. What possibilities can arise from peacebuilding and why is it necessary?


Grasping this vision of shalom can reframe and clarify the vocation, purpose, and mission of the entire Church. If God’s vision is shalom and God’s mission is to heal and reconcile all relationships, then Christians are called to be shalom-builders. Following Jesus means that we participate in God’s work to heal and reconcile all relationships: people with God, self, others, and creation.


If we engage in shalom-building as central to our Christian calling, then, the implications are massive, with endless opportunities to participate with God and collaborate with others so that we might live as firstfruits of God’s kingdom providing glimpses of God’s ultimate shalom. As a Church, we would be able to identify ways that shalom is broken in our communities, cities, and world: between people and self as in addictions, self-hatred, or savior complexes; between people and creation in joblessness, disconnection from the land, or poor stewardship of God’s creation; between people and others through broken families, generational conflict, injustice against minorities, etc; and between people and God in harmful conceptions of God, fear, and shame.


Shalom provides a framework that clarifies how we follow Jesus in our teaching, prayer, worship, discipleship, and outreach. In terms of possibilities, this framework allows us to identify ways that others in our communities are also doing good work to contribute to the healing and reconciliation of God’s shalom, and we can collaborate together toward that end! This doesn’t mean that we need to agree about everything. We do not and will not. However, when our work aligns sufficiently with other groups, we can connect and work collaboratively in our communities.


I see churches and individual Christians feeling isolated and disconnected from others in our communities and societies. Shalom-building isn’t just a semantic change to do the same old things in the same old ways; this offers a different paradigm that brings coherence to the Church’s healing vocation in the world, recalibrates our posture toward others, and shapes how we go about our work. As peacebuilders, we can reengage with our neighbors in healthy ways so that we can all pursue God’s transformation and healing together.

  1. What challenges have emerged during the pandemic over the past two years that call for peacebuilding, and what opportunities for peacebuilding have resulted from the crisis?


Peacebuilding work requires relational connection, so all the isolation of the past two years has exacerbated so many conflicts in families, churches, and societies. At the same time, more and more popular movements around the world are lifting up their voices for justice. Peacebuilding does not mean that we just return to the status quo; peacebuilding requires that we do the hard work to see how our communities have perpetuated injustice and work to restore and heal the harms that have been done.


Positively, this increased awareness of personal conflict, injustice, and group divisions means that more and more Christians are rethinking our purpose and mission as Christians. The present moment offers a huge opportunity for us to reconsider our posture toward others in the societies in which we live and think more deeply about how Christian discipleship compels us to learn how to engage with differences and injustices as peacebuilders. Many Christians are investing time to learn about peace-oriented theological traditions, conflict transformation, and practical skills for peacebuilding and justice work. That gives me a lot of hope.

  1. How is peacebuilding related to creation care?


I love this question. More and more peacebuilding scholars and environmental researchers are examining this exact question as the connections between ecological crises and conflict become more apparent and frequent. In these situations, as always, the poor and marginalized are those who are harmed most.


From a theological perspective, Dr. Randy Woodley writes about how God’s shalom entails an intimacy and harmony between the Creator and all created things: God with the land, plants, soil, animals, and people – the whole community of creation. Dr. Woodley connects Jesus’ embodiment of God’s shalom with the Jewish declaration of Jubilee, a time when debts are canceled, land is returned, and everyone has enough. Jubilee freedom runs counter to greed and consumerism, and it requires sabbath rest for both people and the land. In other words, stewardship of creation and care for neighbors are all linked together and based on everyone having enough for today rather than hoarding an over-abundance.


To follow Jesus as peacebuilders, we must learn to steward and care for God’s good creation. We must be attentive to ways in which ecological harm has exacerbated conflicts over resources. As people who follow Jesus, how can we practice Jubilee-shalom and work to undo the harm to those living in scarcity caused by over-abundance, greed, and consumerism?  How can we learn to practice sabbath rest and reorient our lives and societies so that people are not overworked, nor out of work, but everyone contributes as they are able to our communal well-being?


I recognize there are no simple or easy solutions here. However, if we take hold of this vision of God’s shalom, then we can become catalysts for the Church to reengage with our neighbors, learn how to better steward the resources of God’s creation, and collaborate together to pursue God’s shalom.

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