Three weeks ago today I had my first day at the NC Council of Churches as the Associate for Peace. The first item on my to-do list was to attend a staff meeting, and the second was to attend an Open House here at the new Council offices in West Raleigh Presbyterian. I was disappointed the next day when I found out that the lovely spread of munchies lining the hallway on day one would not be repeated every day. Live and learn.
I’ve been nourished in other ways, though, even in my short time here. The staff here all strike me as extraordinary people, and I’m learning from them already. I’m also excited and enriched by my encounters with the larger community of the Council and its partners. The world looks pretty discouraging through the lens of newspaper headlines, but I have always found an antidote to that discouragement in meeting the real people around me and finding out how many of them are concerned about issues of faith, peace and justice, and how many of them are actively engaged in making substantive contributions to their communities and world. There are a lot of good people out there, and the Council seems to be surrounded and populated by them.
After the staff meeting and the open house, the third item on my to-do list has taken up quite a bit of my time in these first three weeks: discernment. To a degree that is both exciting and slightly daunting, I’m being given room to order priorities for my position. My official title is “Associate for Peace,” which is a fairly broad assignment. At twenty hours a week, I’m not sure I’ll be able to knock out world peace in the next few months.
I say that with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, of course, not only because I know something about my limitations, but because I am keenly aware that world peace—absence of conflict on the planet—is not the goal. Conflict isn’t even necessarily a bad thing. It is often necessary on the way to justice. Peacemaking work isn’t about ending conflict, it is about finding ways to approach that conflict constructively rather than destructively.
Still, there is a tragic degree of job security in peace work; there is no shortage of conflict to address. And ‘peace’ is a broad term. What kind of social justice efforts do not fall under that category? So the work of trying to articulate what my job will be is one that will take attention and intention. I’ve started by meeting with a handful of people and asking them all the same question: “What do you think my job should be?” The answers have been both fascinating and enlightening, and those conversations are just beginning.
My hope and plan is to choose two or three primary areas on which to focus primarily, and then have a second tier of issues to focus on that I will give lower priority to, but in which I will try to remain engaged. This is fertile ground for me to try to learn some life lessons about biting off chewable pieces and investigating how I can get the most return for my time and energy, not to mention being at peace with the limitations of my time and talent. I value both your prayers and your wisdom as I wrestle with those particular angels.
While I’ve been doing the work of discernment, though, I have also had the chance to jump into more tangible work, attending a meeting to plan for an exciting International Conference on Restorative Justice that will be taking place in Raleigh next year, for instance. I had the privilege of having a leadership role in the first iteration of that conference in Texas in 2007, and it is a thrill to find that the third conference will be happening right here in town. Stay tuned for more information.
I also met with Congressman Etheridge yesterday as part of a small group of people who are concerned about U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine. It was a privilege to be in that conversation, and I think the time was well-spent. I’ve begun to plug into NRCAT, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and last week attended the NAACP march addressing the re-segregation of schools in Raleigh. Between those events I managed to finish up an article for Patheos.com on the future of mainline protestantism as it relates to social justice. And I performed my first public concert since 2008. It has been a busy time!
All of this brings me joy. It is inspiring to meet so many good people working on so many fronts to bring about a more just and equitable future for God’s people, and it is a privilege to offer the pieces I can bring to those efforts.
As I move forward in trying to clarify my calling here, I welcome the input of friends of the Council. I have felt warmly welcomed here and I look forward to learning from all of you. Please feel free to drop me a line any time with thoughts or concerns, and thanks for that warm welcome.
Grace and peace,
Associate for Peace, NCCC