Reflections on the Lake Junaluska Peace Conference

Last Sunday we concluded four days devoted to the Lake Junaluska Peace Conference, we have been involved in for the past seven years. This year’s theme was “Longing for Peace/Exploring the Heart of God.”

Over 200 people assembled in a space that Sylvia had set with a beautiful focus table as well as other art around the room. Behind the table was a large blue scroll painted like a Hubble Telescope view of the universe. Before it was a kind of glass curtain, reminding me of St. Paul’s phrase “Now we see through a glass darkly…” It was a way of combining awe before the mystery of God’s creativity with a sense that we are on a journey of discovery.

On the table were the three candlestands representing the three Abrahamic faiths, for the Conference is at heart an invitation to an interfaith journey to peace-building.

Rabbi Or Rose before the Peace Conference focus table
Rabbi Or Rose before the Peace Conference focus table

Leading us in this intense conversation were Rev. Dr. Sam Wells, Vicar of St. Martin’s in the Fields parish church in London and formerly Dean of the Chapel at Duke University; Rabbi Or Rose, Director of the Center for Global Judaism at Hebrew College; and Rabia Terri Harris, the founding Director of the Muslim Peace Fellowship. Woven all through our experience was the music of Yuval Ron and his musicians, drawing us into the musical traditions emanating from the cultural cradles of this varied religious tradition.

Each left us with reverberating memories. Rabia Harris spoke about “the Project of God” —the ongoing dynamic of God’s self-revelation in and through the world, a dynamic which continually leads us into new healing beyond the false polarities of the moment.

She cautioned us against despair, believing that the world is incoherent, and against a techno-optimism that we can fix everything. As we seek to go beyond our nature of fear and greed for the sake of a more encompassing need of nature for wholeness, we need to remember that  “it is better to be melted by love than shattered by force.”

Or Rose reminded us of the depth of the meaning of the Bible’s prohibition of idolatry, a command that is at the core of all these traditions. Idolatry takes so many forms — ethnic groups, nations, the market, the sports team, the self — that we don’t see its many disguises, all of which lead us away from the mysterious God who is working for the peace and healing of the world, “Tikkun Olam.”

The idolatry of religion has to always remember that our mission is to be A light to the world. We are never the only light, but we are to let our light shine as A light. We need to learn to walk with other lights as sacred companions, in Hebrew, as Havrutha.

Sam Wells pointed out how a Trinitarian sense of God means that God is intrinsically in relationship. The making and healing of broken relationship is the divine work. Peace-building is not some “expression” or “consequence” of a God-experience but its very essence. Going into the heart of God is to go into the journey toward peace.

In taking this journey we need to avoid the temptation to the drug of violence as well as the oblivion of despair. The crucifixion tells us that it is a journey even beyond the bounds of life as we know it. The resurrection tells us that new and victorious life is the goal of peace.

And then, like a mushroom cloud of our present traumas, the news from Paris and Beirut burst upon us. One of our global prayer partners in the conference was the American Church of Paris, which was conducting services and extending services of compassion even as we were praying for all those suffering from the brutal upheavals of a Middle-Eastern political order that is in increasing collapse. Our purpose lay in our midst as well as before us.

Knowing that “religion,” and specifically the Abrahamic faiths at the core of our understanding and longing are thoroughly implicated in this violence as well as the compassionate search for healing makes this kind of assembly even more important. Amid the decay of rationalist certainty and utopian political visions we need to find the deeper ground from which emanates both our desire for peace as well as our capacity to live into it and out of it.

Well, this gives you some words to reflect on, but it doesn’t give you the music, the conversation, the moments when there were tears as well as laughter. “You had to be there.” Yes, you can come next year, when the theme will focus on Climate Change. I will have further thoughts in an upcoming posting, but I wanted you to get a flavor of what we have been doing here in recent days.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on the Lake Junaluska Peace Conference”

  1. Ironically, will it be today’s propensity for violence that will bring together the Abrahamic faiths? Not so for you faithful gathered in Lake Junaluska because your admirable and deepened faith brings together the true purpose of faith. Thank you for the energies you create as a gathering, and as dispersed through the work you share with the rest of the world.

  2. Excellent summary of a beautiful, thought-provoking and inspiring conference.
    Shalom, salaam, alleluia! Thank you.

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