peace as disruption?

balanced rockI gave a paper at the Society for the Study of Theology conference #SST2017 this week, the underlying argument of which concerned the idea of peace, and how we conceive of it.

The view I tried to get across, in the space of a couple of thousand largely inadequate words was a relatively simple one: the popular idea of peace (lack of disruption) is distinctly different to ‘peace-as-peace’ which is not characterised by a lack of disruption, but rather by an acceptance of it.

A key characteristic of peace-as-peace is that it can’t be grasped. Peace as lack of disruption can be, it can be planned for, strategised, grabbed hold of. But peace-as-peace can’t, it come as a gift, an event to be experienced.

Peace as lack of disruption encourages the building of concrete certainties, in many cases using literal concrete. It requires the development of borders, of demarcations, of peace walls. In religions it requires the demarcation lines of denominational boundaries and written doctrines.

But peace-as-peace doesn’t need these same safeguards, it has no requirement for dividing lines, or clear statements of purpose or intent. This sort of peace is like the manna that fell from the sky for the children of Israel, it’s not for storing up or warehousing, its for experiencing in the moment.

Alfred North Whitehead warned of the danger of aiming for peace, and ending up with it’s ‘bastard substitute’: anaesthesia. The effect of anaesthetic is to give the sense of no disruption, no pain. But while this may seem like an ideal goal, may appear to be what we want, it is in fact not the blessing it seems.

Peace-as-peace doesn’t try to get rid of the pain, or the disruption, but accepts it and then welcomes the gift of peace in that space. John Cobb said peace is the ‘direct apprehension of one’s relatedness with that factor in the universe which is divine’, leaving us with a sense that of the various nick-names which have been given to that divine nature: God, Great Spirit, Great Fact, ground of being, etc. ‘disruption’ may well describe the divine as adequately as any of them.

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