My post “Will Gandhi Burn” launched me on a journey – a journey toward understanding the bigger vision of Christ’s mission to reconcile all things. Last week I shared some of the biblical foundation for our call to be reconcilers. However, that post did not go quite far enough in defining the practical realities of living our lives as “reconcilers” of a broken world. This week I picked up Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice’s book, “Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing” and was both challenged and encouraged by some of what they had to say.
“Reconciliation is an invitation into a long and fragile journey. It is not a “solution” or an end product, but a process and an ongoing search. We find ourselves pilgrims in search of something better in a divided world. Reconciliation flows from hope – hope that the way things are is not the way things have to be. ”
Recently Charles and I were invited to speak on the topic of racial reconciliation. I actually found this topic to be somewhat uncomfortable because “racial reconciliation” is so often seen as a “goal” to be achieved verses a journey to be embarked on. As I reflected on the topic, I realized that I did not set out to “reconcile” the racial divide. I simply felt called to hang out with people who had a different story to tell. In their stories I came face to face with the same Jesus I had come to know and love. It was through our common identity as children of God that we connected across race and class. It was through this shared identity that we began to see one another as sisters and brothers.
I have also learned that reconciliation is a two way street. It was as difficult for Charles to cross over into a white middle class community as it was for me to feel at home in an African American inner city neighborhood. However, we were both pilgrims called on the same journey through the hope that “the way things are is not the way things have to be.”
“The journey of reconciliation begins with seeing that reconciliation is not the goal of human striving but is instead a gift God longs for us to accept. God’s mission of reconciliation challenges, moves beyond, and even explodes the conventional distinctions. The more Christians are able to ground reconciliation as a journey with God from old toward new, the more we are able to recover the indispensible gifts that sustain that journey and make it possible.”
This past week we had a listening session around the topic of safety in Hillside court, one of the most violent neighborhood’s in our city. There were black, white, rich and poor all present in that room. My Hillside friends could have easily said, “You do not belong here! What do you know about life in Hillside Court?” Honestly, that is what was running through my mind. However, we were able to be reconciled in our willingness to go on a journey together with God as we move from the “old Hillside” to the vision of a “new Hillside.” A vision where God’s people stand hand in hand and beseech God to bring peace to this wounded community. On Wednesday there were no newspaper reporters, no fanfare, but I do believe we started a quiet revolution to reclaim the streets of Hillside Court and make them safe for the next generation.
“A Christian vision insists that reconciliation is ultimately about the transformation of the everyday- a quiet revolution that occurs over time in everyday people, everyday congregations, everyday communities, amid the most broken places on God’s earth. God’s life-giving vision grows out of a story; and that story is about a quieter revolution. We must gain the eyes to see this hope because this quiet revolution often happens under the radar screen.”
The picture above is of that quiet revolution. It is a photo of my friend John cooking with a volunteer from Salisbury Presbyterian Church. John is a resident of Hillside Court, one of the most economically disadvantaged communities in our city while Salisbury is one of the wealthiest communities in Metro Richmond. Through the everyday act of cooking together, God’s mysterious spirit is reconciling our city and writing a new story. This quiet revolution is being sparked by boundary crossers like John who believe that “the way things are is not the way things have to be.”
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…therefore we do not lose heart (2 Cor 4:8-9,16). We’re able to not lose heart because we look beyond the now, beyond the visible, and remember the story of God. Without that story, we would be overwhelmed, crushed, destroyed. That is why stepping back from relentless activism is essential in order to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” “
As I shared in my post “A Voice Calling in the Wilderness”, I have developed a regular rhythm of stepping back and reflecting through my time in the wilderness. We have also built into our Embrace team schedule times of reflecting on what God is doing in our midst and inviting God to ground us in truth as we seek to join God in the unfolding story of our city. These times of meditation and reflection have radically transformed our team over the past year and have taught us to listen not only to one another but to that still small voice that is the power behind all we see and do. It is only in remembering that the story the world sees, a story of murder and violence is not the only story unfolding. This quiet revolution is tapping into the unseen story of God’s reconciling spirit that is changing Hillside Court from a community terrorized by fear to one triumphant through God’s power.
“The problem with individualistic Christianity is what we call “reconciliation without memory,” an approach that ignores wounds of the world and proclaims peace where there is no peace (see Jer 8:11). This shallow kind of Christianity does not take local places and their history of trauma, division and oppression seriously. It abandons the past too quickly and confidently in search of a new future. This insufficient version of Christian mission or reconciliation without memory, jumps over the past too quickly by offering cheap grace to those who have done wrong and never repented.”
Over the past several months we have been listening deeply to our Hillside friends and trying to understand the fears they have that hold them in bondage to terrorist forces in their community. When we had a conversation about neighborhood watch we heard, “I don’t want to be seen with police…I don’t want to be a snitch…I keep to myself and I stay safe that way.” When we asked our team to pass out flyers, they expressed fear over being associated with any conversation about safety. I realize now that we were seeking “reconciliation without memory.”
As we listened more deeply I discovered a very real fear of the police. Many of the residents had been harassed by the police in the past and had little confidence in the police department’s ability to protect them from the criminal element. I finally understood why my friends were so resistant to any safety solution that required them to collaborate with the police. As we listened to their traumatic memories, we allowed space for a different means of reconciliation to take shape.
We discovered that the residents cared deeply for their children and felt called to create safer streets by simply providing more adult presence outside with the children and by also supporting the single mothers in the community. This is not the direction I thought the conversation would go but it clearly a better starting place for the community. We never would have found this path toward peace had we not listened to their experiences and pain.
“The Christian practice of reconciliation has to do with recovering a posture of receptivity and gratitude as a key virtue – the original virtue – for Christians living in a divided world. The story of Scripture hangs on this theme of movement toward new creation. We must give ourselves and others time and space to become new people. We need one another to become all that Christ has called us to be. This is work in which we learn to lay down our lives for the sake of a deeper hope breaking into the world. However weak it may seem to us, we are called to work on skills of forgiveness, self-giving service and costly love of the enemy. Unless a Christian pursuit of peace and reconciliation constantly points to this story of “the battle is the Lord’s,“ it can never be sustained.”
I think developing a posture of openness is the key in everything we have done at Embrace. As we remain open and receptive to the stories of people whose journey is very different than our own, we allow ourselves to be transformed into reconcilers. As reconcilers we are able to usher in a new reality. In the case of Hillside this reality would be a community where fear does not rule the streets. I pray my Hillside friends grow in confidence knowing that “the battle is the Lord’s” as we all work on skills of forgiveness, self-giving service and costly love of our enemies.
I am only half way through this wonderful book but hope to share more insights next week.