Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Faith, Spirituality and Peacemaking

I received a really interesing email question from the Reverend Sam Propsom of Alberta Canada. His inquiry and my answer follow.

Good afternoon Mr. Noll.

I hesitate to write, as I am sure you have a much better use of your time than to answer my questions, but as Jesus said, "You have not because you ask not." So here goes!

I am writing a short review of chapter seventeen of your wonderful book, Peacemaking.... for a Doctor of Ministry course on conflict management.

In my paper I have done an evaluation, but am now stuck a bit, because in the next section I am supposed to "comment on your chapters' compatibility with a biblical worldview."

While reading the chapter I found numerous biblical parallels, yet you don't explicitly refer to any spirituality influencing your thinking. I've researched your life on the internet and there is a reference to having done BSF [Bible Study Fellowship] and being married in a Lutheran Church, but other than that your faith-life is held kind of closely. (By the way, I appreciate people who simply live their faith).

It seems to me that you are writing as a peacemaker, who happens to be a Christian and whose thinking is greatly formed by biblical categories, but are not writing a treatise on Christian mediation.

Would this be a fair assessment?

Thanks in advance for reading this. I know we all need to be careful about answering emails, so if you can't answer this, I understand.

If you do have the time and the inclination to answer this briefly, I would appreciate it.

Rev. Sam Propsom

My answer:

Dear Sam,

Because the book is utilized around the world in many different cultures and faith traditions, it is intentionally ecumenical. You will find the philosophical principles of peacemaking that I write about in every faith tradition. In fact, you will find me quoting variations on the Golden Rule from 8 major traditions on pages 230-231.

My own spirituality is defined in several ways. I call myself a follower of Jesus. If you were to peg me in a Christian theology, I might be most comfortable with the Gnostics or with the mysticism of St. Frances of Assisi. The Gnostics, of course, were eventually declared heretical by the mainstream Church because they believed in direct experience with God rather than through the intercession of a priest. Nothing like challenging the power structure to get yourself burned at the stake. Assisi was also feared by the Church, but his life was an example of profound Oneness with God. These ideas and others like them have more personal meaning for me than biblical teaching.

Obviously, my practice is deeply informed by my spirituality. One cannot see the transformations I witness on a daily basis and have the hubris to believe that they are solely caused by the presence of the peacemaker. There is clearly a higher presence and power at work in my peacemaking.

Finally, as a professional peacemaker, I am a little wary of peacemakers that label themselves by their faith. Sometimes, I have seen people use the scriptures of their faith traditions to justify and rationalize unhealthy behaviors or to exhort behavioral change in ignorance of the underlying conflict dynamics. I am also careful in considering scriptures in their entirety as texts of peace. For example, the Old Testament is full of war, rape, death, slavery, disempowerment, and destruction, sometimes instigated by an wrathful, retributive God. Not exactly the stuff of peace. On the other hand, the essential teachings of Jesus are fundamental across faith traditions. So I tread cautiously, and I am quietly guided by my own Inner Light and spirituality.

Anyways, I hope this gives you some idea of where I am coming from. My spirituality grows, deepens, and therefore changes as I do this work so you can view this small essay as a snapshot of where I am today. I think your question is so good that I am going to post it and this response on my blog site unless you have an objection.

Thank you so much for your email.

Blessings and peace,


{Note to readers: The book is called Peacemaking: Practicing at the Intersection of Law and Human Conflict. It is a textbook I wrote and was published in 2003 by Cascadia Publishing House.}

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