Journal from Jamaica – May 18, 2011

Church of the Brethren director of news services, Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, is reporting from the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica through May 25, the culminating event of the Decade to Overcome Violence. She hopes to post a journal entry each day as a personal reflection on the event. Here is the journal entry for Wednesday, May 18:

There was a little lizard on the wall of the shower room this evening. I didn’t see it at first, it was so still and blended in so well. I looked it over curiously, as it look back, not moving. When I got out of the shower, it had disappeared–probably through the crack in the door jamb. But I still shook out my towel and nightrobe carefully before heading back to my dorm room, just making sure I wasn’t bringing along an uninvited guest!

Then I realized I’d been feeling like that little lizard all afternoon. During the pomp and circumstance of the opening worship and plenary session of this meeting, like a little gecko on the wall, observing with staring eyes, transfixed by a being–the worldwide ecumenical Christian church–that’s so much larger than me and quite unpredictable.

In a way, it’s an apt image for the position of the Historic Peace Churches, or I should say “living peace churches,” at this convocation. The Brethren along with the Mennonites and the Quakers have been watching the ecumenical movement’s deliberations about peace for this past decade and more: a tiny segment of Christianity, often on the sidelines, looking on as the big movers and shakers of the Christian world work at this radical idea of peace.

The afternoon’s worship was wonderful, the speakers at the plenary session were excellent. But as a member of a living peace church, and fervently hoping that this may be the moment when the wider Christian world finally answers the call of the Gospel of Peace, I was disconcerted at only one mention of the peace churches’ contribution.

A verbal review of the history of the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) and an accompanying video named German Mennonite theologian Fernando Enns as the one who made the motion to adopt the decade, without an indication that he might have had a whole church community behind him in support. No indication that the peace churches have carried this baton for the rest of the Christian team, to borrow a sports image, for centuries now.

The final speaker of the day, keynoter Paul Oestreicher, holds dual membership in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and in the Anglican Church where he is a priest and has held several positions of leadership. “So, it is time for the still, small voice of the Historic Peace Churches, hitherto respected but ignored, to be taken seriously,” he told the plenary at the close of the afternoon.

I recommend his full speech (see the website www.overcomingviolence.org for a webcast). It’s powerful and radical, enough to push all of our buttons whether we’re among the already convinced or still skeptical!

In the meantime, here are a couple echoes of Brethren understandings that I heard in the plenary today:

Oestreicher: “It is not simply that crimes are committed by all sides in every war. War itself is the crime.”
Church of the Brethren Annual Conference: “All war is sin.”

Oestreicher: “it is impossible both to love our enemies and to kill them.”
On Earth Peace bumper sticker: “When Jesus said love your enemies, I think he meant don’t kill them.”

— More reports, interviews, and journals are planned from the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica, through May 25 as Internet access allows. A photo album is being started at http://support.brethren.org/site/PhotoAlbumUser?view=UserAlbum&AlbumID=14337. Peace witness staff Jordan Blevins has started blogging from the convocation, go the Brethren Blog at https://www.brethren.org/testblog/. Find webcasts provided by the WCC at www.overcomingviolence.org.