Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Imagining Peace, Practicing Hope

Erik Borggren


By Erik Borggren

October 11, 2013

As a nation, we practice remembering well. We promise "we will never forget," and after twelve years since the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, we have not forgotten. However these twelve years have not only been marked by deliberate remembering, but also scarred by war. With the war in Afghanistan coming to a close as US troops withdraw by the end of 2014, one has to wonder what healing, reconciliation, and peace look like—not only for the people of Afghanistan, but also for those of us here in the United States. What does just peace look like for a people who will never, indeed who cannot, forget? 

I respond to this question as a pastor. While we in the church belong to a larger “we” as citizens of this country, we, as a community of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, ultimately belong to the slain Lamb and resurrected Messiah who sits on the throne sovereign over history. Therefore, what “we” as a nation have sought through war does not necessarily equal what we as the church seek in peace. Whether an advocate of just war or a proponent of active, nonviolent resistance, the Christian is called to the costly practice of peacemaking in which the peace sought is marked by the shalom of the kingdom of God realized in healing and reconciliation.

Given this call, what does it mean to never forget? For a people who practice remembering well—namely, we remember well the wrongs suffered—we must learn that this practice alone does not bring healing. Beyond inflicting physical or mental injury, every act of violence, whether individual or systemic, dehumanizes and enslaves the other to fear. To practice remembering in response to such violence works against the peace we seek, for memory as memory of wrongs stifles the imagination by entangling us in the destructive narrative of fear and violence where we cannot imagine a world without war. Therefore, as Christians, we must struggle against the memory of wrongdoing and instead "remember rightly" as theologian Miraslov Volf argues in The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World.

We can begin to remember rightly when we remember to whom we belong, and therefore, encounter a different story to tell. As Christians, ours is a story that rejects violence and fear as normative values in a broken world, instead proclaiming forgiveness in the crucified Messiah and hope in the God of the resurrection. Indeed, we can remember rightly today because we hope rightly for the day we will see God face to face and fully know the story of His overwhelming grace and love. This story we tell—indeed the story we reimagine—must become the story we live. And practicing this reimagination begins in worship. As J. Nelson Kraybill writes in Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation, "In the act of worship, we imagine the world as God created it and as God will recreate it."

Worship shaped by the Beatitudes in Matthew's gospel offers a reimagined story in which the Holy Spirit can transform the distorted affections of fearful self-preservation and control into hope-filled humility, mourning, and meekness. This pattern disentangles us from the destructive narrative of fear and violence and frees us to seek a just peace of healing and reconciliation. When we gather together as a community of faith within the context of American disengagement from Afghanistan, our beatitude-patterned worship can call the church not to righteous vindication but to confess our own brokenness, to lament the destruction of all life, to stop demanding security over reconciliation, and to hunger for the shalom which can come from God alone.

Thus, beatitude-patterned worship compels the church to never forget to be an enduring voice for true shalom in a society that settles for coercive "peace." This voice for shalom rejects a peace deemed "good enough" by a war weary society—a peace achieved by what force can hold together, not a peace marked by forgiveness, reconciliation, and justice. This enduring voice for shalom is heard in the call to humbly engage the marginalized Muslim community in our neighborhoods and to mercifully embrace and patiently listen to returning soldiers and their families. Ultimately, beatitude-shaped worship invites us to remember rightly our call to struggle for just peace and to the project of forgiveness, for it is to the ministry of reconciliation that the children of God have been called. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

- Erik Borggren is a West Point graduate and former Army Infantry officer. He now serves as the Assistant Pastor of Lincoln Square Presbyterian Church in Chicago, IL.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”