There is a scene in the film, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, where Gandalf returns to the Shire, the home of the Hobbits, after a long absence. As Frodo and Gandalf talk, Frodo informs him that he has been labelled as a ‘disturber of the peace.’(Click here to watch a clip on YouTube – external link) The Shire is idyllic in many ways – safe, peaceful, secure, and abundant. However, The Shire is also insulated from the rest of Middle Earth – Hobbits have very little need to regard anything or anyone outside of the Shire. If something does not concern them, why should they concern themselves with it? The ‘peace’ of The Shire is really just a thinly veiled self-regard that says ‘so long as I’m not being disturbed that’s all that matters.’ When Gandalf comes and ‘disturbs the peace’ it is because he provides a window into the wider world that isn’t quite so serene.
Like a lot of people, I read or watch the news on a regular basis. In recent weeks we’ve had multiple tragedies – violence on grotesque levels and situations of increasing despair. The news, by its nature, tends to report the difficult stories of the world – the disruptions and the despotic. Rarely do I come away from reading the news thinking that it was happy reading. But what should our reaction be to these stories? It’s easy to tune out; it’s easy to turn over; it’s easy to get on with our life. We live in a peaceful society – though every now and again we get reminded that the peace is fragile – but, for the most part, we can go about our everyday lives secure in the peace of our surroundings.
In preparation for my upcoming ‘Faith Seeking Understanding’ class I’ve been reading Daniel Migliore’s book of the same name. In the book Migliore writes that love acknowledges solidarity with brothers and sisters everywhere ‘because this is the way we were created to live – not in self-important isolation from others but in deep and often costly solidarity with others.’ [i] What does it look like to step out of the security of self-important isolation? What does it look like to live in costly solidarity with others? Admittedly the issues are complex but it seems to me that the closing of borders and the building of walls are practices of isolation, and not solidarity.
This brings me back to being disturbers of the peace. Migliore continues,
‘people whose freedom is rooted in God’s grace and who are therefore surprisingly free to be with and for others – especially others called strangers and undesirables – will always be disturbing presences in a world that knows all too well both the coercive power of “masters” and the unresisting servility of “slaves”.’[ii]
The idea that we can be people free to be with others (solidarity alongside) and for others (advocates along with) because of God’s grace and nature is a significant one. The idea suggests the Christian life should be that of prophetic imagination (to borrow a phrase from Brueggemann [iii]). The Christian life should be one that can grieve alongside those who suffer and create the space to acknowledge the injustices (solidarity alongside). Ultimately, however, it should also bring to light the vision for an alternative world where justice prevails and oppression is relinquished (advocates along with). It is listening to the stories of the oppressed and promoting the voice of those who desperately need to heard. Ultimately the Christian life should not be one that settles for the status quo but one that is a disturbing presence: a disturbing presence to systems of injustice; a disturbing presence to relationships of inequality; a disturbing presence to regimes of oppression.
Perhaps too easily we value peace as a desirable condition of life without troubling the sort of peace we desire. Is it the sort of peace that is self-regarding – so long as I can live in peace? Or is it a prophetic peace that, by necessity, disturbs injustices, poverty, and the plight of others? Are we content to continue living in the peace of The Shire or will strive to become a Gandalf-like character – a disturber of the peace?
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
Attributed to Sir Francis Drake -1577
[i] Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, (Cambridge: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 165.
[ii] Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 165.
[iii] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001).
(Ideas and reflections in this post are personally-held so if you’d like to interact with any of these thoughts then please get in contact / comment – let us keep the conversation alive!)