A Christian Vision of Reconciliation
rich imagination and practice of reconciliation in the world? Four questions help us begin to see the heart of reconciliation as a fresh and exciting vision, each question pointing to a distinct gift that reconciliation makes available.
Reconciliation toward what? The first and most important question concerns where reconciliation is headed. God’s gift of new creation provides this answer.
New creation is about interrupting the world’s brokenness with signs and foretastes of God’s reign. One example of this is the worldwide L’Arche movement, founded by Jean Vanier. L’Arche creates places where people who are disabled and people who are not disabled live together in households. Vanier said a few years ago during a visit to Duke Divinity School: “I want justice for the disabled in society; I want them to have access. But I also want more than that. I want to see the disabled and the not disabled eating at the same table together.”
The “toward what” of new creation redirects equality and diversity toward a telos, or goal, of a new future of life together. Reconciliation moves toward this future without divisions.
This vision of mutuality requires the church not only to bear witness to who the reconciling God is but also to become like Christ. Missiologist Andrew Walls drives at this when he writes in his article “The Ephesian Moment”: “The very height of Christ’s full stature is reached only by the coming together of the different cultural entities into the body of Christ. Only ‘together,’ not on our own, can we reach his full stature.”
Another powerful glimpse of new creation’s “toward what” is seen in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. during the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. He insisted that a legal victory and the boycott were necessary. Yet these were not ends in themselves. “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends.”
For the church, the journey toward new creation requires this “type of spirit and this type of love” that is steeped in the cross and the resurrection. New creation means dying to one way of life and being raised into another. The beautiful, joyful shared life the New Testament calls koinonia is not possible without metanoia, a deep turning in the power of the Holy Spirit.
What is the story of where we are?
The modern confidence in our ability to fix the world asks, What’s the solution, and what do we do? But Christian reconciliation seeks a deeper understanding of the truth about where we are and how we came to be here. One gift God gives to help us answer this question is lament.
Praise and lament are the twin sisters of the Psalms, and they are always walking hand-in-hand. To lament is to learn to see, stand in, describe, and tell the truthful story about the brokenness around us and in us. To lament is to learn to refuse to be consoled by easy explanations or false hopes. Lament is bringing our analysis into conversation with God and learning to pray with urgency. Lament is the practice of becoming joined with others into God’s desires, a journey into seeing what God sees and feeling what God feels.
To learn to lament is also to protest against the way things are. Lament is the voice of Rachel at Ramah, weeping for her slaughtered children and refusing to be consoled (Matthew 2:18). Lament is Desmond Tutu crying out from the gravesite of a murdered apartheid victim, “God, we know you are going to win, but why are you taking so long?” In their book Living Without Enemies , Sam Wells and Marcia Owen tell the story of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham. Every time someone is murdered in Durham, N.C., (about 25 people per year), the coalition holds a vigil at the site to pray and remember. The vigil is a way of saying, “Listen city! Listen churches! See what happened! This is not normal! This is not acceptable! God, we are here, crying out to you—come and intervene!”
These vigils of lament reveal a side of the city that’s often ignored by the privileged. They become a place of conversion that brings people together beyond “us” and “them” into a new community, a new “we.” Years of vigils have led to strangers becoming companions in a common mission. Eventually