Tag Archives: reconciliation

A Quiet Revolution

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.

Do you see God’s Kingdom breaking into our divided world?  Are you called to be an agent of reconciliation in your own city?  What challenges have you faced?  What breakthroughs are you seeing?

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Reconciling Theology: It’s Bigger than Gandhi’s Fate

04 Gandhi statue. Tavistock Square, Londonphoto © 2006 Jose Mesa | more info (via: Wylio)

“The end is reconciliation; the end is

redemption; the end is the creation

of the beloved community.”

– ML King, Jr.

In just one week, my post titled “Will Gandhi Burn” became one of my top five most popular posts of all time.  It also drew a good number of very insightful comments which made me want to unpack this issue a bit more.  This week I would like to dig a little deeper into Jay’s comment:

“We diminish Jesus death and resurrection if we do not lean fully into His great big, grand salvation plan (the redemption of all things Col 1).”

Like Jay, I think when we over emphasize “individual salvation” we miss the fuller understanding of Christ work of reconciling all things.  Many other writers and theologians also agree that our obsession with the afterlife and who is “in” and who is “out” has gotten us completely off track.  This quote from Richard Stearns, “The Hole in Our Gospel” says it best,

“The Kingdom for Christ was not intended to be a far-off and distant kingdom to be experienced only in the afterlife; no, Christ’s proclamation of the “kingdom of heaven” was a call for the redeemed world order populated by redeemed people – now.  Focusing almost exclusively on the afterlife reduces the importance of what God expects of us in this life.  The kingdom of God, which Christ said is “within you” (Luke 17:21), was intended to change and challenge everything in our fallen world in the here and now. In the Lords prayer “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” were and are a clarion call of Jesus’ followers not just to proclaim the good news but to be the good news, here and now. (Matt. 6:10)  This gospel – the whole gospel – means much more than the personal salvation of individuals.  It means a social revolution.”

When I spoke with Jay this week, he suggested I read Operation: Restoration by Eric Smith.   Below are a few excerpts from that text.

“More than any other single topic, Christ taught about the Kingdom of God, which is the world as it ought to be—a world marked by harmonious relationships, a sufficiency of resources, and shalom living. Scriptures about the new heavens and a new earth describe a scenario where God’s reign is made fully manifest. (Isaiah 65:17-25, Revelations 21:1-7 & 22:1-5) They give us a clear picture of what Christ means when He talks about the Kingdom of God.

Christ’s program of healing and casting out demons was meant to be a concrete expression of this new reality breaking into a fallen world. Not only did Jesus talk about it, He taught us to pray about it. The Kingdom was Christ’s framework for describing the world when God’s reign is complete—where His values and agenda are fully manifested.

God’s intention for the whole creation, and especially for human beings, was that all things should exist in peaceful, loving harmony so that the whole creation could flourish. This is shalom; all things as God intended them to be and do. And all people living up to their full potential as His image-bearers.

The Church is sometimes referred to as, “the people of God doing the work of God.” This definition begs the question, what is the work of God? Another way of asking that question is, what is the agenda of God? And what role do we have in living this agenda in our communities.”

2nd Corinthians puts it like this:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 NIV).”

Eric Smith summarizes with this:

“Christ’s mission was to reconcile all things, both spiritual and physical, both individual and corporate. In order to have an impact at the individual (mercy) level, the Church must also have an impact at the corporate (justice) level. The Church must be missional in its mindset, holistic in its approach and transformational in its impact.”

I loved these words from Sammy Williams blog post titled “Genesis”

“Well, it’s amazing how many Christians begin the biblical story with Genesis 3, focusing on sin and the fall of humanity. Neither the word sin nor the word fall occurs in Genesis 3. If you begin the story with Genesis 3, the primary issue becomes the removal of sin and the posture toward people is who we are not (not worthy, not holy, not good enough). If you begin the story with Genesis 1 and 2, the story becomes about the restoration/renewal/reconciliation of all things, which obviously includes the removal of sin but extends to the ends of the cosmos.”

I’m with Dr. King, Jay, Richard, Eric, Sammy, the Apostle Paul and Jesus – our job as Christians is to remember that all of us are children of God, created in God’s image.  Christ is calling us to be “reconcilers,” people who see the beauty of the original design of creation and who are ushering in the Kingdom of God here and now.

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Filed under Theology