I have been reflecting each week on the themes of Advent. Last week was hope. This week is peace. By the way, personal reflection sucks. It usually ends up with me realizing I’m not as great as I thought I was. Last week, I realized that I am afraid to hope. This week’s personal epiphany might be even more damaging to my ego.
After thinking a lot about peace I was drawn to James’ wise words:
What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
In other words: peace between people and peace between nations is a consequence of people coming to peace with themselves. If you are at war with yourself it will inevitably seep out into your other relationships. So work on becoming okay with yourself and you will find that your relationships with other people will be more peaceful.
But the more I thought about this idea, the more troubling it became, especially for American Christians. You see, the one thing that drives almost all of the narratives and stories of our culture is a lack of peace. The lack of external peace drives the stories of our government and media, a lack of relational peace drives almost all of our entertainment. How many of us want to watch a movie where everyone gets along great and there is never any conflict?
This points out one thing I must confess: a world with no conflict seems boring. I confess that I am not even sure what such a world would look like. But my confession means something even more fundamental: I idolize entertainment. For many in our culture, there is nothing more dreaded than being bored. A life of excitement is privileged over a life of peace. May I continue to learn to value people for their presence and not for how entertaining they are to me. I pray that I learn not to fear boredom but to value it as space to be at peace.
The other thing I must confess is this: I didn’t get to this place on my own. American culture depends upon my lack of inner peace. Specifically, our economy depends upon Americans not being satisfied with themselves. How many of us would buy that brand new car if we were really secure in what makes us valuable? If we did not find at least some of our worth in the brand of clothes we wear or find comfort in food or alcohol, or find escapism in sports, whole industries would collapse. If we all found most or all of our value in personal relationships instead of product, capitalism as it exists in America right now could not exist. Because of this, the stories we are told over and over again, ad nauseum really, is that happiness is only one purchase away. If we were happy and content, the power of marketing breaks down. Talk about peer pressure. This Christmas season we are being told by political pundits and marketers that we might be able to literally buy ourselves out of a depression. We have built a system that depends on people’s lack of contentment.
I have decided to call this story a lie, this story that all of my televisions, billboards, and radio stations tell me. This week, I recognize my participation in the self-destructive pattern of fighting for world peace while being a part of a system that depends on upon a lack of world peace. I pray that the Spirit will keep putting other people in my life who will help me to tell a different story. I pray for eyes to see that I am too often enslaved by societal peer pressure that finds contentment and inner peace in products instead of the person and community of Jesus.