The keynote speaker was the director of the St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, an amazing place in the heart of London which brings together diverse groups for deep listening and dialogue, most of which take place in a lovely bedouin tent in the courtyard of a church damaged during world war II which is symbolic in itself. The question was of course, how do we build a more peaceful world together? But before that we had to think what we meant by peace. Cemetries are peaceful places but who wants that kind of peace. Sometimes it seems easier not to ruffle feathers, to keep the peace by agreeing with someone, refusing to speak out or air an opinion. This is a passive kind of peace and while it might keep the peace in some circumstances it doesn't make peace and can in fact drive conflict underground. This is a false kind of peace. My community once had an injunction to be open to the Holy Spirit who disturbs our false sense of peace. Disturbance need not be bad if it helps us face up to truth and achieve true and lasting peace which comes from honesty and meaning, compassion and justice.
What we are called to do is make peace, be peacemakers and this requires a lot more drive and energy. This is something active which sometimes demands challenging injustice, standing with the marginalised and oppressed, speaking out for truth. Common sense tells us that to do this might be the opposite of peace and result in conflict but this weekend we were told that it's important to change our perception of conflict. We were encouraged to see it as an opportunity for growth and dialogue, a clash of opinions maybe but a clash that can be reconciled through deep listening and dialogue. The secret is to ask what is really going on in any conflict, what is causing this conflict and where are the opportunities for learning and growth, what are the stories behind the conflict. This all takes time and requires commitment and honesty from both sides - something that Governments and nations are not willing to do. So often their attempts at peace are more draconian laws, more prohibitions which never get to the root and cause of the conflict and so make the situation worse. We see this in Britain at the moment with a Prime Minister who wants to strongly condemn Islamic terrorism and encourages the community to tell on one another without listening or analysing the root causes of an alienation that can lead to radicalisation. It all seems so simple - talk to people, listen to them, get to the root cause of this problem but no, we would rather stay at the superficial and work for what we think is peace but is in fact domination and control.
Listening and dialogue are not easy, even for those of us who claim to be involved in it but more and more it is recognised as essential for the future of our world. At Assisi in 1986 Pope John Paul II said to the world leaders gathered there to pray for peace that they either lived together in peace or died together through conflict. Many religious leaders recognise this. Religions have such wonderful resources of teachings and practices to promote both inner and outer peace. To pull these resources is a priceless gift to our world. We have no alternative. We need to listen to one another and dialogue with one another, we need to share our precious resources, we need to embrace our desire for peace and together become peacemakers. Thank God there are many many instances of this happening already - good news for sure but who wants to hear about that.