Friday, May 21, 2010

Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing

By Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice, 165 pages, Intervarsity Press.

An African Catholic theologian and an American Protestant pastor team up to reflect on reconciliation in the world using Christian principles. They reject the use of "experts" solving problems, preferring something deeper than the latest technique of peace-making.

In fact, this book is a loud "No!" to the technique-mentality, which claims that specially-trained people can swoop into a troubled situation and somehow clean up the mess for the local people. Katongole and Rice claim that true reconciliation starts with the locals, and keep such trained people at a distance. The problem with experts is that they don't know the local human and geographical terrain, and don't necessarily need to change their hearts.

When dealing with the massacre in Rwanda, killings in Durham, South Carolina, or racial tension everywhere, changed hearts rather than new policies or training workshops are needed. This is the long, slow process whereby local Christian, Jewish, and Muslim mothers cook together to feed children in Palestine, or where Hutus and Tutsis work as one to rebuild schools and churches, drinking banana beer out of the same cup in the sweltering heat. This is where members of multiracial churches in the American south work together on everyday church life.

Reconciling All Things rejects heroism, the big play that will magically resolve all tensions and heal all hurts. Loud revolution is not possible, and often, in fact, leads to more violence. When humans try to take peace-making into their own hands, violence and disaster happen, Rice and Katongole remind us again and again.

True Christian peacemakers realize that they don't own a map of reconciliation. They don't know where their work is leading. They are like Noah, building an ark even though it's not raining; or like Abraham, who left his country for an unknown land; or like Moses, who left his comfortable life to challenge the pharaoh on behalf of the Israelite slaves. These men heard a call – one that confused and disoriented them – but they followed nevertheless. Rice and Katongole call us to have the same faith as we embark on a long journey with no visible end.

The authors note that we embark on such a journey because of our restlessness for the way that things are: "even in a deeply divided world, even in the most deeply divided relationship, the way things are is not the way things have to be," they write, adding that God is central to this: "An emphasis on right relationship with God is crucial to a Christian vision of reconciliation."

The authors mince no words in rejecting the Christian peacemakers who, becoming ever more zealous, get so wrapped up in opposing and resisting things that they forget about God. They become bitter, angry, and burnt out. In contrast, Mother Teresa and Jean Vanier have offered the world laughter, smiles, and celebration because they always returned to their spiritual foundation, which they built on a strong theological foundation.

If we can rely on God, we can face the terrible injustices of the world rather than trying to bring about superficial reconciliation that is impatient with pain and suffering.

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