by Reverend David Weekley
This paper explores an emerging theology of reconciliation, the practices that sustain it, and how this theology may contribute to creating a culture of justpeace. The paper engages class resources from The Spirit and Art of Conflict Transformation class, and my reflections on these resources. Through my reflections a visual image formed I believe describes my approach to creating a culture of justpeace. The image is of concentric circles moving from the inner circle outward, much as a raindrop falling into a pool of water creates such expanding circles. This image is helpful because I think justpeace begins with the inner self and undulates outward embracing interpersonal relationships, and ultimately the broader community and world. Words from two favorite hymns come to mind from this image. The first hymn is “Let There be Peace on Earth (and let it begin with me).” The second is a contemporary song composed by United Methodist musician Mark Miller, Draw the Circle Wide: “Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still, let this be our song, no-one stands alone; standing side by side….draw the circle, draw the circle wide.” Over the course of our class I discerned the necessity of such movement for creating justpeace. Many of the texts and resources explored in The Spirit and Art of Conflict Transformation class affirm this type of progression. If I do not create peace within, how can I imagine peace anywhere else? Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore addresses a similar question: “How can people engage in peacemaking if they (we) cannot imagine a peaceful world? During the term I discovered this class not only provides many resources and tools for creating justpeace, it is itself an instrument of justpeace experienced through the readings, rituals, role-plays, day retreat, class discussions, and guests. Together these resources allow me to imagine peace within myself; peace in interpersonal relationships; and ultimately peace in the world.
The scripture passage that best speaks to me of peace within oneself is found in the gospel of Matthew: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind….You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt.22: 37, 39). Through this class I came to understand the utter impossibility of loving God or anyone else if I do not love myself; and, conversely, it is impossible to love myself if I do not reach out with love to God and neighbor. I have also come to understand that conflict is unavoidable, and that facing conflict is necessary for creating justpeace. This is a significant discovery because it frees me to face conflict rather than to avoid or fear it. How we think about, and then act in relation to the conflicts we encounter in our lives either extends or hinders justpeace. Walter Wink makes the following remark in reference to practical nonviolence:
“…the ultimate goal of nonviolence is not victory over an enemy but the transformation only
love can effect. And that transformation may change us every bit as much as those whom
we oppose. Nonviolence is an aperture open to God. It is intercession in action. It appeals, as
the Quakers say, to “that of God” in the other. It invites a miracle.”
I believe the initial miracle is opening ourselves to self and God through personal examination and practices that transform and prepare us to view and encounter others through the lens of nonviolence and reconciliation. Because transformation is wholistic and is affected by and affects personal choices about our bodies, our emotions, our relationships, our spirituality, and vocations; to begin with personal practices that lead toward self-mercy, healing and compassion are critical. Though not explicitly stated as a spiritual practice I find the Life Wheel as described in Ron Kraybill’s manuscript, Restoring Those Who Heal a very helpful a self-assessment tool, and an entrance point for self-reflection. Having a visual reference for understanding where my life is unbalanced is helpful. Lectio Divina (Holy Reading), a more formal spiritual practice, is also helpful in the process of personal spiritual work. I especially find reflection on scriptures related to peace useful. Contemplative prayer is another central practice for guiding and nurturing the inner, personal circle of justpeace. Less formal but equally significant to me are the practices of walking, gardening, music, drawing and journaling. In the past when my life became too busy with work I tended to let these practices slip away, but I have learned that ignoring them negatively impacts every part of my life. Each of these practices helps me to better understand myself, and prepares me to move into the second circle of cultivating justpeace: interpersonal relationships.
Building justpeace through interpersonal relationships begins with a willingness to move beyond bearing grudges and harboring hostilities from past injury. For many people, including myself, this is not always easy. There are times when it is not easy to forgive, or to ask to be forgiven. Sometimes I would prefer to move past this circle altogether, and just focus on the larger, more abstract issue of reconciliation and nonviolence in the broader world. It is at this level of personal relationships that issues around mercy, attentive listening, appreciative inquiry, dialog, and redressing harm become evident in a very personal way, often challenging and uncovering self-righteous attitudes and opinions about others. The scripture I find most challenging within the circle of interpersonal relationship is found in the fifth chapter of Matthew: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). This text also works when I turn it around to consider if I have something against another person and harbor ill will towards others while trying to follow Jesus. As a pastor I experienced instances of church members who would faithfully attend worship while refusing to speak to other members of the congregation because of unhealed wounds and ensuing bitterness. In one congregation two women had not spoken for over twenty years, though one of them had tried unsuccessfully to repair the relationship more than once. The bitter, obvious anger of the other made me wonder how she was able to participate in worship over weeks and years without recognizing the blatant conflict between her behavior and her faith. Chapter three of, “The Journey: Forgiveness, Restorative Justice and Reconciliation” includes a Prayer of Confession that acknowledges:
We confess that the circle of love is repeatedly broken because of our sin of exclusion. We
create separate circles: the inner circle and the outer circle, the circle of power and the circle
of despair, the circle of privilege and the circle of privation…
we confess that the circle of love is broken whenever there is alienation, whenever there is
misunderstanding, whenever there is insensitivity or a hardening of the heart…
we confess that the circle of love is broken whenever we cannot see eye to eye, whenever
we cannot link hand in hand, whenever we cannot live heart to heart and affirm our
In exploring the circle of interpersonal relationships the tools and practices I found most helpful from The Spirit and Art of Conflict Transformation class are listening, appreciative inquiry, dialog, imagination, the circle process, and forgiveness. Each of these practices facilitates processes that encourage movement beyond barriers built by conflict into the possibility of new, just, relationships with others. I would also add the role of imagination in restoring broken relationship. Walter Wink’s, The Powers That Be speaks of the importance of understanding those we consider our enemies as gifts because they can reveal aspects of ourselves we could not otherwise see. For example, as I am able to focus on truly listening to the other, to hear their hopes, understand their concerns and what they care about; to ask questions that invite further understanding, it becomes more possible for me to engage the “other” as a human being rather than as an abstract problem or object of my anger. As my anxiety, fear, and anger subside I am empowered to imagine more creative solutions to conflict rather than retain a defensive, self-righteous posture. Throughout the term I struggled with a particularly difficult interpersonal relationship in which I experienced the abuse of power. Over the course of the term the resources and tools offered in this class have allowed me to move toward forgiveness. While it is not possible at this time to engage the other, I am endeavoring to practice forgiveness within my heart towards this person. I can imagine this person as a gift in my life because I am growing in both self-understanding, and compassion towards others. This is a beginning. Because I am able to take this step, I can also imagine the possibility of reconciliation in the future.
Whether considering an interpersonal relationship that has broken down or preparing for a circle process that involves a group, appreciative inquiry is another essential instrument for moving toward reconciliation. I had never heard about appreciative inquiry before this class and it is one of the most valuable tools I take away from it. Appreciative inquiry enables me, and hopefully all involved, to focus on the positive; to discover, share, dream, hope, and build upon the best of all concerned. I find that appreciative inquiry, and the process of reflecting about and preparing specific questions can itself be a movement toward reconciliation when I am attempting to sort through an interpersonal conflict. Appreciative inquiry helps to sort through possible negative attitudes and expectations of which I may not be conscious, towards a focus on common hopes, dreams, and aspirations I may have either forgotten or never considered.
Moving beyond inner and interpersonal concerns to consider reconciliation, non-violence and creating justpeace on a larger scale brings to mind this scripture from the gospel of Matthew: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on the right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42). For too many years I interpreted this particular passage as advocating a passive, nonresistant stance towards abuse and injustice. When I applied it within this framework to either personal or social injustice or mistreatment, I avoided conflict and eventually felt exhausted from the sheer pressure of ignoring my suppressed anger and the hopelessness that followed. The hopelessness and ensuing depression in turn created distress about the possibility of ever creating a just and peaceful world. This in turn led to feeling frozen, stuck; unable to imagine how to move forward. This interpretation was also confusing because of what appeared to be Jesus’ disregard for social injustice and human suffering in this passage. These words sounded so contrary to everything else modeled and said in other contexts. It was impossible for me to reconcile these words with Jesus’ intolerance towards injustice and inequity in the culture in which he lived. Jesus seemed far too passive and contradictory in these verses. As a result I disregarded this passage for many years. I avoided preaching on it whenever possible because there was no way I would encourage people to justify abuse, or to continue suffering in abusive relationships. Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be helped me to rethink these verses and come to appreciate their potential significance for interpersonal relationships, nonviolent resistance, and the genuine transformation of the world in a way that reconciles, heals, and restores justice without the use of destructive violence. As Wink states, the traditional understanding of this passage as nonresistance to evil is an odd conclusion when Jesus so clearly resisted evil with his whole being. I found these words extremely helpful:
But the gospel does not teach nonresistance to evil. Jesus counsels resistance, but without
violence. The Greek word translated ‘resist’ in Matt. 5:39 is antistenai, meaning literally
to stand (stenai) against (anti). What translators have overlooked is that antistenai is
most often used in the Greek version of the Old Testament as a technical term for warfare…
Jesus is not telling us to submit to evil, but to refuse to oppose it on its own terms. We
are not to let the opponent dictate the methods of our opposition. He is urging us to tran-
scend both passivity and violence by finding a third way, one that is at once assertive
and yet nonviolent.
Understanding the passage in this light provides new possibilities for addressing conflict, violence and injustice, and includes the use of creative imagination in developing practices of nonviolent resistance, dialogue, and circle process. In Wink’s book I found his examples of nonviolent methods employed by people in very threatening circumstances compelling. The woman who was able to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault or worse by engaging in conversation and interaction with her would-be attacker was especially gripping and persuasive. Through these examples I also realized the importance of rehearsal and preparation through training in nonviolence before encountering potentially violent situations.
While the image of expanding concentric circles is useful for organizing my reflections on a theology of reconciliation, clearly all three circles are interrelated, and practices overlap. This makes complete sense within a theological framework that envisions all of creation as intertwined and interconnected through the unconditional love of God. If Jesus is the human embodiment of God, it is impossible to deny that God desires all creation to embrace and embody unconditional love as well. Seen in this light there is absolutely no justification for violence, injustice, or inequity. Unfortunately human history reveals how difficult it is for humans to actually assume the responsibility and take up the challenge to follow this mandate. Equally unfortunate is the complicity of the Christian church and other religions as well in supporting unjust and violent cultures. The concluding section of this paper offers two related and significant elements for moving beyond injustice and violence towards justpeace: appreciating God’s gift of diversity; and recognizing the shadow within, that we may refrain from projecting onto others what we cannot see or accept within ourselves.
In, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations Jonathan Sacks writes, “One belief, more than any other (to quote a phrase of Berlin’s) is responsible for the slaughter of individuals on the altars of the great historical ideals. It is the belief that those who do not share my faith- or my race or my ideology- do not share my humanity. At best they are second-class citizens. At worst they forfeit the sanctity of life itself.” I believe this perspective and operating frame of reference whether contained in a religious, political, or psychological system of thought is directly responsible for the violence in our world. Seeing the “other” as less than human, as a threat to my security and therefore as an enemy is the fundamental root cause of every war, crusade, pogrom and act of violence recorded throughout history. Any theology of reconciliation and justpeace must begin by refuting this belief. The dignity of every person, and the dignity of difference, is central to the teaching of Jesus. Through his practices of eating with those considered sinful or unclean, his interactions with, and welcoming of women and children into community, and reaching out to those viewed as racially or religiously inferior, Jesus modeled unconditional love and compassion. Jesus embodied justpeace. As a Christian I am called and challenged to embody justpeace through word and act as well. Certainly resources such as dialog, appreciative inquiry, and circle process are helpful tools. Employing spiritual practices are also invaluable for personal transformation towards nonviolence and reconciliation. All of these help me grow as a disciple of Jesus. However, these tools and practices remain limited if I deny or neglect to address hidden aspects of myself that I do not like.
Of all the resources we engaged in The Spirit and Art of Conflict Transformation class Walter Wink’s, The Powers That Be was one of the most powerful and personally helpful. Although I had studied Jung’s concept of the shadow previously I found Wink’s use of this idea in relation to nonviolence invaluable. His question, “How can we find God in our enemies?” and the discussion of the shadow that follows expanded my understanding of this concept, and how it functions in justifying and maintaining violence in our world. Wink’s use of the passage from Matthew 7:3-5 was literally eye-opening in this context: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” I have read this passage countless times but never connected it with the total blindness that projection produces, especially in relation to those we consider the enemy. To realize that an enemy can be a gift, helping me see aspects of myself I could not see in any other way; to consider that an enemy can actually be a way to God is transformative. This concept of the role projection plays, and the important function of those we name the enemy in leading us toward wholeness and individuation, is essential for my theology of reconciliation. It also empowers me to view people with whom I struggle in a new frame.The final theological piece and practice I want to address is The Eucharist. I found the discussion in Chapter ten of, The Spirit and Art of Conflict Transformationparticularly significant in relating Holy Communion with creating a culture of justpeace. This ritual has lost its power to heal and transform for many Christians. In every church I served as pastor there were people who told me they did not attend worship when they knew Communion would be included because it took too long! I believe teaching people about the power of Holy Communion to heal, to restore, and to reconcile is an essential element for moving people, communities, and the world towards peace. Tom Porter states, “As John Wesley said, ‘The gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, no holiness, but social holiness.’ Here we understand our interconnection and interdependence. We need each other. The table is a place of accountability to God, to each other, to the cosmos. It is a table of restorative justice, of healing. What better place to bring our conflicts?” If we can imagine and accept that the Communion table is the place where we are accepted, even with our imperfections, even with the log in our eye, even with our projections, then maybe we can also imagine and believe the same holds true for those we name enemy. As we become conscious of this I believe we help fulfill the hymn, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me” and that we do invite a miracle.