Review: Forgiving My Father, Forgiving Myself

forgiving my father

Forgiving My Father, Forgiving MyselfRuth Graham with Cindy Lambert. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary: Through both personal narrative and biblical teaching, explores the power of forgiveness to bring freedom from bitterness, transforming our lives, and in at least some cases, our relationships.

Ruth Graham was leading a team into Angola Prison when she encountered Michael, on death row for murder, and yet at peace with God. Graham learns the amazing story of how the grandfather of the murderer’s victim had forgiven him and was praying for him. It led Ruth on a journey where forgiveness went from head knowledge to transformation in her life.

Ruth grew up in an extraordinary family. Her father was Billy Graham. Such a family carries its own stresses, that Ruth speaks about, never bitterly or cynically, but honestly. She made a series of bad choices in marriages, going through four divorces. Her mother’s advice was often less than helpful. She also began to see that she had a deep wound in her life from her father’s long absences. Despite her love for him, and his for her, she struggled with feelings of abandonment, and anger. Graham never excuses her own bad decisions, but weaves her journey of learning to forgive her father, forgive her self, and seek the forgiveness of others with biblical principles of how we forgive, and the tough issues of forgiving when forgiveness is not sought or rejected, when those we forgive are no longer around, and forgiving when the other person is not safe to be around.

She helps us see that forgiveness is neither fair nor easy, but that God has commanded it. She shows us that forgiveness is a process that does not depend on our feelings, but that God can help us to do something against which our feelings rebel. In forgiveness, bitter wounds become sacred wounds as we offer these to God and open our wounded places to Him. She teaches us how to ask forgiveness: “I did this. It was wrong. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me.”

Unlike Bryan Maier in Forgiveness and Justice (reviewed here) she believes that forgiveness can occur separately from repentance, reconciliation and restoration. Maier contends that forgiveness (which Graham might call reconciliation) can only occur when the offender confesses and repents from the wrong done. Maier contends that where there is no repentance, the proper response of the aggrieved is to take the grievance to God and trust God for justice

Graham would propose that forgiveness delivers us from bitterness, even in the absence of reconciliation, or when reconciliation is no longer safe or possible. Maier, I believe, would say that we take our anger to God as well as to pray, where it is possible, for the repentance of the offender, but not prematurely forgive.

I don’t believe Maier deals adequately with what one does when it is not possible to reconcile with an offender. At the same time, I think there is a point that Graham misses that was called to my attention in watching the documentary Emanuel on the deaths of nine people at the hands of Dylan Roof and participating on a panel with two black scholars who have studied the history and literature of violence against blacks. One of the remarkable things is how quickly a number of families forgive Roof, even though Roof never shows remorse (and other family and friends struggle to or refuse to forgive to this day). While we all recognized how these believers were shaped by biblical teaching, it was observed that it has often been the place of oppressed blacks to forgive, often accompanied by celebration that this has averted a more violent response. One scholar asked, “should not there be anger at the white supremacists and a system that produced Roof, at the history of violence in the forms of lynchings and church burnings against blacks?”

What I wonder is whether it is possible to forgive, as Christ forgave unrepentant enemies on the cross, and yet be angry, but not with bitterness, at the things which anger God, whether systemic racism, infidelity, sexual abuse, or morally corrupt leadership. There is an anger which is not hate, but which motivates advocacy, that does not relent in seeking justice. Sometimes, at least for some, forgiveness is a quick release from the hard feelings of grievance, or an escape from the hard work of seeking justice.

What I would say is that Graham does not minimize the challenge of forgiveness. She also offers a model of honestly facing her own need of forgiveness and what she hadn’t forgiven in others and herself. She helps us see the corrosive character of bitterness arising from an unforgiving heart and the grace God can give to forgive. Yet I think we also need teaching on forgiveness that teaches us how to know and live amazing grace while avoiding cheap grace, that does not heal personal or national wounds lightly.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Embrace

Embrace

EmbraceLeroy Barber. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Summary: An extended reflection on Jeremiah 29:4-7 and God’s invitation to embrace the difficult places, people, differences, and callings involved in bringing his peace and justice into a divided world.

Many of us who are followers of Jesus feel ourselves to be “strangers in a strange land.” As people who have experienced the life-giving shalom of new life in Christ, we are disturbed to witness the deeply divided public discourse in our country that reveals hostilities between political parties, between racial groups, between rich and poor, between natural born citizens and immigrants. As people who look forward to God’s new city, the new Jerusalem, we grieve the devastation of decaying cities, of polluted water and air, of unsafe streets.

Leroy Barber offers in Embrace a series of reflections on Jeremiah 29:4-7:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I  carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you to will prosper.”

Barber speaks as a black pastor who has worked extensively in Christian community development work. He sees in these verses a call to embrace that will lead to the healing of our cities: an embrace of the place where we are, an embrace of the “difficult people” in our lives, of difference as a gift of God, He invites us into the hard work of change that lays down privilege to serve. He bids us to settle in for the long haul.

For the baseball fan like me, he challenges us to recognize and embrace the sacred spaces of the other–a favorite sport, television show, and to create new traditions in our Christian communities that honor those spaces. He calls us into the embrace that grieves injustice and advocates on behalf of those who are on the receiving end of injustice. He calls us into the difficult choice to offer the embrace of forgiveness to those who hurt us deeply as did families and friends of the Charleston Nine did with Dylann Roof.

Probably for many, he could have stopped there but he concludes with a chapter on Black Lives Matter, addressing ten myths about this movement. He writes, “I am not requesting that you agree with everything you have read about Black Lives Matter. I am advocating for a listening ear, healthy dialogue, and love. This is where loving hard people–including our enemies–begins to take shape in our hearts. Can you love and disagree? Can you love and honor another’s humanity in spite of the differences?” It seems in this that Pastor Barber may defining something of what “embrace” looks like between whites and blacks.

I feel in writing so far I haven’t captured the “winsomeness” of this book. Leroy Barber’s personal stories, but even more, his embracing manner makes embrace across the divides and challenges he speaks of, not easy, but compelling. He helps us see that this is the arc of the biblical narrative, the arc of the ministry of Jesus, and the arc of joy for many like him who have dared to embrace. He helps us envision, and believe, that this could be the arc of our own lives as well.

 

 

Review: Roadmap to Reconciliation

roadmap-to-reconciliation

Roadmap to ReconciliationBrenda Salter McNeil. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Summary: This veteran of racial reconciliation work shows us not only that reconciliation is necessary but the path individuals and groups must take to pursue that reconciliation.

One cannot embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ without embracing the idea of reconciliation. Central to the gospel is the truth of God reconciling an estranged humanity to himself through Christ, and in the process reconciling people to one another across their deepest divisions. Sometimes in the depths of our woundedness, we struggle to believe this is even possible. Even when we do, living into the reconciliation Christ has accomplished is much harder than holding hands and singing “Kumbayah” around a campfire.

I’ve had the privilege to watch, if from a distance, the author of this book live into that calling of reconciliation. She is an African-American preacher, former staff with the ministry I work with, and professor. In this book, she brings together the gospel vision, experiences, and research of several decades to not only cast a reconciliation vision, but to give us a “roadmap” for pursuing that vision. It’s not an easy road, and she helps us count the cost, shows us how it is possible, and the transformation we can hope for as we follow that roadmap.

After an introduction that shares something of her own journey, Salter McNeil makes a theological case for reconciliation as a way of life, giving this definition:

“Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish.” (Italics in original)

She then proposes that the idea of a journey with landmarks and phases may be the best way to think about a transformative reconciliation process. She offers a roadmap rooted in Contact Theory involving these specific steps:

  • Catalytic events, which break us out of our efforts to preserve the status quo. They seem chaotic and threatening, but when they force one to empty out one’s preconceptions, ask new questions, and recognize the new thing God wants to do, they can put people on the road to reconciliation.
  • Realization involves understanding a new reality, reorienting our perspective, requiring a readiness to change followed by taking the first steps to restoration.
  • Identification is when “your people become my people” which comes through empathic listening and deeply entering into the story of the other to the point where we are willing to share in that story, with all its pain.
  • Preparation is doing the hard work to get ready for lasting change. It is often here that reconciliation efforts falter, as groups lose a sense of urgency. Preparation involves the hard work of structural, systemic change, that is often costly in terms of power and privilege, but moves from transactional changes to transformational ones.
  • Activation or actively working for reconciliation involves CARE: Communication, Advocacy, Relating and Educating.

Salter McNeil concludes the book with some coaching about how one stays the course, and paints a vision of hope for experiencing at least a foretaste of the heavenly vision of peoples from every race, tribe, people, and nation before the throne.

Each chapter is designed with practical material to help groups move forward with each phase of the reconciliation journey (which is why reading this summary is no shortcut for reading the book!). The author lays biblical foundations, gives specific steps, illustrates with stories to enhance understanding, and invites individuals and groups into the next stage of the journey.

I would observe that the book seems to presume that the readers have experienced a catalytic event or will. I suspect these things can’t be planned but will happen to any who go very far in pursuing reconciliation efforts. Things blow up, chaos occurs, and what happens next seems key in determining whether we will return to preserving our world, or enter a new journey. What Brenda Salter McNeil does here, and at each stage, is help us understand what is happening, the dynamics of the phase we are in, the posture that will help us move forward, and how God can meet us as we summon the courage to take the next step. The rest is up to us.

The Scandal of the Church in America: Part One

antietam_bodies_in_front_of_dunker_church

Dunkard Church, a key landmark in the Battle of Antietam, and some of those who fell.

The scandal of the Church in America is that there is no apparent Church but only churches. I suppose you could argue that it has always been this way, although I do not think this lessens the scandal. The proliferation of denominations and independent churches reflects our strong independent streak and that we do not wish to be answerable to each other. I do think it is a contributing factor, but I think the scandal goes deeper.

The scandal is that our captivities to racial, sexual, economic and political identities and ideologies has left the Church in America a deeply divided body–divisions that reflect and in fact parallel American society. We are a far cry from the beautiful and radical ideal that the Apostle Paul proclaimed in a similarly divided society: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free,there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

I am deeply troubled for what this means both for the Church in America, and for America itself. I have lived here all my life, and through the cataclysmic year of 1968, but I have never been so troubled. What disturbs me most is not the newly installed administration, nor all the push-back by others who oppose it. It is that I see believing people lining up on one side or another of these fault lines, and many others, and often not the least troubled at the things they are attributing to their fellow believers–sometimes vicious things. Nor are we troubled that we are often advocating diametrically opposed positions and invoking the name of Jesus as we do so. Often we are engaged in a tribal warfare of words between conservative evangelicals, progressives, Catholics, mainline churches, and churches of people of color. Often, we aren’t listening to what anyone outside our own “tribe” is saying.

My pastor made an observation in the midst of preaching through the gospel of Matthew that I have been mulling over. He observed that when the religious establishment colluded with the political powers of their day, the result was the killing of Jesus. While I believe that Jesus is risen, I also believe that the visible manifestation of Jesus, called “the body of Christ” is being torn apart, perhaps as the scourges used to whip Jesus before crucifixion turned his back into bleeding ribbons of skin. Church, do we see that this is what we are doing to ourselves? Is it a wonder that so many churches are declining?

Perhaps it has always been this way in our national history. The churches of the North were deeply divided from the churches of the South before (and after) the Civil War. They preached the same Christ from the same Bible, but the North advocated abolition while ignoring its own racism and complicity in a national economic system that depended on slavery. Southern preachers defended “the peculiar institution” even as slaves and former slaves turned to the same Christ, formed churches, and yet were excluded from being consider full human beings or the opportunity to worship at the same altar.

We often talk about in our American history of the breakdown of political efforts to avert war, but has the Church in America ever reckoned that the blood of the 600,000 who died in the Civil War is also on our hands? Our dividedness then aided and abetted and inflamed the divides in our land and tore country apart even as it tore many denominations into northern and southern counterparts, some lasting to this day. One wonders what might have been if church leaders from North and South, who may have been educated in the same seminaries, had reached across the lines and said, “we must reconcile our differences and lead our country in doing the same.”

I am not an “America First” person, but rather a “kingdom of God” first person. The greatest commandment to love God and neighbor and the great commission to take the gospel to the nations has precedence in my life. Nevertheless I deeply love this country and the constitutional structures and freedoms that allows us to be many and yet one, e pluribus unum. What troubles me as a kingdom person who regularly affirms “the communion of the saints” is that this communion often does not extend beyond the church doors–sometimes not even within them! If we cannot model a unity that would consider it a scandal to speak with a divided voice as a church (and often bitterly against each other), then how dare we call on our political leaders to act with civility and to consider the common good when we will not do this even within the body of Christ!

I believe this is urgent, my brothers and sisters. We have had one civil war in our history that the Church made no effort to stop but in fact aided and abetted by our conflicting messages and inflammatory rhetoric. Another may take a different form where our political factions take up arms (Lord knows we have enough of them) in our cities if they cannot resolve their differences or be heard in the halls of Congress and the office of the President. We could fall into anarchy or tyranny. I like to say that children who play with matches inside the house often do not realize they can burn the house down until they do. Our incendiary and inflammatory speech may not stop there. It didn’t before the Civil War. Church, I’m asking, is it time to say “we must reconcile our differences and lead our country in doing the same?”

[Tomorrow, I explore what I think must be done.]

Review: Making Neighborhoods Whole

Making Neighborhoods Whole

Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development, Wayne Gordon & John M. Perkins, forward by Shane Claiborne. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013.

Summary: Two of the founders of the Christian Community Development Association recount the history of this movement, weaving a narrative of their own and others stories into a summary of the eight key principles that have defined this movement.

Wayne Gordon, at Lawndale Community Church in Chicago, and John Perkins, at Voice of Calvary in Jackson, Mississippi, and later Harambee Ministries in Pasadena, were two of the key founders of the movement that became known as Christian Community Development and were founding members, along with other key early leaders like Glen Kehrein and Bob Lupton, of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA).

This book, self-described as a “handbook” actually does two things. One is that it tells the story of Christian Community Development from its early beginnings. It is honest, celebrating both the growth of a work of God and human failings from poor planning to burnout to the deaths of key figures like Lem Tucker, who in conversation with Wayne Gordon in his kitchen, conceived the idea of CCDA. Gordon and Perkins share the narrative but also include in chapters enunciating the eight principles of Christian Community Development, the narratives of many other leaders in this movement around the country.

As mentioned in the last sentence, the book also lays out the eight key components of Christian community development and what these leaders have learned about their practice. These include:

  1. Relocation. Perhaps even more important than those who relocate are those who remain, and those who return.
  2. Reconciliation. This chapter emphasizes how this is indeed the only cure for our racial and ethic divides, depends upon Christ, and involves the hard work of listening to things we’d rather not hear.
  3. Redistribution. The recommendation is not a handout but the opportunity and resources to work–education, micro-finance, and a justice system that doesn’t create a permanent underclass of those who make bad judgments and break laws.
  4. Leadership development. This invariably means a long-term commitment in the lives of young people from childhood through college and back into the community.
  5. Listening to the community. Sometimes ministry leaders have ideas of what a community needs that are not what the community thinks it needs. Gordon narrates a situation where he wanted to build athletic facilities when community members were telling him they needed a washer and dryer and a safe place to wash clothes. He asked them to pray–God provided the washer and dryer and transport to move it to Lawndale!
  6. Being Church Based. It is easy to operate independently of churches or for churches to relinquish responsibility for communities but the church is central in God’s redeeming purposes and the best situation is churches doing this ministry with a strong sense of “parish” ministry.
  7. A Wholistic Approach. The authors believe it can never be an either/or approach of gospel or community work but both must work hand in hand.
  8. Empowerment. I appreciated two questions in this chapter concerning avoiding dependency: “What will it take for you not to need anything from us in one year’s time?” and “What has to happen over the next year for you to get to a place where you can help others instead of needing help?”

As you can see, this short book was full of practical help, perhaps more of a “primer” than a “handbook” yet immensely instructive. I also appreciated the stories. That of Sami DiPasquale, an Anglo talking about reconciliation particularly struck me. Here is an excerpt:

“For people of privilege, reconciliation begins with sinking to our knees before God. We can choose to build relationships with those outside traditional power structures, with people who are ‘other.’ We can listen to their stories, paying careful attention especially when we hear a pattern emerging. We can put ourselves under the authority of someone from a different cultural heritage. We can choose to live in a setting where we are the minority. We can study history and theology from the perspectives of those who were not invited into the process of creating the standard textbooks–history can sound so different based on who is telling the story. We can grieve the tragedies that our forebears were a part of and try to figure out how they factor in to how we live today. We must ask God and others for forgiveness, and we must forgive ourselves. Finally, we must move forward, always listening, always striving to embrace voices from the outside with a resolve to confront the sin of injustice at every opportunity” (pp. 73-74).

It seems that this is a book that could be helpful to any church seeking to take its community seriously and to see it as their parish. Poverty is not just about money and development isn’t just about economics. And poverty is often hidden. I live in what may be considered a suburban community, yet at one of our nearby elementary schools, nearly half the children are eligible for subsidized lunches. Our church’s food pantry served 200 families this past weekend. While some of us may indeed be called to re-locate, it strikes me that some of us do need to remain, and open our eyes. This is a book that helps us to begin to understand how we as a church might live and act in light of what we see.

Our National Wound

"At the bus station," Durham, North Carolina, May 1940. Photo by Jack Delano. Public domain.

“At the bus station,” Durham, North Carolina, May 1940. Photo by Jack Delano. Public domain.

“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”  —Jeremiah 6:14 (English Standard Version)

If the Bible is to be believed, it is possible for a people, a nation to have unhealed wounds. I would propose this is so for my nation, the United States. I believe that wound is a wound involving racial injustice and hatred. We said in our Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And yet we have systematically and brutally restricted these rights for a number of our people.

We did so for the native peoples who held our land when we arrived, breaking every treaty we made, and at times engaging in acts of genocide, and in the end confining the remaining to “reservations”. Was this Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?

In our Constitution we called the African-American slave “three-fifths” of a person and codified a system of oppression. We spent hundreds of thousands of lives over this issue, and while slaves were emancipated and supposedly given many rights, the hatred of African-Americans by both north and south continued from the time of Reconstruction and the Jim Crow laws that followed down to the present. We say we’ve made progress, and indeed we have when we elect a President of partial African-American descent. And certainly racial attitudes have changed for many. But hatred remains, and anger, and we are faced with the dilemma of realizing that no laws or policies can change the human heart.

Despite all we have spent in money, and blood, and in our legal system, I would propose that we have healed the wounds of our nation lightly. While more might be done institutionally, and probably should be, unless we face our woundedness as a people, these are only bandages on festering sores–concealing the wound but not really cleansing it.

What is involved in facing our woundedness? First of all, I think it means to acknowledge that it is there in all its uglinessness and fetidness. We often want to believe the best of ourselves and our national ideals and so it is hard to face that we are caught up in a legacy of oppression, hatred, and deeds of violence. It is hard to just sit with this–we want to move on, change the topic of conversation, change the channel. And we go on healing wounds lightly.

Sitting with this leads to grief. I grieve that my only fear in driving is being cited for speeding. I never think that I might be stopped, and my vehicle searched, because I fit a racial profile. Some of my friends live with this fear every time they get in their car. I live between two rivers with Indian names, yet the history of my own state is one of driving native peoples out and taking their land. Now in my state only 25,000 claim native heritage out of 11.5 million. Who have we lost, and what have we lost?

Sitting with our woundedness may lead to repentance. Repentance is coming to the place of being sick and tired of being sick and tired. Repentance is honestly facing our wounds and wanting healing, whatever it takes. In this case, it is saying we can no longer live with an atmosphere of hatred, of systemic injustices and the demeaning of others to preserve our sense of self.

As a person of faith, repentance takes me to a place of acknowledging that I need God, and others to heal my wounds. This so goes against American solutionism that thinks we can fix anything with a few more laws, more money, more research. Could it be the case that we are faced with something that runs so deep in our national nature that we need the help of God, and even those we might consider our enemies or those we fear or resent to help us?

The language of repentance and faith is language that makes many of us uncomfortable. We think, maybe if we just try a little harder, do a little more, elect the right people, things will get better. The question remains, have we just covered a festering wound?

Henri Nouwen speaks about how wounds brought to God can become “sacred wounds.” This makes me wonder if the honest facing of our woundedness could lead not only to healing, but something better, the experience of the “beloved community” our founders envisioned where the opportunity of each to pursue life, liberty, and happiness immeasurably enriched us all. I think in fact that the degree to which we have done this as a nation is the degree to which we are rich.

I must close, and would simply ask a question Jesus sometimes asked before healing, is, “do we want to be well?”

From Lament to Thanksgiving

I’m already seeing them. The status posts and blogs for “what I am thankful for at Thanksgiving.” It seem that lots of these have to do with food, friends, family, and freedom. In truth, I experience many of these blessings as well and am thankful for these. But it seems that we are in the midst of a season of heaviness in our land and to write of thanksgiving without acknowledging these realities feels insular and trite to me. How is it possible to engage in thanksgiving in a time of lament?

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem --Rembrandt

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem –Rembrandt

Indeed there is much to lament:

  • Whatever we think of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, we lament that one family faces Thanksgiving without a son and another with a promising career shattered because of a tragic encounter.
  • We lament a community torn by a hundred year history of racial conflict that is a microcosm for our nation’s continuing struggle with and accommodation to racial divides.
  • We lament for the people of West Africa whose families and societies have been decimated by a lethal virus.
  • We lament the continuing clash between Islam and the West represented most recently in the atrocities of ISIS, but also at times in Western policies extending back to World War I and before that are more concerned with self-interest (or even payback) than the flourishing of the people from whom ISIS recruits.
  • We lament the breakdown in society from neighborhoods where one’s children could play and roam safely and one’s doors could be left unlocked to cities with security systems, GPS tracking of our children, surveillance cameras everywhere, and a proliferation of guns and the need to protect ourselves.

I could go on but the question remains, is thanksgiving even possible in such lamentable times? Or are our thanksgiving rituals simply temporary ventures in escapism?

For me it begins with the idea that there is One who hears laments and who will one day “wipe away every tear” (Revelation 21:4). I hang on to the hope that my laments are not simply futile exercises that reach no further than the ceiling or simply an emotional release. I believe in One who heard the cries of Israel in bondage and who sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt (Exodus 3:7-8). It also is striking to me that while my hope is in the One who hears and acts, I see that this One acts through his people. For me this is where thanksgiving begins:

  • I’m thankful for all the leaders both black and white, many who never make the news, who are pursuing the hard work of justice and reconciliation, believing that the status quo is not the best we can do in our cities, states and nation.
  • I’m thankful for the courageous doctors and aid workers from Doctors without Borders and Samaritan’s Purse and other agencies who have risked their lives to bring comfort, care, and where possible, healing in West Africa.
  • While I am thankful for those in our own military services who put themselves in harm’s way to restrain the evil of groups like ISIS, I am also thankful for the peacemakers in places like the Palestinian territories and for every instance where someone, often in a persecuted minority, chooses to return love for hatred.
  • I’m thankful for those who engage in the hard work of “re-neighboring”, who move into blighted communities and rehabilitate homes and form neighborhood associations and block watches believing it possible to restore the fabric of community in a place.

Most of us are not on the front lines of such efforts. Most of these efforts are far removed from our thanksgiving tables. But I know how conversations can go at these gatherings and how easily we may degenerate into conversations that blame this or that group, find fault with this or that party or organization, or even demonize this or that group of people. Why not agree to leave this to our prayerful laments where God can be the judge of these things? Rather, if we say anything about these matters on this day of Thanksgiving, might it be better to give thanks for those acting with grace and courage and humility on the front lines of these great challenges? Might it be better this day to light the candle of thanksgiving for them rather than curse the darkness?

When Will They Ever Learn?

Twenty years ago, the Rwandan genocide began when a plane was shot down near Kigali in which Hutu President Habyarimana was flying with the the President of Burundi. Over the next 100 days Hutus massacred approximately 800,000 Tutsis (estimates vary) while the world watched. People sheltering in churches were butchered. Christians of one tribe killed Christians of another.

573px-Central_African_Republic_Map

Today it is the Central African Republic that teeters on the verge of genocide. Anti-balaka Christian militias have killed over 2,000 Muslims according to some reports and displaced over 400,000. Regional peacekeepers from Chad have offered some protection for the Muslim minority. UN forces may arrive by September to take over for African Union troops. Ban Ki-moon, UN General secretary, says the international community must, “do more and act more quickly” or the country is in danger of repeating the Rwandan genocides.

Former President Bill Clinton, in a CNBC interview, believes that had the U.S. acted sooner at least 300,000 lives might have been saved. He cites Rwanda as the reason he created his foundation, to promote understanding and respect among diverse peoples in the world and peaceful conflict resolution.

Today, the NY Times Magazine printed “Portraits of Reconciliation” which is a collection of photographs and narratives about reconciliation and healing between perpetrators and victims in the Rwandan Tragedy. It is a powerful, painful, yet hope-filled narrative of how those who once hated have learn to confess transgressions, extend forgiveness and slowly restore the fabric of a deeply torn country.

Will we learn as a world community from these things? The tragedy today is that, unlike in the Clinton era which did intervene in Kosovo to present a massacre, the US has squandered its resources in two protracted conflicts and cannot afford to respond. Other nations in the world somehow must cobble together a response. Will the world community act soon enough? Will September be soon enough? Will the 12,000 troops they hope to send be enough? Can we hope for reconciliation across religious lines when there are still sadly bitter Christian-Muslim conflicts in many parts of the world? How many more Rwandas must there be? Will we remember?

The Missing Middle–Is it Time for a Third Way People?

I was going to write about something else today, but came across a guest post by Sara Cunningham in Ed Stetzer’s column at the Christianity Today site titled, “The Missing Middle: Three Expressions of Christ I’m Yearning to See In Evangelicalism“. Earlier this week, the same columnist posted an interview with local pastor Rich Nathan on a similar theme: “Both-And: My Interview with Rich Nathan“.

Both of these captured my attention as I’ve been thinking about the blog series my son and I have been doing on You Lost Me. I’m convinced that one of the problems that has plagued the evangelical Christian community with which I would most closely identify is our cultural and political captivity. Most of those my age are captives to the right. Many of those my son’s age are captives to the left. And hence we become lost to each other. What is troubling to me, and this seemed to be born out in the Cunningham post, is that it seems there aren’t that many, or that many who are vocal for being captive to the kingdom way which challenges our cultural and political captivities of left and right.

One of the things my theological training taught me is that nothing can be totally wrong. Very simply Satan (or whatever you want to call him) cannot create anything, but only twist the good things God has made. No human perspective can be utterly wrong or evil, nor can it be utterly pure. Yet this is where much of our cultural and political discourse has ended up. It forces me to be either pro-life or pro-women. It forces me to be pro-environment or pro-development.  It forces me to choose between “entitlements” for the poor and “entitlements” for the rich. It forces me not only to be alienated from others in my country, but even from others in the body of Christ who might identify differently. This is our cultural-political captivity and it is based on the lie that the “other” is utterly evil and we are utterly good.

When we celebrate Advent and Christmas, we celebrate the Jesus who delivers us from not only our personal captivities which we often think of under the rubric of “sin”, but also in his call to the kingdom, delivers us from all our captivating cultural and political allegiances. John Howard Yoder, in The Politics of Jesus argues that the church is its own polis, its own political structure and should not allow itself to be taken captive by others but to be shaped by its allegiance to Jesus.

The terms “centrist” and “both-and” have reasons to commend them. I like the term “Third Way”, which I first picked up from an early work of Os Guinness, The Dust of Death. We are neither just a compromise between left and right, which is often what I associate with “centrist”, which can also simply mean pragmatist. And while “both-and” often is true in things like combining both grace and truth, I struggle with the fact that there are some things that just are mutually contradictory–I cannot both love my neighbor and pollute their water supply.

Allegiance to Jesus brings me together with people from very different places and our oneness is not one of adopting the same perspective but rather being called by the same Redeemer. And as we read the scriptures from very different places, I discover a narrative that is both pro-life and pro-women, a narrative that is both pro-entrepreneurship with a kingdom vision, and pro-caring for “the least of these”. It is not for nothing that Jesus is called The Reconciler. Again and again I’ve seen polarities become creative tensions productive of great good.

I realize this post has been very “situated” in Christian terms. That is where I’m situated. But those of us in this country are all situated in a polarized culture. Finding ways to reconcile, to bring together those polarities in a way that thwarts the evil of hostilities toward the other and releases the best of what we all bring seems to be a matter all of us should care about deeply. These are my thoughts of how the Christian community could contribute to healing these hostilities. What are yours?