Tuesday, October 18, 2016


People want to be reassured. I felt this lesson strongly everywhere I went. Whether it was Phoenix, Arizona or Knoxville, Tennessee or Wausau, Wisconsin everybody I talked to wanted to feel reassured. Often they wanted to feel reassured that the world wasn't going in a dark direction. They would say they have a question, phrase it as a question, but what they really wanted was for us to reaffirm whatever they had just said.

"The Colombian government and the FARC insurgents signed these peace accords. Whether the people voted or not they can still implement them, right?"

"But both sides are coming to an agreement. They did it before, surely they can do it again."

My job, not just as a translator but as an ambassador of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, was to field these questions to Pastor Luis in the best way. I conveyed his responses with as much aplomb and tact as I could because the reality was: We couldn't offer reassurance. As much as we'd like to say with a certainty that Colombia is going towards peace we also have to admit things could go horribly wrong.

We visited these churches, presbyteries, and universities to share whatever positive news we had. While we avoided discouraging statistics and horrendous stories of death, pain, and anger we couldn't completely evict them from our story. (I say we because, after speaking together for so long, I know the story very well.) The reality we presented, as much as we wanted to present something optimistic, is plagued with incredible violence. It's a reality that's developed over 68 years, and it's one Colombians have to face every day. Pastor Luis and I often remarked to his audience that he wanted to show some photos of mass graves to illustrate the sadness, but he didn't want to dwell on sadness. I think this discomforted some. What we saw, however, wasn't just the effect of our words. The people were discomforted to begin with.

It's fair to say we're at an incredible moment in our history and at the same time in something older generations are familiar with. It's election season. I'm only twenty-three but I get the feeling Americans have been arguing over presidential candidates to varying degrees of intensity ever since George Washington stepped down. We argue now, and more ferociously than we ever did. Video archives show former candidates trying to out-nice each other. We don't get that anymore. The election cycle has shown us Americans a dark side to our society.

Plenty of us knew there existed bastions of racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and all the other 'ism's that create exclusion. Some of us were educated about them. Some of us learned the hard way just how backwards we still are. It felt like a conspiracy theory to explain to people that damage is being done in our country and we don't ever acknowledge it, but the cover's been blown. As of this past year we have seen that lingering darkness revealed and given the chance to step into the limelight (and no, I'm not indirectly talking about Donald Trump. I'm indirectly talking about everything that he's a part of and more.) For those of us who might have buried their heads in the sand they can no longer ignore it.

It's scary to see your home as something other than warm and inviting. If you invited a friend to your house for dinner you would hope your family can impress them. Instead we've found ourselves angrier and eager to fight over the food on the table.

People want to be reassured. What they see is a time of great change. Change is naturally intimidating and when reassurance is in short supply you take what you can get. Even if it means choosing a side you wouldn't normally. The people we see as our angry, hateful neighbors are really nothing more than intimidated people looking for a way out. If things have to change, let it be for their benefit at least. That's not unfair to ask.

The Colombian people voted 'No' in a referendum to approve the formal peace accords. There's a lot of reasons why: the Catholic Church stayed silent, the Evangelical church promoted 'No', the government used the vote as a political game. I've heard the answers millions of times. The Colombian people voted 'No' to peace and the great irony is the people who were most affected by this war were the ones who voted 'Yes.' The people most likely to have hate and anger in their hearts collectively voted to reconcile themselves with their brothers and sisters. We could learn a thing or two from that.

That's why I'm writing. Not to denounce anybody or declare my allegiance to any one party. I, like the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, want to work for the betterment of mankind. I want to be on the side of peace. What does that mean? Reconciling ourselves with our brothers and sisters, and as the Pastor often says "The way to reconciliation is through love." Radical love. The Jesus kind of love. It sounds crazy, but that's what makes it so radical. To reconcile ourselves with these people is asking a lot. What we have to understand is: they're just like us. Maybe they're scared or afraid. Maybe they're embarrassed. Maybe they're proud of these faults. Maybe they want to go back to the way things were. It doesn't matter. They are my brother and my sister. Just like the Colombian people we have to love each other or we will never find peace.

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