Polarization, Peace and Pentecost

There was a brief moment at the end of April when the sun broke through the gloom. Covid-19 was gaining a foothold around the globe and the true scale of the threat was emerging. Suddenly it seemed there was a real possibility of genuine international cooperation to beat the virus. “It’s like a world war except we’re all on the same side!” Would a common enemy called coronavirus enable the human race to get over themselves and realize that we share living space on a rather crowded and infected planet?

Alas, the clouds rolled in quickly. In very short order world leaders were trying to corner the market in non-existent vaccines for their own nation, unproven medicines were stockpiled, and PPE consignments were hijacked in mid-air (a governmental equivalent to buying out all the toilet paper you can find). America was busy putting America first, and Britain Brexiting. There was a league table of who was doing better than who in fighting the virus. While everyone else was preoccupied, China was surreptitiously trying to grab Hong Kong, Taiwan and a chunk of India. And Kim Jong-un blew up a liaison office on the border with South Korea. Nice one that.

The re-energized polarizations were not limited to political leaders. Social media space has become a war zone of who is hoaxing who, whose lives matter and who is allowed to say what, who can use what bathroom, and who likes Donald Trump. I didn’t tell you that the quote in my first paragraph came from Bill Gates, because I knew some of you would stop reading at that point. That’s polarization.

So world peace lies in tatters again! Was I dumb for even hoping? It used to be a regular feature of beauty contests that contenders would vacuously claim to “dream of world peace”. But followers of Jesus Christ, whether they are beautiful or ugly, really should dream of world peace, because that is what he came for. He is the Prince of Peace, and the promise of his kingdom is that it will come with ever-increasing peace.

In the midst of this chaos we celebrated Pentecost, the amazing day when “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” together heard of the mighty works of God. The church was the original United Nations. Pentecost was the day when God reversed the curse of Babel through the gift of tongues so that the nations could once again speak to each other. On the day of Pentecost, God put us back in the place where “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” What a prospect!

Since that day, we haven’t, in all honesty, been great stewards of the kingdom of peace that was birthed in our midst. We are the salt to flavour the earth, but our saltiness has been questionable. I have a modest proposal for world peace(*): that we believers start learning to live in honour with other believers, especially those we disagree with and who differ from us (like how to spell “honour” properly! 😁 ) We can’t blame the world for being the world if the church is failing to be the church.

(*) Acknowledgment is due to the Mennonites who have their own version of this proposal