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My Vocation as a Peacemaker

by Laurel Dykstra


October 27, 2014

My Vocation as a Peacemaker

This essay is part of the Vocation of Peacemaking series where we asked members and friends of the BPFNA to write brief essays on their peacemaking work. The Vocation of Peacemaking stories come from students, activists, teachers, parents, pastors, lay people, and retirees who work for peace in their jobs, their communities, their families, their volunteer time, and their neighborhoods in a wide variety of ways. Each story is a wonderful reminder that there are as many ways to live a life of peace as there are people, and that we can act for peace in real and important ways wherever we find ourselves.

We will be publishing the stories one at a time over the next several weeks and then compiling them into an Issue Monograph before the end of 2014. The monograph will be available as a free download from the BPFNA website.

Keep checking the Vocation of Peacemaking webpage for more!

It has been more than 13 years since I was last arrested—I’m terrible with dates, but I know this one because I was pregnant then and my daughters are 13 now. It’s been even longer since I’ve been inside a jail that a visitor’s ID couldn’t get me out of.

Here and there in the years since I have wielded bolt cutters, cooking pots, canoe paddles, parade stilts, pride flags, a credit card, social media, my own dancing feet, and in one notable case a cake shaped like a giant cockroach, in support of various movements for change, love, justice, and dignity. I have participated in what can only be years of meetings and trainings.

But even during the years when I lived full-time in a Catholic Worker house and was part of the collective that wrote, designed, printed and delivered weekly peace pamphlets at the Nuclear Submarine Base, I don’t know that I claimed the vocation of Peacemaker.

Really, I am not a very peaceful person. I have issues with power, and I’m as likely to exacerbate a conflict as I am to peacefully transform it. I like books better than people. I hold grudges. I avoid working with people I don’t trust. I don’t have enemies, but there are people I have quietly “fallen out of contact with.” It is a pattern in my life to make excuses for people who have behaved badly toward me, particularly white men in positions of power. I dread, although I sometimes participate in, formal conflict resolution.

I am not an awesome analyst and am often overwhelmed by the sheer number and variety of atrocities that take place every day in our world and the underlying issues, which I neither understand nor make an effort to understand.

I live now with my alternative family, after ten-plus years in “intentional Christian communities.” My life in recent years has moved in a direction that my younger and more arrogant self might have called selling out, but perhaps it is more of a settling in? I hope that it is more sustainable.

So as a Christian profoundly attuned to questions of injustice, what is my vocation?

Some of it is showing up, being a neighbour where I live—a housing co-op in a much-pathologized, urban-core neighbourhood where I moved, not as an exercise in downward mobility but because the high turn-over rate meant there was a vacancy I could afford.

Being a neighbour means things like helping to pull together an informal subsidy when families, especially women raising sons, are being pushed out of housing.

Some of it is communication—I am a better speaker and writer than a one-on-one conversationalist. It is a joy to me, and I’m told a help to others, to engage with scripture, to know how biblical stories of justice, creation, gender and place help us to engage our own stories of struggle.

I try to be on top of one or two issues (I’m pretty good on Indian Residential Schools and the Sanctuary movement) and know who to ask about the rest: Wendy and Jean for housing, Theo and Amal for queer politics, Don and Jo on Gaza, Harsha and Sozan on immigration and refugees, Devin and Sharon on alternative media, Priti and Sarah on labour, Rahula on activist parenting, Mijo on leveraging funds for social change.

As a white person trying to be part of decolonizing projects, I am learning to take leadership and direction from movements and people of colour. Through my work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools and the anti-racism training team in my church, I have learned the importance of prayer and spiritual care in justice work.

I wish that in our collective peace- and justice-making vocations we had better skills for being companions—covenants and communities of accountability to call one another to do and be better or as Dorothy Day put it, that make it easier to be good. But I am encouraged by the notion that vocation is not static but more about journey than destination.

Laurel Dykstra is a community-based activist and writer. She is an Anglican priest who lives with her queer/alternative family in an East Vancouver housing coop in the Fraser Valley watershed.

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