One author whose writings I revisit over and over again is Henri Nouwen. If you are not familiar with him I highly encourage you to read some of his work. A colleague of mine recently emailed some Nouwen quotes concerning the art of reconciliation that I thought I would pass along:
Reconciliation is much more than a one-time event by which a conflict is resolved and peace established. A ministry of reconciliation goes far beyond problem solving, mediation, and peace agreements. There is not a moment in our lives without the need for reconciliation. When we dare to look at the myriad hostile feelings and thoughts in our hearts and minds, we will immediately recognize the many little and big wars in which we take part. Our enemy can be a parent, a child, a “friendly” neighbor, people with different lifestyles, people who do not think as we think, speak as we speak, or act as we act. They all can become “them.” Right there is where reconciliation is needed. Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls. God gave reconciliation to us as a ministry that never ends.
To the degree that we accept that through Christ we ourselves have been reconciled with God we can be messengers of reconciliation for others. Essential to the work of reconciliation is a nonjudgmental presence. We are not sent to the world to judge, to condemn, to evaluate, to classify, or to label. When we walk around as if we have to make up our mind about people and tell them what is wrong with them and how they should change, we will only create more division. Jesus says it clearly: “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge; … do not condemn; … forgive” (Luke 6:36-37). In a world that constantly asks us to make up our minds about other people, a nonjudgmental presence seems nearly impossible. But it is one of the most beautiful fruits of a deep spiritual life and will be easily recognized by those who long for reconciliation.
Amen Henri, Amen.
Yesterday I had a great time preaching at my Alma Mater Cincinnati Christian University (’95) on the topic of “Fearful Leadership.” I spoke from Isaiah 6:8 which contains the famous cry of the prophet, “Here am I send me.” I discussed how Isaiah, after his encounter with God, realized that he could not send himself or be sent by mere mortals to do the task of authentic ministry. He understood he needed to be specially commissioned by God to succeed.
One of my comments that drew some “Amens” (Church of Christ I hear yah!) was when I said to the students concerning ministry, “if you can go do anything else go do it.” One of the things that baffled me while I was a student there was the the lack of an urgent attitude of some of my classmates concerning the call (or being sent by God) for ministry.
Some would say things like “I might be a minister or teacher” like their destiny was to be decided by a flip of a coin, or” I’ll try ministry out for a few years but if that doesn’t work out I’ll just sell insurance.” I never understood comments like that, i.e. comments that made ministry as a full time vocation optional. For me it was a zero sum game – if it was optional then you obviously did not have an Isaiah 6:8 experience. And if your ordinary life has not collided with the power of His presence, are you really capable of ministry?
The Bible talks about fear in two ways, one good and one bad. The bad way is to live your life always waiting for the other shoe to drop, scared of some boogie man that doesn’t exist to come and get you. I see this all the time concerning reconciliation and it is usually focused on a perceived identity threat .
People move out of neighborhoods because too many blacks or Latinos are moving in; they are scared to go downtown because they think some panhandler is going to go “postal” on them; or they set up glass ceilings within their organization because they don’t want women to “take over.” There are too many imaginary identity boogie men to name them all here.
But the other way the Bible talks about fear is reverential. This is a healthy respect of what you are dealing with. This is what we see in Isaiah 6:8. He realizes just how human and limited in his understanding of the world he is in comparison to God. He also realizes that he is one of the lucky few to understand that he needs some divine help. His faith is humbled. Couple this with the leadership task he is charged with, he knows he can do it if the all powerful One makes it so. Send him! My prayer is to send us, too.
I just read an excerpt from cultural critic and essayist Toure’ s upcoming book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?, due out September 13th. In it he explores the meaning of race for the 21st Century African American. From the excerpt I think he is entering some treacherous waters as I anticipate he will break some rules of blackness. In the excerpt I read he already at least broke one, which is “thou shalt always show a united front around white folk.” He seems to be openly wrestling with the meaning of his racial classification for everyone to see. Brave man!
One incident he talks about happened while he was a college student at Emory University. At 2:30 am he entered into a discussion with some fellow black students concerning always being stuck with cleaning up after a party. A linebacker sized black man who wasn’t even in the conversation silenced the whole room by shouting angrily “Shut up, Toure’! You ain’t black!” He talks about the embarrassment of being charged with being an Uncle Tom and reflects on the racial wrestling that followed. Good stuff.
As our nation grows more and more racially diverse I think more memoirs like this will surface. People who are paying attention know that our racial categories are undergoing a redefinition. My life is radically racially different from my father’s – its not even close. I remember one day driving around the campus of Miami University on a beautiful summer day with the windows down. While at a stop light I heard and saw a young white man yell “What’s up niggah!?!” Be rest assured that if my dad, while growing up in Anniston, Alabama, had heard this while driving down the street he may have lost his life depending on how he responded.
Not me. First I recognized the diction – niggah vs. nigger (“niggah” as a term of endearment vs. “nigger” as an insult is a post for another day!) Looking out the window to see closer who this might be I found out the greeting wasn’t for me at all. It was one young white dude greeting some other white kids in the car in front of me. What is the meaning of that? I have no idea, but I think it is time to explore the implications.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent estimate predicts that this year, for the first time, American farmers will harvest more corn for ethanol than for feed. In Europe some 50% of the rapeseed crop is going into biofuel production, according to Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe, while “world-wide about 18% of sugar is being used for biofuel today.
An excerpt from the WSJ article “Can the World Still Feed Itself?”
about the concern that in a starving world more and more food is being produced for energy instead of food production. For us in the west it means we pay a little more for Corn Flakes. But in other parts of the world the quality of life is dramatically affected. Many forget the “Arab Spring” started as a food protest. Let’s pray that the correlation between the energy and food markets does not get more skewed as that will go a long way to keeping the peace throughout the world.
Reconciliation seems like it’s a flavor of the month word in American evangelical Christianity today, but as early as the Didache (first century), reconciliation (on the interpersonal level) was a required practice to attend early church meetings! Can you imagine what today’s church would be like if we took this practice seriously? I know of pastors who need to reconcile with other pastors. It seems to me very problematic that we are more prone to schism even in our churchgoing than understanding that without a deeper sense of reconciliation, we have little right to approach the throne of God at all.
Even in the early Catholic church, the practice of reconciliation was deemed a sacrament. Now granted, it is more popularly conceived of as confession and penance, but still, how did something central to the Christian life become so peripheral to evangelical practice? I know the answer could be really dismissive, as in the Catholic clergy abused the right to absolution and whatnot, but I wonder if without the practice of reconciliation (and let’s be honest, it does take quite a bit of practice), we’ve all been allowed to indulge ourselves in a sense of egocentricism that has been hard to recover from.
It makes me wonder why as evangelicals are waking up to social action and community development, we are always finding that Catholic charities and community groups have already set up camp and been there for a long time. Granted, we can critique them theologically and question their notion of atonement, but what does it say about us that we want to recover the orthodoxy of the early church without the practices of the early church?
And what does it say about our inability to work together and mend fences when we dismiss reconciliation so quickly? I think it was fine when the West was wild and untamed, but now in this day and age, there is nowhere to run. We must begin to push inward to the boundaries that have kept us apart, not look for new places to set up camp. Or perhaps we shouldn’t go to church until we take reconciliation seriously. If we take the Bible seriously, shouldn’t we also take reconciliation seriously?