Category Archives: Ministry of Reconciliation

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov

Pride and Passion Revisited

This is part of an ongoing series about the Ministry of Reconciliation.

Reconciliation (noun) /ˌrek.ənˌsɪl.iˈeɪ.ʃən/:The process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas or situations agree

Read the entire series

A Blast From the Past

This is the third time I have published this poem, or the fourth, if you include it being read live on the radio. I’ve also performed it at an open mic. It’s never been well-received.

It’s like the crazy uncle at the holiday table. Why do I keep inviting him anyway? Because I’m stuck with him. Like him or not, he’s family and so in my broken way, I love him.

At least, that’s my excuse.

When I last trotted out ‘Pride and Passion’ it was in June of 2020, in the chaos following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. I wrote this as preface:

Our nation is on fire emotionally right now, with too many shouting for scapegoats instead of pleading for forgiveness. I look back to the bleak days right after 9-11 when we were at a similar but not as dangerous a crossroads. What we see today is due to the work of the four grooms (Fear, Division, Suspicion, and Hatred). They control the reins of the steeds being held ready for the Four Horsemen: Conquest, War, Famine, and Death.

Nothing’s changed

Skip ahead to September, 2021. The paragraph above still holds. The untapped power of reconciliation remains, seemingly little used.

The poem “Pride and Passion” was written directly after the world-changing event we simply call ‘9/11′. At that time, emergency workers continued to comb the rubble of the World Trade Centers. People mourned their loved ones, or thousands of others’ loved ones they’d never met. The disaster video seemed to be on continuous loop with endless analysis.

People craved answers. People craved revenge. President Bush, that same week, announced his intent to ‘hunt down, to find, to smoke out’ those responsible for the attacks.

Now, twenty years later, Osama bin Laden is dead, many of his henchmen are either dead or incarcerated, and the United States’ long adventure in Afghanistan is officially over. I hesitate to touch on domestic politics in an essay about reconciliation and yet there’s a point.

What was once happily referred to as the ‘Art of Compromise’ has devolved into an endless cockfight of bitterness, division and opprobrium. Compromise comes from seeking understanding and greater long-term good, not immediate advantage. Reconciliation can get us there.

In the wider arena of the human heart, nothing’s changed since 2001. Sin, and a lack of repentance are still the main problems of the world. It’s not worse, but it looks worse, if bitterness and unforgiveness are our only lenses. The four grooms still hold the steeds for the Four Horsemen. And we all get to watch the livestream.

Politics is no longer about compromise. It’s about optics. Last spring, President Joe Biden said he wanted to remove US interests from Afghanistan by September 11th, the 20th anniversary of the attacks. In July he changed this, without explanation, to August 31.

The bookend symmetry of a September 11 pull-out sounds good and looks good. It fits on a bumper sticker. Twenty years to the day. But August 31?

August 31 is actually 20 years to the day, only on the Hebrew calendar. God’s calendar. The 9/11 attack was on 23 Elul, 5761. August 31 of this year was also 23 Elul. Maybe not so great on a bumper sticker. But there is a prophetic symmetry to it.

I’ll leave it to others to look for meaning. I only suggest there is some.

Pride and Passion

Time marches on,
Dragging our cliches behind it,
In the furrow that remains,
We plant our dead, and bury seeds of renewal.

When the twin towers of pride and passion fall,
Your absent human pulses leave only pulsing pictures,
And loving souls now gone leave scars on others’ hearts,
We jerk our knees, dig in our heels,
And need to pray for time to dig the furrow where we
Leave our losses, cover sins.

Turning in our bed to reach for one no longer there,
We sigh and then surrender up our own self-righteous indignation To the peace that comes from sleep
.

We ask God’s blessing on our nation,
I ask Him, “Bless all ‘round the world.”

We need collective will,
To find our enemy,
Hunt him down,
Smoke him out,
Get him on the run,
Grab him by the shoulder,
Look him in the eye,
And say, “I love you.”

Only then will our twin towers be rebuilt,
The towering pride and passion,
Built by mothers everywhere,
Who nurture children, teaching them
That conquest lies in love and service.

During the evacuations through Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, as many as 200 people may have died, including at least 13 Americans in an explosion August 26. The President’s response was, ‘We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.’ Just as Mr. Bush overlooked the Lord’s Prayer, Mr. Biden too has forgotten his Catechism.

But it’s never too late for things to change.

Granted, much forgiveness is bitterly hard, seemingly impossible. Yet it is the most rewarding. And, it leads to peace in the heart, which is where peace is most needed.

Pray for your country and its leaders. Whether you agree with them or not. It’s good for you – and for them. It’s your bit to save the world.

“Pride and Passion” was first performed September 19, 2001.
Image: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov via Wikimedia Commons

tool set

The Fixer

In a recent post I asked the question, ‘How does it feel to know you are part of God’s plan to save the world?’

This could be meaningless for you, I suppose, if you haven’t yet responded to Christ. Or if you have, but don’t believe that He’s active in the world. Or, it could be taken as a jest.

But what does ‘saving the world’ mean, exactly? It sure seems to mean a lot of different things, depending on whom you ask. Some people think they are saving the world by not eating meat. Others by fighting human trafficking. Still others take up arms. Some are pacifists. What they all have in common is that they are willing to fight for what they believe in. Most of us have a hill we will die on, as the saying goes.

The ones who fight for things we believe in become our heroes: Martin Luther King on one hand, or Malcolm X on the other; the RAF in 1940; today’s culture warriors, either left or right; maybe a soul-winner like Aimee Semple McPherson or Reinhardt Bonnke; perhaps a fictional world-beater like Lara Croft or Frodo Baggins or Hari Seldon.

You undoubtedly have a list of your own.

But when we say ‘saving the world’, it doesn’t actually mean ‘saving the world.’ It means ‘fixing a problem’, a completely different matter. Even the most influential world beaters are limited to one time and one place. The world is changed in a limited way for a time, and then quickly reverts to what it was before: broken and in need of saving again. And again. And again.

When the world is broken it needs saving, not fixing. And that leads to the most important name missing from the list above: Jesus Christ. He is the one and only exception.

Maybe you think that Jesus’ life, death and supposed resurrection didn’t fix anything. The poor and weak are still exploited by the rich and powerful just as they were before Jesus’ time. Natural and economic resources still remain under threat. They are still a source of contention among nations and within societies.

Human beings, individually and collectively, are forever in trouble. This is because we tend to break things. We also love to try fixing things. Yet, no matter how hard we work at it, any victory in the face of trouble is limited and temporary. Does that mean we shouldn’t try? Of course not. But when we limit ourselves to fix ourselves by ourselves we get nowhere.

It’s not about fixing something, or solving a problem. It’s about salvation. Any fixing we do is temporary. But salvation is eternal. That leads me to the belief that the world isn’t broken. It’s desperately lost.

Before I had a relationship with Jesus Christ, I was in Fix-it Mode. I was Mr. Fixit McFixface. I’d dive right in and strive for that best outcome. And, I would usually fail miserably.

So, if the world is lost, not broken, it can be saved. It can be remade. We are needy and desperate beings. As philosopher Karl Barth understatedly put it, we are ‘in distress’, and God is eager to ‘grant…assistance.’ 1

So, for my part, I’ll dig into His handbook and when there’s an instruction I don’t understand, I’ll raise my hand and ask a question.

Meanwhile, I can happily stop trying to fix my friends and family. They aren’t broken. They aren’t projects. They are just needy people like me, who need a little love. And when I love them – I’m doing my part to save the world.

1. Quoted by Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980)

Photo by şahin-sezer via Pexels

Man with magnifying glass

Sifting The Evidence

A year ago I wrote and published a poem called ‘White Silence Drowns Out Black Voices.’ I just re-read it for the first time in many months.

I can’t read my own work in a vacuum. I must bounce it against The Current Conversation to see if it remains relevant, is now dated, or is in danger of being misapplied.

A poem, like any other piece of art, lives in danger of being appropriated or interpreted in ways the artist does not sanction. But that’s the way of art. Art is nothing but an opinion, after all. Artists create art and launch it into the world. How the art is received is up to the receiver.

How art is received also says more about the receiver than the art itself or the artist.

As an artist, I reflect my own opinion or observation, or lay out memoir-as-verse. All my creations are photograph-like. They are static snapshots, reflecting a moment, a vision, a feeling. They aren’t likely to stand for all time. They aren’t likely to create a movement, only a mood.

I cook the dish and you taste. Then you decide whether you like it or send it back to the kitchen.

Back to the poem, which is about how my choices not to speak against injustice help injustice flourish. In The Current Conversation, it might be easy to read this work as only being about the Black Lives Matter movement (whatever that is any more), or the larger historical struggle for equity and equality.

While the poem does speak to these matters, and indeed was inspired by The Previous Conversations about them, it was written as a much broader expression.

We get so distracted arguing dualities: black versus white, black versus ‘not black enough’; white versus ‘institutional racism’, ‘content of our character’ versus ‘anti-racism’, etc.

All these dualities are, by virtue of our Twitterfied society, merely fields of combat – places where we can line up and yell at one another meaninglessly and stoke division and fan the flames of strife. They don’t address the problem, which is human sinfulness stemming from human pride. The idea that I’m better than you.

None of those dualities touch the meaning of ‘White Silence Drowns Out Black Voices.’ The meaning is a simple acknowledgement of the need for reconciliation. Yes, between different ethnic groups, philosophies and methodologies. But more generally, among all people of disparate views.

Here’s the key stanza:

I’ve been silent far too long,
And my silence kept me from traveling
The hard road to redemption,
That is best walked with a bro
ther.

Read it as a sentence: I’ve been silent far too long, and my silence kept me from traveling the hard road to redemption that is best walked with a brother.

For you, that redemption might be seen as racial reconciliation. For another, it could be the seeming unfairness of captalism toward the poor. For still another, it could be the fact she only earns 65% of what’s given her male colleague. For me, we could consider the wounds inflicted in my childhood from sexual abuse or those that came from my own bad choices around drugs and alcohol.

One person’s reconciliation is another person’s outrage. One person’s weakness is another person’s strength. One person’s faith is another person’s encouragement.

In my own case, I couldn’t have gotten sober alone, and I surely was unable to come to faith alone, even with God’s help. I need brothers and sisters to walk the hard road to redemption with me. I need their faith, and I hope they need mine.

We need discipleship in all things worthwhile. So let’s speak up for one another, especially in the hard things. Otherwise we are just opposing lines, on someone else’s field of play, yelling at one another, to no effect.

Photo by cottonbro via Pexels