I have trouble sometimes trying to describe what I do – I educate others on the work of reconciliation.
Reconciliation? they ask, Like in marital situations?
Well, not really. Think bigger – like people groups and on issues like immigration, race, class, you know?
And then, I get a few nods and oh’s and Okays. And then the conversation peters out.
I try and return the vocation volley, so what do you do?
And the answers usually can be divided into two categories, those that deal with the present – selling homes, technology consulting, writing, etc.; And those who work towards the future – insurance, community development, teachers, researchers, etc.
Reconciliation falls into a different category because it is somewhat a work that deals with the past, it is historical work that is trying to tie up loose ends with the present; but because we who live in the present are preoccupied in the moment or in the transaction at hand, or we work towards the future, reconciliation seems like a step backward, a constant, nagging pull keeping you from taking the next step forward. Which is why I understand it when people grow weary of the discussions necessary, but we are dialoguing with the past, a past that we cannot change, but neither does it go away without being addressed. Our pasts have a way of coming back to haunt us if we are not careful. And Christians who have been associated with power and influence, particularly being historical bedmates with power, really need to be transparent about that past – whether it was Constantine, the Crusades, the Holy Roman Empire (which by many historian’s accounts was neither holy, Roman, or an empire!), the Great Schism, the Inquisition, the wars, the conquest, the bloodshed, the imperialism, the slave trade, the nativism, the silence, the exclusion acts…all that. If you call yourself Christian, then you have to own this history to some extent. Why?
Because Christians have to remember what happened because history, personal and collective, is that which puts a backbone in our posture of confession. Confession is an act of remembering the past. Reconciliation can only be had with confession. In other words, reconciliation requires a good memory.
That is why even now, when you tell someone the full story of the gospel, you have to go back to the beginning – at some point, you must explain the story of a garden with two trees. Then the story of Christ as messiah makes sense. Because reconciliation is what adds symmetry to the story back in the beginning – Christ hung on a tree. The death that was promised to Adam and Eve was fully owned and purchased in the person of Christ. And we are taught to remember that story for it is also at the genesis of our stories. For like crack babies, we were also born with an addiction we inherited, and addiction that came from the curse of one tree, and at the intersection of two other trees, we are now the recipients of grace. We remember because reconciliation requires that we remember who we were and what happened and why we can lay claim to the new.
Without memory, we cannot understand the reason for a Savior; without remembering our worst moments in church history, we dismiss the ghosts of the past as though they had no bearing, no place to land in our lives now; but you cannot confess what you do not remember, and you cannot be forgiven if you have no awareness of the gravity of the infraction; a key part of reconciliation is the purposeful act of bringing the past before our very eyes and ears so that we might fully have the opportunity of being the new creation we are promised to be.
Here’s Desmond Tutu recounting why bygones will never be bygones without our ability to face it. Listen closely and enjoy.