I love walking around where I live. There are Jamaican patty shops next to Middle Eastern vegetable shops, a Pentecostal church opposite a progressive mosque. Tall tower blocks overlooking a stables offering riding lessons sponsored by HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, busy betting shops opposite renowned night clubs.
Yet, while I celebrate many of these places as part of the diverse mix, I only seem able to observe from afar. It’s not just that I don’t gamble, but I’ve never stepped foot in a betting shop in my life and I feel pretty nervous about doing so. I go to the Middle Eastern veg shop, but I’ve never been inside the mosque next door.
It’s not just the physical buildings. If I think about it, I don’t personally know a single Muslim who lives in my area. I don’t know anyone who goes to the betting shops on my street. I don’t know anyone who buys chicken from the chicken shop.
The strange things in my neighbourhood are the invisible walls that divide the community, separating me from my neighbours and those I pass on the street; separating rich and poor, black and white, young and old. Despite our physical proximity, the barriers remain.
Yet Jesus’ purpose on earth was to break down dividing walls. Paul says: “For He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”
Lying in bed the other night, I realised that those barriers have actually already been destroyed. Jesus did that. As Rowan Williams said when he spoke at the Memorial Service to CHIPS – the Christian International Peace Service – founder Roy Calvocoressi:
“The task of the peacemaker is not to invent peace out of whole cloth, but to cope with the overwhelming abundance of God’s peace poured out on the earth in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has made peace between those separated by dividing walls.”
So what does coping with that mean? For me, it means I simply need to realise that those walls are in my head and in the heads of all of us – they are our fears and prejudices daily seen in the fact that I don’t greet everyone I walk past on the street, that I don’t drop into the betting shop to say hi to my neighbour, that I don’t just knock on my neighbour’s door to get to know them. They’ll think I’m weird. They’ll suspect that I want something from them. They’ll think I’m a cop – that happens a lot.
But stepping across those invisible walls is the only way we can really make peace. Stepping those physical steps, crossing those relational and cultural divides in our neighbourhood, is the work of peacemaking. It might not always work out well, but what I’ve found is that when we realise that those divides have been broken down by Jesus, it makes crossing them a whole lot easier. We don’t know what we’ll meet on the other side. Sometimes we will meet prejudice and fear, but often we will meet love and beauty and joy and hope. Those fruits of the spirit, those images of the kingdom of heaven coming here on earth can be found in every place and every person. And each time we step across one of those divides, that is in itself a little breakthrough of the kingdom – a realisation and an affirmation of the truth that Jesus has broken down these walls, he has made peace. Now it’s up to us to make it visible.
Paul will be speaking at the Conflict, Peace and Us event being organised by threads, CHIPS and Rhythms on Wednesday 10th June, 2015. He’ll be exploring these issues of conflict in our neighbourhoods and guiding us all to explore how we can be peacemakers in our own situations. For information and to order a free ticket, click here.