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PEACE? Let’s Start With What We Share, Not What Divides

This week at a conference I met three women sitting next to each other. The woman closest to me was Muslim. Next to her sat a Jewish woman. And the woman on the end? You guessed it: Christian.

Interesting coincidence, I thought.

Then I learned that they are part of an intentional community. They live together. Eat together. Side by side, they study, garden, clean, cry, exercise, and debate. Muslim, Jew and Christian.

In fact, lots of other women and men live in this community. All of varying faith, racial, and cultural backgrounds. It’s located on a parcel of picturesque land in the Lower Hudson River Valley. Every resident is committed to peacemaking, nonviolence, and social and environmental justice.

They practice what they preach, and invite others to join them and do the same. It seems to work.

So how do they do it?

One way is by focusing on the interests that they share, rather than those that divide them. They explore the aspects of their faith that transcend religious or cultural boundaries. For example, all faiths practice some form of hospitality, or welcoming others, including strangers. This community does that. But then they do more. They welcome ideas, critiques, and traditions.

They also focus on the care of creation as a basis for unity. The Muslim woman, originally from Palestine, told me that “there’s something about eating food grown by someone else” that encourages understanding.

These words ring true on so many levels. We all eat. We all drink. No matter who or what you call god, and no matter where you live, you’re still dependent upon having access to clean water, pure air, and fertile soil for food. You're dependent upon your neighbor upgradient or upstream not defiling these resources. You’re dependent upon the person who grows the grain, purifies the water, or trucks your produce to the market.

Really, what community can survive long without access to these resources?

None. We’re connected through our mutual dependence.

But let’s take that a step farther. We're commanded to responsibly steward these resources. Every major faith contains some directive along these lines. We’re to care for the natural world. Nurture it. Not unduly harm it. The care of creation is a spiritual imperative. It provides yet another ground for unity.

This faith-based movement for peace and justice is thriving on a community level. Let’s scale that up. The idea behind environmental peacebuilding among regions or countries is to do exactly what they're doing. It’s the idea that cooperation among countries is essential because natural resources often cross politically-drawn boundaries. It’s that very interdependence that provides a foundation for communities in conflict to build upon in working towards sustainable peace.

We may not agree on much these days, especially when it comes to pathways to peace. But isn't the natural world and its resources a good place to start?

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