Tag Archives: 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

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

Skeleton With Candy

Giving In

(A five minute read – part of a year-long series on the Ministry of Reconciliation

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

Original Sin has been debated, discussed, dissected and derided as much as any Biblical concept. I find less difficulty wrestling with the problem than with the solution.

The Bible reports that original sin was the catalyst for God’s plan of redemption, for people and the world. This plan began its culmination in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It continues through the work of the Church in the present age and Christ’s eventual return to judge creation.

You can lose yourself down endless hermeneutical rabbit holes here. Or have some pretty spicy arguments around the holiday dinner table (Been there. Done both. Don’t recommend either.)

What if?

But what if creation didn’t get off track with Adam and Eve’s sin? What if the trouble came because they didn’t repent and reconcile themselves to God?

Hold it. Relax. Call off the Twitter mob. Put away the paintball guns and re-pack the label of heretic so many are quickly adorned with nowadays. This is merely a thought experiment. Rest assured that I believe sin was the problem, is the problem and will continue to be the problem until Christ’s return. But it’s not unsolvable.

Jesus’ work on earth is the answer to sin that Adam and Eve couldn’t quite grasp.

We all know the story, but to recap: Adam and Eve are created to be in relationship with God, tending the garden of Eden. The devil cons Eve into thinking God’s holding out on her and she’s missing something. She agrees to munch on the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam follows suit. In creation’s first face-palm moment, the two of them have their eyes opened to the reality that they’re in Really Big Trouble.

An ‘oh crap’ situation of cosmic proportions has developed. Decision time then. Come clean? Or live in shame?

You know the rest. They selected Door Number Two and decided to become tailors. They sewed garments of fig leaves to cover their nakedness. God dramatically asks a Very Large Rhetorical Question, as He often does: ‘Hey Adam – where you at?’

There is a second decision point and Adam does a bit better this time. He comes half-clean, admitting that he was afraid due to being caught out of his knickers. But he didn’t go far enough to admit outright all they had done.

So, God bears down: ‘Who told you you were naked? Did you eat the fruit?’

Is it Really All Downhill From Here?

Decision time again. The third time pays for all. Adam blows it completely. He blames his wife (husbands take note: this never works). Eve blames the devil (wives take note: not a good idea; better to blame the husband). I imagine Satan standing there with a ‘Who, Me?’ look on his face thinking ‘Curses, foiled again.’ Indeed then, curses are the order of the day.1

But wait a minute.

What if Adam and Eve had made a full confession at that first question and thrown themselves on the mercy of the court? What if they had repented?

There’s nothing in the Genesis story hinting that God would have forgiven them and let everything rewind and start over. But it’s not beyond my imagination to think that He would not have or could not have. Funny things happen in a universe that allows for free will.

We know how things turned out for the ancients. But thanks to Jesus Christ, they can turn out differently for you and me.

Much of Scripture is interpreted to shove sin down our throat: sin is the world’s only problem! Well yes, but let’s not condemn ourselves for sinning just yet. Because there’s a way out. There is forgiveness for sin, because there is grace – again, thanks to Christ. Even if you aren’t a Christian and want to relabel sin as ‘crappy behavior’ it’s all about the same. We screw up and need to make amends to one another and create reconciliation.

It’s just that we need to do that on the spiritual level first, if we are to get out from under the eternal burden of it. But God understands. The Psalmist reminds us that ‘He knows how we are formed. He remembers that we are dust.’ 2

We Are In Trouble, And Yet…

As theologian Karl Barth pointed out, this grace comes from God assuming we are ‘in distress and that God’s intention is to…grant (us) assistance in (our) extremity.’ 3

Isn’t that remarkable? What a relief. God knows we are in trouble. We are constantly and always in trouble. Even Christians who have turned away from a sin lifestyle suffer from thoughts, actions and lack of actions that miss the mark. We are always in some sort of trouble, even if we don’t talk about it.

As I wrote elsewhere, we must learn to breathe underwater because life is always over our heads. The smart Christian admits this, and asks always and constantly for Help.

So, sin dogs me, as it dogs us all, believer and unbeliever alike. That’s unavoidable with us being born into a spiritual war zone and all. But I’ll argue that my ultimate problem is not sin. It’s hard-heartedness, leading to a lack of repentance.

My solution must be a quick about-face to acknowledge the mistake and offer a meaningful apology. Otherwise I’ll fall into a pattern of sin, which will only increase. The better alternative is to step into a pattern of repentance, which will only increase.

That’s the key. Oswald Chambers said ‘the foundation of Christianity is repentance.’ 4 He’s right, because sin doesn’t make us bad. It makes us dead.

(based on an idea from Melanie Searle)

1. See Genesis 3:1-19
2. Psalm 103:14
3. Karl Barth, Unspoken Sermons, First Series
4. My Utmost For His Highest Devotional Journal, Oswald Chambers, (© 1992 Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd. Used with permission). He was commenting on 2 Corinthians 7:10, which says: ‘Godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but the sorrow of the world produces death.’

Image by Cottonbro via Pexels