Thinking peacemakers and mediators from a balcony in Switzerland

The air is fresh, the cowbells are ringing interrupted on the hour by the church bell and the world of conflict seems far away. It’s the stillness here that gives room for thinking. I’m sitting on a balcony in Switzerland, an Alpine retreat if you will, and the hotel behind me is populated with peacemakers and mediators from Myanmar, Krygystan, South Africa, Israel, Egypt, Nigeria……

It has been mildly disturbing to return to the years of conflict and reflect on the role of religious identity in those years. Northern Ireland is a case in point for this weeks learning and reflection for peacemakers and mediators working in places where religious and political identities overlap. Was what happened in Northern Ireland about religion or about politics? An easy answer isn’t possible. The complexity of religious and political identities that interweave is not easily explained. 

The questions from the gathered group have been insightful and incisive. We live in a world of conflict but thankfully there are people who continue the work of understanding why conflict happens and they contribute to the possibility of peace, not just tolerance but full blown peace and a world where difference doesn’t divide but adds colour to the harmony of human experience. Not, of course, that we pretend difference either doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter but rather that we learn to value difference and strive to gather truth and hope from our engagement with one another.

Two thoughts occur to me.

Firstly, about peacemakers and mediators. Where do they go after peace agreements? Are they consigned to history or elevated to become advisors and guides in other places? Listening today to how some South Africans struggle with quotas this long after the end of apartheid I hear there is much to be done. It seems to me that peacemakers and mediators are crucial in their role post peace agreements. But perhaps they need to rethink themselves and separate from the past, holding the role but distancing from the buzz and familiarity of the old days and finding place in the new.

Secondly, about how peacemakers and mediators are viewed. Are they valued? Is their role understood? And would any of us even call ourselves peacemakers given that makers of peace can also be disturbers? Perhaps ‘mediator’ is easier but who needs mediators in Northern Ireland these days? And are mediators a contaminated group believed to be politicised puppets of certain establishments?

Those who strive for peace, who are committed to mediating difference, may need to rethink themselves. Many of us need to let go of the fear of calling ourselves makers of peace. Peacemakers and mediators are often derided at home yet those from other places are valued. The stillness reminds me that in the rhythm of life the call to make peace is as regular as the ringing of the cow bells but sometimes life is too loud to hear the call. Until the lights burn low at the end of our days the rhythmic calling of the gospel from the Prince of peace who came to bring peace remains: go, and do likewise.