Category Archives: Ministry of Reconciliation

photo of man laying on sidewalk

Making it Personal

This is part of an on going series about the Ministry of Reconciliation. A three-minute read.

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

Read the entire series

Last year I wrote about some personal cases of poverty and arrived at the idea that while wholesale action is good, retail action is better.

By wholesale I mean pushing for change at all levels, from my neighborhood to the international stage. Large-scale action does bring change, but it’s impersonal and transactional. Counter-intuitively, it doesn’t result in transformational change. It only looks good on the score card.

There’s progress, sure, and I don’t minimize that. The UN World Food Programme reports there are two billion more of us than in 1990, but 216 million fewer of us are going hungry. That’s good news, at least for those of us privileged enough to eat regularly.

But hold that thought for a moment while we stay on this idea of wholesale versus retail.

The British government is engaged in a large-scale assessment of the nation’s food system. The goal is to transform it. The result, intended or no, would be to have us make retail changes (the personal level) because of policy changes (the wholesale level).

Policy can drive behavior, but ultimately only our behavior makes the policy work. The report is worth reading, because it shows in stark terms how we could be much kinder to our own bodies. If we were, we would be kinder to the food system and to the environment.

The facts are clear that those of us with physical conditions exacerbated by poor eating habits (i.e. diabetes, obesity, heart disease) are much more likely to be severely affected by disease. Nowhere have we seen this than in the statistics around Covid-19 fatalities.

Unfortunately, these important markers have been all but drowned out by the constant clamor surrounding the virus (is it still a pandemic?), the daily case counts and death counts, and the political response to all this – as opposed to the public health response.

Without falling too far down that rabbit hole, let’s pull back and take a stark quote from the aforementioned report:

‘At the same time, the virus has shown with terrible clarity the damage being done to our health by the modern food system. Diet-related illness is one of the top three risk factors for dying of COVID-19. This has given a new urgency to the slow-motion disaster of the British diet.’

Did you catch the named culprit? ‘Diet-related illness’. And the result? ‘Slow-motion disaster’. Of course, where there is slow-motion disaster there can also be slow-motion recovery. In all things, be patient. There is no quick fix.

If you are an American reader, don’t be smug. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 94% of covid deaths in the United States involve co-morbitities.

So, we have found another place that needs reconciliation: our relationship with food. Not about growing, marketing, transport or packaging. Rather, what we eat and how we eat. You could say it’s reconciliation with our own bodies.

Unless we are reduced to begging for our meals, what we put in our bellies drives our decision-making about food. It’s not the other way around. If I’m in the habit of loading up on salty snacks or sweet, I develop a yearning for the same. If I eat a more balanced diet, my cravings lessen and I tend to make wiser choices.

As my AA sponsor would say, ‘choices have consequences.’ And nowhere are these more stark than in how we treat ourselves: spiritually, emotionally and physically. The last one is easiest for me to see. I only need to look at the roll around my middle! Only I can change that.

Good news: if I do change that, it can lead to change for others. My retail action feeds into the wholesale. When millions of us do it, meal by meal, day by day, that slow-motion disaster can stop.

Read more in this series.

Image by Harrison Haines via Pexels

hands making a heart

Thoughts on Equality

This is part of an ongoing series about the Ministry of Reconciliation.
A three-minute read.

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

Read the entire series

Two centuries ago a group of Christians from my church in South London were instrumental in ending slavery in the British Empire. Great men and women all: people of bold faith, humility, perseverance and skill. Their desire was for an equitable society.

We are still working on it, but thank God: we are still working on it! We have not given up. Progress is being made. Is it ever fast enough? Of course not. But, who do we remember? Who do we teach about? By and large they are the light-skinned ones.

We celebrate them, of course. But let’s also celebrate the dark-skinned ones: Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince, Ottobah Cugoano.

Would the light-skinned ones have fed the fire had it not been for the dark-skinned ones who lit the match? I don’t know, but I expect not, or at least not as quickly.

One slogan of the UK abolition movement was, ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ This remains a relevant question, although we might broaden the language today for more political correctness.

Regardless of all that, the answer from the world of reconciliation is, ‘Yes. Yes you are.’ Indeed we all are, as we’re all made in the image of God, even those of us who don’t currently believe in Him.

I offer this response about reconciliation with humility because I always come from a place of ignorance, whatever the color of your skin, whatever your background. There is much I don’t know and will never know about my dark-skinned friends, simply because I’m a light-skinned friend.

But may I say it: even though the dark-skinned ones have the light-skinned vision broadcast to them endlessly from all corners all their lives, they truly don’t know our lives either.

Many of them are my beloved brothers and sisters, my friends, and in some cases my prayer partners and confidants. But, because the world can categorize us by the color of our skin we did not and will not have the same experiences.

But isn’t that the way of life? Even when I am as like as possible to another person, we are separated by more than skin.

The truth is that I don’t know anyone’s life but my own, not truly. Certainly not someone’s inner life. Not even my wife’s, whom I know better than anyone. ‘For what man knows the things of a man, except the spirit of man which is in him?’ 1 Or put another way, ‘After all, who can really see into a person’s heart and know his hidden impulses except for that person’s spirit?’ 2

I can converse with my dark-skinned friends about racial justice issues all I want. But I will never be able to say truly and fully, ‘I know how you feel,’ or ‘I know how it was.’ Nor can they about me, actually. But we can share matters of the heart: love, fear, joy, pain, anxiety, certainty; hopes, dreams and expectancy; all those invisible, eternal things.3 Those are common to us all.

So let us begin there. Those are our common ground. That’s where our reconciliation begins: in humility and vulnerability.4 That was Christ’s model. God humbled himself to appear in the world as a human being. Divine and living a perfect life, yet vulnerable. As a baby, as a boy, as a man killed brutally and unjustly for the crimes of others. For me. For you. Because of me. Because of you.

As I attempt to approach all these ideas with humility and vulnerability, I should be able to ask the same of you. All of us are equal or none of us is. As for the ignorance I experience? So long as I don’t use it as a shield to avoid my deficiencies, I’ll be all right.

1. 1 Corinithians 2:11
2. 1 Corinthians 2:11 (TPT)
3. 2 Corinthians 4:18
4. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21

Image by Anna Shvets via Pexels

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