Reflecting on Reconciliation…


The thoughts below are from a reflection paper for a class: Christian Ministry of Reconciliation. The class covered the process of reconciliation in varied circumstances. A partial list included: Marriage, racial, gender, and reconciliation between people groups after atrocities such as the end of Apartheid in South Africa, and as written in the book, “The Sunflower” written by Simon Wiesenthal about his experience in a Nazi concentration camp in World War II. The class was extremely valuable, but also quite emotional taxing. We dealt with difficult issues and heard both hard, and heartening stories of different methods of reconciliation.

 

I was interested in and respected the teaching decision to begin a class on reconciliation with a text about marriage. This was especially pertinent to my personal experience of divorce, and as a former leader of several divorce support groups. Through my experience, I came to further understand the Christian covenant of marriage to be a means of uniting two people in such a way that their physical, emotional, and spiritual union creates a new entity, or personality. Scripture describes this as becoming “one flesh.” [1] I understand this entity to be like a child that can either grow and mature, or fail to thrive and eventually die altogether. Once a marriage, or that “oneness”, dies, it cannot be revived by human effort alone. Only God can resurrect that which was formerly dead. Just as the formerly dead Jesus of Nazareth was dead, and then resurrected in new life as Jesus the Christ;[2] through resurrection, God creates something new which hints towards an old relational design originally written about in Genesis 1.

Essentially, a dead marriage cannot become a new marriage through the re-branding inherent in “cheap reconciliation”,[3] where external exchanges of mutual regret are given and promises of better future behavior and choices are made. Such perceived changes neglect relational and personal systems which are internal and bring similar actions and responses as in the past. A dead marriage is still a dead marriage even though you stuff the carcass with potpourri. The couple must decide individually and collectively to undergo the resurrection process of re-creation that is reconciliation. Both people must decide to truly reconcile, while it only takes one person to “take the spurs off and unsaddle the horse when it is dead,” and pursue a divorce.

Although divorce occurs, it does not always mean a cessation of strife and the potential for emotional and even physical violence. When the issues of a dead marriage are continued to be held internally and mutual forgiveness is not given and received by both former partners; the war is most likely not over. New battlegrounds are sought. Children and custody disputes can be one of these battlegrounds. In other cases, however, when forgiveness is given and received by former partners, reconciliation may take place in how they relate to each other as persons while a form of partnership remains in caring for children of the former marriage by parenting with shared values for the benefit of the children. Reconciliation, then, could be said to occur even while they remain divorced and mea each choose to marry other people. Obviously, these two types of divorced partnerships: warring former partners and reconciled/reconciling former partnerships, becom two poles of a relational continuum along which great, messy relational and personal diversity occurs. Defining reconciliation for these relationships may be as complicated and difficult as when a couple decides to remain married and not divorce.

If this is true in a basic societal structure like marriage, how much more complicated when larger numbers of people and systems are involved? This class has helped me see, in a larger sense, just how difficult and messy a decision to follow the process of reconciliation can be. Thankfully, I also now have a better understanding that there IS a process, and learned some of the components of it as well as where some of the sticking points of that process might be. I understand the overall state of a reconciled/reconciling relationship to look like the following:

 

Mercy>——————Grace & Trustworthy Action—————-<Justice

 

Mercy:

Mercy holds in tension both forgiveness of Self and forgiveness of Others. We forgive both ourselves and others for mistakes previously made, and pursue and attitude of forgiveness for those which we will make in the future. We also make room for the growth process of understanding and continuing to work through personal issues which stem from our families of origin and the ongoing relationships with those persons which affect the current relationship. Mercy could be understood like this:

 

Forgiveness of Self>————–Mercy————-<Forgiveness of Others

 

Justice:

Justice holds in tension respect for Self, and respect for Others. In justice, we realize that we must treat ourselves with respect, and that we are responsible for our own feelings and the action we take in response to them. We treat others with respect by giving them room to work out their own feelings by exercising self-soothing techniques;[4] however we also realize that our actions communicate our perceived value of the other person. Our sense of justice leads us away from coercion and blaming others, while also strongly communicating our own self-respect. Justice could look like this:

Self Respect>————-Justice————Respect for Others

 

Giving grace to others and one’s Self for being imperfect humans, while also acting in ways towards the Other that cultivate mutual trust increases our level of intimacy and feelings of hopefulness for the future together. Grace both mediates between and engages with mercy and justice through trustworthy action. Only God exemplifies this process completely. Yet God invites us in Genesis 2:15-17[5] to be partners with God and each other in a generative, co-creative way of living through “Vocation… Permission… and Prohibition.” [6]

Vocation:

Through vocation, we are invited to care for our relationships with God, Self, Others, and Creation in ways that promote a healthy balance which benefits all four. (I would say that a determination to confront systems, organizations, or persons that have values and actions that become barriers to this balance is part of our vocation. The manner in which we confront, however, is intended to restore justice rather than violate it further.)

Permission:

Freedom. We are given permission and invited to freely explore and express in ways beneficial to God, Self, Others and Creation; who we are created to be. Freedom allows us to learn and grow in order to enrich, care for, and benefit all in the time and place into which we have been born.

Prohibition:

We are prohibited from living in self-interest to the exclusion, coercion, or detriment of others and the Creation.

Throughout the class, most of what we read, the media we watched, or conversations we had were pictures of systems which deviated from the above model. The systems we studied modeled several ways to mediate the change needed for people or groups of people to become reconciled to each other following some level of atrocity or prolonged prejudice. My emotional response to many of these activities was that of deep sadness. Sadness over not only my discovery of the atrocities which have been committed and even continue to be committed; but also in the realization of just how stark both the possibilities of and process of reconciliation might be in response to them. I am also deeply saddened about how many of the atrocities and injustices occurred over an extended period of time, and were committed with apparent nonchalance by the perpetrators. Despite knowing the reality of each tragic event or series of events, the question of my heart and mind was: “How could that be?”

It occurs to me that while the process of reconciliation doesn’t attempt to answer that question, the goal of reconciliation: a new way of living with each other; just might give practical steps to be proactive in limiting the need for reconciliation. Overall, the conclusion of all this for me is a couple of questions I must ask myself:

“What can I do? How can I be reconciled and become a mediator of reconciliation?”

I will mention some actions I might take to answer these questions.

  • A Commitment to Ongoing Confession:

I define confession as honesty with God, myself, and trusted others about what I know to be true about me. Honest about not only my weakness, my fear, my diseased prejudices, and actions towards others; but also my strengths, gifts, and courageous actions towards life and others. I need to be open to the convicting and convincing voice of God and others in my life, so I become aware of my need for forgiveness. I also need to be aware of how shame tries to steal my perception of the goodness of the Imago Dei in me.

 

  • Repentance Rather than Regret:

I need to order my life socially, economically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually in ways that promote love and respect for God, myself, others and Creation. This includes choosing forgiveness over retribution, yet acting to confront systemic and personal marginalization of and disrespect for people. I must choose to cross over lines of personal discomfort to experience people and cultures different than me and mine.

 

  • Receive and Give Grace Which is Manifested in Trustworthy Action:

I need to listen to the stories of people. I need to tell my own as well. By so doing, we might understand each other better, and gain insight as to why we act and respond to life in certain ways. Listening to and telling our stories can generate a feeling of being in a safe place. A safe place is necessary, because many of our personal prejudices are buried deep within, sometimes out of sight of our consciousness.


[1] Genesis 2:24; New Revised Standard Version, HarperCollins Publishers, San Francisco, CA; Pg. 5

[2] Romans 1:1-4; NRSV

[3]  Holeman Virginia Todd, Reconcilable Differences; InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL; Pg. 12

[4] Holeman, Pg.114

[5] NRSV, Pg. 5

[6] Brueggemann, Walter, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching—Genesis; Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY; Pg.46-49.

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