The Missing Middle of Reconciliation
Yesterday we began our Fall series, “All Due Respect: When My Views Clash With Yours,” focusing on the pathway to peace.
We felt the need to remind ourselves that a nation committed to uniting different people from different states presupposes difference, even conflict, without that having to degenerate into a war. We suggested that in the battle of ideas gripping our nation, Christians, who are called to be salt and light, often act like gas on the fire. It’s not too difficult to find someone in the evangelical community whose words and deeds lack wisdom, serving only to fuel the simmering discontent, anger, animosity and hatred that divides the ‘United States.’ Such people may raise their profile but often contribute little to the experience of Shalom, the rule and reign of God.
We aren’t suggesting that we ignore the differences. Neither are we suggesting that we make consensus the goal. To those who always pursue consensus we’d suggest that the pursuit of consensus cannot be at the expense of denying the difference. Sometimes, different people will always see things differently. It is both understandable and acceptable that different people, with different backgrounds and different experiences, view issues differently. Unity doesn’t have to look like uniformity. For as long as there are different states, different nations, different languages and different cultures, there will always be different opinions.
I know that only too well. I am British and Wibke, my wife, is German. We think differently on a whole range of topics. As passionate people, we care about the issues. On those rare occasions that we have talked European politics, we’ve had disagreements. The value of a united Europe, however, isn’t one of them.
Growing up, I was taught that the European vision was based upon three values: solidarity, subsidiarity (decisions made as close to the people as possible) and morality. As much as Wibke and I are different, the European vision that nurtured us both grew out of the painful reality of two world wars and millions of people dead. World War 2 offered an unmistakable reminder of what happens when nationalism goes too far. In the 1950’s nationalism was understood to lead to a culture of separation, dominance, suppression, and superiority. The European Union came into existence because people in Europe saw first-hand what out of control racism tied to national pride could do. Wibke and I were both raised knowing that the context for a European Union was the prospect of peace not the possibility of prosperity. Prosperity, if anything, was a secondary fruit of the union and not its purpose.
The pursuit of peace in Europe is part of my heritage and became even more ingrained in me through two spells of living in Germany. I’d only been in Germany a few months when the film “Schindler’s List” was released (1993). I was still struggling to learn the language and adapt to the culture. If there’s one thing I picked up really quickly was that you don’t mention the war. Enter Schindler’s List. With the release of that film German youth talked openly about the pain and shame of their country’s past. Suddenly the taboo became mainstream. German’s born after World War 2 began to process this shame and started to find peace with themselves through national dialogue. It was a truly remarkable season.
That national conversation made me realize that the pathway to peace with others requires us to find peace with ourselves. Peace with others isn’t truly possible unless we first, find peace with our past and second allow people to find peace with theirs. That was the thrust of yesterday’s message. Reconciliation with others is the third reconciliatory step not the second. The second is being reconciled to self.
Ephesians 2:13-16 says that peace with God through Jesus removes the hostility that exists between different groups. That is the first step in reconciliation. From the New Testament, it is apparent that reconciliation with others is not a fait accompli of the Christ-event. Between me finding peace with God and me experiencing peace with others, there remains the task of me finding peace with myself. Sometimes that task is admitting that I am angry, bitter, resentful and harbor prejudice against others. All these are conditions that prevent true reconciliation from taking place.
Yesterday we were privileged to hear the story of two polar opposite people who, through finding peace with God and peace with their own ‘stuff’ were able to find peace with another. We think that the ‘missing middle’ of reconciliation is the task of spirit-led introspection where I give God space to reveal to me aspects of my own life and character in need of transformation. If being reconciled to God requires humility, and being reconciled to others requires honesty, then being reconciled with self-requires vulnerability. It isn’t easy. It’s far easier to point the finger at others than it is to look into our own hearts and allow God the space He needs to change us. The encouragement of yesterday’s story, however, is that when we allow God to change us it makes reconciliation with others so much easier and so much sweeter.
This weekend we examine another of those ‘nine’ occasions where Jesus is asked to take sides. Rather than respond to the either/or of that culture war, we witness Jesus displaying a radical commitment to transcend fixed category thinking. This is so critical when it comes to dealing with different opinions. We can disagree without demonizing the other side.
We hope that you’ll be able to join us this weekend for our second installment of this critical series.
Look forward to seeing you,