John Paul Lederach. Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians. Herald Press, 2014. (191 pages)
Deep conflicts are stressful and painful. At worst, they are violent and destructive. Yet at the same time, they create some of the most intense spiritual encounters we experience. Conflict opens a path, a holy path, toward revelation and reconciliation. (14)
1. The Threat to My Only Child
Peace is a noble pursuit, but at what price? (18)
Embedded in the verse [John 3:16] is a story of a parent who gave up a child. … Think about it. Is there anything that is so important to you that you would give up your child to achieve it? (19)
I can no longer take John 3:16 as a short formula for salvation. I can only understand it as a foundational principle of reconciliation. It is an ethic based on willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of an enemy. It is an ethic undergirded by and made possible only through the immeasurable love and grace of God. (20)
PEACE: UTOPIAN FANTASY OR BIBLICAL DREAM? I am worried about the extinction of a particular human species: the dreamer. (22)
DREAMING. Dreaming has to do with the simple act of connecting the present and the future. (22)
…to take up the journey of reconciliation, we need both. We have to keep our feet on the ground, connected to the challenge of current realities, and we need our head in the clouds, with the capacity to live into a new reality of more just, equitable, and peaceful relationships. (26)
TOWARD A SCRIPTURAL UNDERSTANDING. …reconsider two seemingly contradictory biblical images of enemies found in the Bible: the cry to crush the enemies, and the call to love them. (27)
2. Turning toward the Face of God: Jacob and Esau
So much of conflict sits inside of us, with our perceptions and the stories that we start to tell about ourselves and others. And so much of conflict bubbles in the emotional but mostly unspoken process of interpreting the meaning of our relationships. It never is just about facts. It is about the meaning, feeling, and interpretation of our intertwined lives. (32)
THE MOVE AWAY. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of reconciliation has to do with the experience of humiliation. … humiliation–the lived experience of disrespect and exclusion without some form of authentic acknowledgment of the harm or hurt received–leaves deep personal and social scars. (35)
But if we are serious about the human experience of deep humiliation and harm, we will have to be engaged in finding ways to restore dignity. (36)
Is moving away from the conflict–having space and time at a distance from the source of the pain–needed? What is required when people need distance from each other? How long does one let the distance and emotional divide fester? (36)
THE TURN TOWARD. I have come to respect how this “turn” toward the other represents one of the most significant and difficult human decisions. It is not something that works well if forced or obligated. It is not something everyone will choose even if conditions have been created. Yet without the turn, the journey toward reconciliation will not unfold. Separation and distance will remain. (37)
…reconciliation cannot be done by proxy but an be supported by way of witness and accompaniment. (38)
THE MEETING. Perhaps the most riveting aspect of the story is the notion of the face of God. … In the midst of deep and threatening conflict, how incredibly difficult it is for us to notice and find the face of God, not in the ones who care for us and love us but in our enemies. What makes it possible to see that of God even in an enemy? (40)
RECONCILIATION AS JOURNEY. Ultimately, reconciliation is a journey toward and through conflict. (42)
RECONCILIATION AS ENCOUNTER. Here again is the extraordinary layered nature of reconciliation: It is the place we are trying to reach, the journey we take to get there, and the encounters we experience along the way. Reconciliation requires noticing and naming those things around and within us. (43)
Reconciliation is a journey, an encounter, and a place. God calls us to set out on this journey through conflict, marked by places where we see the face of God, the face of the enemy, and the face of our own selves. (43)
3. The Reconciliation Arts: Jesus
Jesus’ ministry had roots in grace expressed primarily through the quality of presence: the way he chose to be present, in relationship and in the company of others, even with those who wished him harm. (45)
To reconcile, we must live into compassion. (46)
JESUS AND THE ART OF PRESENCE. Love and compassion hold the center. These require a fullness of commitment. They emanate from the heart and gut. They burrow and rise in the soul. They fill and focus the mind. In these few words, we find an extraordinary description of presence: to bring the whole of yourself into the present moment in gratitude to the Source, the Creator of life. (47)
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR: NOTICING HUMANITY. …to notice the humanity of others, especially those most invisible and neglected in his day and time. (47-48)
Compassion test. …”to see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Genesis 33:10).
To see your face. …when we are in conflict, we are not at our best. We have suspicions. We judge. We are not open to alternative interpretations. We do not easily offer a generous spirit. And to be very honest, it is not easy to look, and look again, toward the face of those we feel have done us or wish us harm. (49)
LOVE YOURSELF: SELF-REFLECTION AND SELF-CARE.
LOVE GOD: ACCOMPANIMENT. In sum, Jesus provides a living example of God’s compassion. God chose alongsideness, shared suffering, and the fullness of the vulnerability in the human condition. (55)
To reconcile requires a commitment to see the face of God in the other, to feel the world from their perspective, and to place ourselves not in control of but alongside the human experience and condition. (56)
MISUSING JESUS. In this world of holy justification and dangerous devils, some people despair of faith and disparage religion. Of religion, I have more questions now than when I was younger. I guess you could say I am less certain of the certainties I had when I started into this work. (58)
Yet paradoxically, living in the face of violence has deepened my faith, in part due to the extraordinary people I have met who found their way with courage and integrity. I don’t see the fact that I have less certainty to mean I have less faith. For me, faith is not about quantity and certainty. It is about essence. (59)
4. In the Beginning Was Conflict: Creation
I also believe this creation story has much to do with developing a theology of conflict. (61)
- God is present within each of us.
- God values diversity.
- God gives us godlike freedom.
…there tends to be a common and rather strong perspective within Christian circles that conflict represents the presence of sin. … God’s creation commitments provide a different viewpoint. Built into God’s original plan before the fall, humankind was conceived in such a way that made differences and conflict normal and inevitable. (67)
In sum, a Christian understanding of conflict is built on these basic creation commitments: God is present in each of us because we are created in the likeness of God. God values diversity. God is committed to giving us freedom. These elements make our lives rich, ever-renewing, and interesting. They also make conflict a natural part of our relationships. (68)
5. When Conflict Burns and We Cry for Help: The Psalms
Lay aside all the other factors, from social conditioning to real physical threat. In the end, an enemy is rooted and constructed in our hearts and minds and takes on social significance as others share in the construction. From my own experience, I have learned that critical steps need to be taken to construct an enemy. (78)
BE CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT YOU HATE. “Be careful about what you hate. You may find that like a blindfold it removes your ability to see. Look first for what you see of yourself in others. Love the sinners, and see yourself in them. There you will find God.” (78)
How to Create an Enemy.
- Separate yourself from the person.
- See yourself as superior.
- Dehumanize the other person.
I have lived and talked with people who have been both victims of violence and creators of violence. I have shaken the hands of convicted terrorists and people who have tortured others. I have sat with warlords who seem merciless in their pursuit of power. I have listened to freedom fighters who cry out against injustice and pick up weapons to defend their cause. What scares me the most is not how different I am, but rather how I can see and feel a bit of myself in each of them. (80)
Reconciliation is not primarily found in the grounds of rational discourse nor in places where people have buried and no longer remember their pain. The challenge of reconciliation requires us to be present, to respect, and to acknowledge the suffering, the fear, and the bitterness as the lived experience of violence.
| Reconciliation is not to quickly forgive and forget, as if it never happened or we somehow are gifted with a form of amnesia. Reconciliation requires that we remember and change, but with honesty about our experience and curiosity about the humanness of the other whom we fear. That is the difficult burning ground of reconciliation. I am convinced that reconciliation must touch the real experience and the depth of loss of those who have come through this difficult terrain of violence and seek deliverance and justice. (81)
6. Truth, Mercy, Justice, and Peace: Psalm 85
These leaders of peace efforts are often more like oldest siblings taking care of family squabbles than like professional mediators negotiating a deal. (84)
Truth and Mercy have met together.
Justice and Peace have kissed.
[In this segment, Lederach describes a workshop in which four volunteers are designated Truth, Mercy, Justice, and Peace. He then asks each group to treat the concept as a person and to ask one question: What is Truth (or Mercy, Justice, Peace) most concerned about in the midst of a conflict? (85)]
Psalm 85 presents reconciliation as a dynamic social space where different but interdependent social energies and concerns are brought together and given voices. (91)
Reconciliation requires us to take up the primary practical task of creating the dynamic social space where Truth, Mercy, Justice, and Peace can genuinely meet and wrestle things out, much like Jacob in the long night. (91)
When we hear these four voices as contradictory, we are forced into a false position of choosing one or the other. It is as if they were in a boxing match that only leaves winners and loses. Such tunnel vision should not exist. We are not asked to choose between rain or sunshine. Each is different, but both are needed for sustaining life and growth. Such is the case with Truth and Mercy, Justice and Peace. (92)
Psalm 85 shows that conflict has revelatory and reconciling potential when the four different energies are embraced. We need to recognize all their concerns as proper, provide them with voices, respond to their fears and needs, and place them in an open and dialogical setting. That is better than roping them into a boxing match, as adversaries. By letting all of them speak, they are less likely to be driven underground or to extremes. (92)
7. Where Two or Three Meet: Matthew 18
In most conflicts and especially in those involving church members, almost everybody on all sides of the problem feels that they have been sinned against. (95)
STEP 1: GO DIRECTLY
First, going directly involves implicit–if not explicit–self-reflection. (98)
For example, if we are defensive, that usually means we feel insecure. We react to the information coming in and the anxiety it produces. Blaming is often a mechanism for avoiding the anxiety and projecting it onto someone else. (98)
Second, in going directly, we choose to move toward other people. That often means moving toward the very source of our fears. (98)
Spiritual Disciplines for Reconciliation
- Prayerful vulnerability means that we dare to look within ourselves, at the sources of our fears and anxieties. …conflict provides an opportunity for reflection and growth, even when we feel under siege and threatened.
- Responsible discernment happens when we take it upon ourselves to move toward the conflict and others.
- Interactive engagement is a discipline characterized by both transparency of self and acknowledgment of others. …be a “nonanxious presence,” engaged with others without worry or fear. (100-101)
STEP 2: TAKE ALONG ONE OR TWO WITNESSES
The idea of witness carries an image of someone who is present with the people and experiencing the difficulty. (101)
STEP 3: TELL IT TO THE CHURCH
First, conflict and church doctrine are connected. How we organize ourselves as churches will affect how we deal with conflict. (103)
Second, working on conflict is spiritual work. (104)
Third, this simple instruction, “Tell it to the church,”… (104)
In summary, the spiritual dimension of “telling it to the church” lies in a basic understanding. The people who make up the church and its very structure are living testimonies of working out the mission of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). (105)
STEP 4: RELATE AS WITH A TAX COLLECTOR
How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors? … My interpretation of step 4 is this: Eat with them! (106)
…tables as a metaphor for coming together to talk, negotiate, and seek peace. (106)
8. Keep Silent and Listen: Acts 15
What lies behind the debate, however, is the much deeper and more familiar problem: Do we change our beliefs and practices to assimilate what appear to be new ways that God is moving among us? (11)
PRINCIPLES AND STEPS FOR HANDLING CONFLICT
1. Recognize and define the problem. If you want fewer divisive and church-splitting conflicts, encourage more everyday disagreements in congregational life. (Ron Kraybill) (112)
2. Create the appropriate forum for processing matters.
Process matters more than outcome – Ron Craybill
If you can trust the process, you can trust the outcome. – Jim Laue
3. Let diverse viewpoints be represented.
4. Document diversity.
5. Use the gifts in the community.
6. Decide upon and then implement decisions.
While I do not agree with where you are going, I will not leave the community and thereby try to force you to adopt my way. Let us agree together to stay in relationship, with each of us seeking to be true to what we sense is our different but deepest calling from God. We may part way sin service, but let us maintain fellowship. – Lederach
LISTENING: THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION OF CONFLICT
When paraphrasing is a natural part of a person’s repertoire of skills and when it is done well, it goes virtually unperceived. People want to be heard and are often grateful that somebody cares enough to interact constructively with what they are saying. (119)
Reconciliation is understood as both a place we are trying to reach and the journey that we take up with each other. (123)
9. Reconciliation Is the Gospel: Paul’s Letters
In this text [Ephesians 2:13-16], Paul declares that through Christ, through a person who reaches out across lines of hostility, through his very flesh and person, enemies meet and are held together. Thus they form a new humanity, a new relationship. What we find here is the most necessary part of the mission methodology: movement into relationship. (129)
True atonement and holiness place us on the journey to make real reconciling love of God in our lives and to heal our broken communities across the globe. Our mission is to walk the path by which all things come together. (131)
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In my current congregation, I’m so thrilled that “reconciliation” is one of our core values, an ethic that is lived out virtually every day and every week of our gatherings. People have exemplified differences of opinion, theology, perspective, and yet continued to stay in relationship, which is a beautiful expression (on a small scale) of Lederach’s thesis. To Spark, THANK YOU for being this kind of people. You honor the Way of Jesus, and inspire me. If you happen to be one of those people who have left our church because of a disagreement, or an ideological or theological conflict, I hope these notes and the exhortation of Lederach helps to fill in the gap and bring greater redemption to the parting of our ways.
Principally, Ledearch has articulated brilliant reconciliation philosophy in an acceptable, reachable, and doable format. For this, I commend him for his contribution, and pray that more would consider deeply the profound mystery and brilliance of living in the Way of Jesus along the path of reconciliation.
I have very minor theological quibbles that are small, yet still important for how we read the Biblical text. For example, on page 67, in describing the naming of the animals, Lederach writes, “Can you really imagine that they never argued or disagreed? How utterly boring, if that were the case!” While acceptably Midrashic, there is a danger in pushing an idea too hard, too far, imposing one’s sensibilities on a text, creating a conflict where may not fundamentally exist. But as I say, this is minor.
The Hybels wrote “This book truly has the power to change the world.” I concur. Let’s start with your world.