There are times especially in crazy times like this in Malaysia, one reads and reflects on a theme by a timely book. Schreiter’s book on Reconciliation does that for me. I’m still dwelling on a number of the insights raised from it, and in some cases haunted by what I’ve discovered.
Here’s a book review for those who might find my thoughts scattered and unscholarly 🙂 What’s coming up is the stuff which resonates with me right now. By the way, I confess that it’s been quite a while since I posted up the books I’m reading. So, it’s good to make a come back.
“Reconciliation is an intensely sought but elusive goal. Part of the difficulty is the sheer enormity of the task, so great that it seems well-nigh unachievable. For it is not only a matter of healing memories and receiving forgiveness, it is also about changing the structures in society that provoked, promoted, and sustained violence. Reconciliation is also elusive because people sometimes seek the wrong things from the wrong people at the wrong time. . Our impatience at getting beyond the sometimes unbearable burdens of the past may actually impede any possible reconciliation process as much as support it.” (pp. 1-2)
One of the first reminders I got from dwelling in Schreiter’s thoughts is how surface our definitions of Reconciliation is, and how shallow our approaches towards it’s outworking are. When our understanding of Reconciliation is reduced to a handshake or a simple saying sorry without the necessary changes and hard work which accompanies it, we are not dealing with the root of the matter.
Most of the time, in our ignorance or blind spots, we fail to confront the structures which created the conditions for animosity between people, fragmentation and even violence in society. So, even when we have some level of success individually in terms of healing and forgiveness, we are then sucked back into the vicious cycle of lies, deception and pain all over again before deeper healing and wholeness takes place. This is especially true when we take a wider social and communal perspective.
Perhaps, like in many things, we are too much in a hurry . or we too are in denial.
That’s why Schreiter’s preliminary clarifications on what Reconciliation is not, helped clear my head a little bit more.
“To trivialize and ignore memory is to trivialize and ignore human identity, and to trivialize and to ignore human identity is to trivialize and ignore human dignity. That is why reconciliation as a hasty peace is actually the opposite of reconciliation. BY forgetting the suffering, the victim is forgotten and the causes of suffering are never uncovered and confronted.” (p.19)
It’s painful to hear the stories. It’s hard to swallow when we only seem to crash into so called “failed” attempts in dealing with suffering and evil. It’s getting our hands dirty again and again in digging up the causes we wish were not there, but are nonetheless staring us in the face.
“. liberation is not an alternative to reconciliation; it is the prerequisite for it. Thus, we do not call for reconciliation instead of liberation; we call for liberation in order to bring about reconciliation. Not liberation or reconciliation. Rather, no reconciliation without liberation. Reconciliation can only come about if the nature of the violence perpetrated is acknowledged, and its conditions for continuing or reappearing are removed. Liberation in not just liberation from the violent situation, but also liberation from the structures and processes that permit and promote violence. To choose reconciliation as an alternative to liberation does not acknowledge the deeply conflictive realities that create the chasms that reconciliation hopes to bridge. It also presumes that violence is quickly and easily overcome.” (p. 22)
Okay. Confession time. The paragraph above has been and still is haunting me. As a follower of Jesus, and a pastor, I’m bias towards all things related to reconciliation. And the picture is usually one of gentleness, and humility, and bordering a kind of softness which is more like “nice-ness”. But Schreiter’s words cut through to me, and totally disarmed my naivety!
What is said above, not only applies socially in society, but as I read it, flash backs of different scenarios of pastoral ministry hit me again and again. Too many tend to bypass the “liberation” phase .. it’s too tedious, it’s too hard . is there an easier way? A way where no one needs to be blamed, no one has to take responsibility, let’s all be happy clappy and get over with it?
Cheap efforts only yield to cheap short lived reconciliation, in fact, perhaps it’s more like an illusion of reconciliation than the real thing. It’s fake, it’s a lie.
As people of the Way, and who seek the Truth, and aspire to see Life flourish . even in the midst of this imperfect world, we cannot settle for anything less .. we are heading to the gateway of reconciliation, but not without the muddy rocky road of liberation. Brace yourselves, it’s going to be rough.
One more paragraph .. which is one which encourages me, because it resonates with some of my long held intuitions. But now it’s put into words.
“. reconciliation as a managed process falls short of the Christian understanding of reconciliation in significant ways. First of all . we do not bring about reconciliation, especially in the profound and complex situations described above; it is God who reconciles. This is not said to create an attitude of acquiescence in the face of violence or fatalism in the midst of political oppression. It is, rather, to acknowledge the enormity of the task of reconciliation in situations where the social order has shifted radically and dramatically.” (p. 26)
God is not a cop out. God is not an object of blame. But now, God acts as the initiator and agent of change. Not our idol-constructed ideas of God, not our domesticated deity. Nope, we’re talking about the Real thing . I mean the One who is real . the one who reconciles ultimately.
“. this approach to reconciliation (as a managed process) reduces reconciliation to a technical rationality; it becomes a skill that can be taught to deal with the problem that can be managed. . but it departs significantly from a biblical understanding in which reconciliation is not a skill to be mastered, but rather, something discovered – the power of God’s grace welling up in one’s life. . Reconciliation becomes more of an attitude than an acquired skill; it becomes a stance assumed before a broken world rather than a toll to repair that world. Or put in more theological terms, reconciliation is more spirituality than strategy.” (p.26)
There are numerous strategic turns and moves that are needed in the current Malaysian scene. I believe the Church as well as churches or congregations have a partnering role with fellow comrades in Civil Society. A distinctive contribution we bring is the dimension of spirituality.. in many ways, especially with those whom also value the role of religion at its best and not worst, the spiritual dimension no longer has to be marginalized in the socio-political-cultural landscape which is confronted with tectonic shifts and at times seemingly insurmountable challenges. Bad religion needs to be confronted, but life giving spirituality needs to be nurtured to replace it!
For me, I found myself experience prayer on the streets of Bukit Aman and near Pudu Raya, in the stadium at Kelana Jaya, in the sanctuary of the Father’s House, and the solitude of my own heart. But no longer is it an expression of a spirituality of escapism and excuses, it’s a genuine attempt towards an incarnational spirituality of engagement. I’m no hero, I’m no pioneer, I’m but an ordinary follower of Christ, a pastor trying to figure out how to be faithful in my calling here and now . standing on the shoulders of true giants who’ve shown me it can be done. So help me God!