Sarah Thompson is the executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams. To schedule the show “I’d Like to Buy an Enemy” by Ted & Co. and support CPT, email her at email@example.com.
“If you see something, say something.” This line comes to us out of post-9/11 security culture.
In places where people normally moved around freely, met one another and perhaps made an unexpected connection, a culture of suspicion took hold. God forbid someone asks you to watch their bags while they walk with their child to look out the airport windows. Feel your blood pressure spike as someone puts their backpack down to run to the water fountain. I’ve seen security called in cases like this. Before you know it, police reports are being filed by witnesses, countless hours and money wasted, people feeling frustrated because their bag was considered “unattended,” and they have to jump through hoops to get it back.
What we see as suspicious is filtered through what we perceive as familiar and comfortable, versus what is not.
“If you see something say something” can also be turned on its head for those of us who are members of the upside-down kin-dom of God. Building on Philippians 4:8, when we see something beautiful or honorable, we should say something too.
I see much to affirm in my travels with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). Our mission to build partnerships to transform violence and oppression leads us to collaborate with those who might be considered suspicious. Getting to know new places and new people in order to work to transform situations of violence and address oppression is a benefit of nonviolence work; we learn to see and say in new ways.
Across Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, we travel with the Ted & Co. show “I’d Like to Buy an Enemy” and connect with congregations and community organizations engaged in missional peacemaking work. Set in the “Enemies R Us” shop, this show demonstrates how the concept of enemy is built in our minds and hearts. It plays out the devastating impacts of U.S.-led wars on humans and creation. The show also contains a stealth pie auction. Beautiful things can happen when we bring different people in a room to laugh, learn and demonstrate our values by buying pies for a good cause.
Affirming what is beautiful does not eliminate the need to identify pain and the manifestations of evil. It is still important to say something if you see something hurtful.
One thing I see now is Donald Trump. He is encouraging the buying and making of enemies. Eschewing alternatives and capitalizing on ignorance, he is fueling the fires of hatred, suspicion and consumerism.
Instead of being angry that racism still exists and that Trump is running for president, now is the time to do something about it. I often ask, What were the Christians of Germany doing in the late 1920s? What were the Christians of the United States doing when their Japanese neighbors were rounded up and interred on the basis of their race/national origin? I have read enough history to know that many people said, “We didn’t see this coming; we didn’t think it could happen here so we didn’t say anything.”
I am not asking you to publically criticize Donald Trump. He has received far too much press already. But I would be remiss if I did not use this platform to register my public dissent of the foundation and direction of our country’s politics. Philippians 4:9 builds on the previous verse and invites us to speak to the reality we learn in Jesus. When we practice our boundary-crossing, enemy-loving, liberating faith, it says, “the God of peace will be with you.”
As you go about talking with people related to the national rhetoric, you do not need to speak for anyone else or champion anyone else’s cause. However, do talk about how much you appreciate diversity and how you’ve dealt with differences of opinion and power in healthy ways. Talk about what a loss of your neighbors, the land you farm or the narrowing of the church you attend feels like. Release yourself from the need to have a solution to the problems you see before you share your pain or confusion. Sharing your story will give others permission to share theirs.
When we share our fears and sorrow, politicians cannot use them to divide us. We do not know the future, but we can study the past.
This is leadership. You have been called for such a time as this. If you don’t feel like you have skills for this moment, let me assure you, you do. Don’t let the culture of fear and suspicion get into your bones. It rots them. Strengthen yourself for this moment through trainings available (from CPT and other organizations) for your congregation. Practice is the only way to learn to engage this moment with bold humility, disciplined patience and clear strategy. If that sounds like a lot, just begin in prayer for your words to be God’s words and then, if you see something, say something.