Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The difficulty with reconciliation

One of my favorite movies is “Cry Freedom,” which was based on a true story of the relationship between a white South African newspaper editor and a banned black activist whom he had savaged in print. At the behest of the activist’s mistress, the editor decided to pay a visit to the activist and experience his world. What the editor found was that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Eventually, the two men became friends and the editor became an activist in his own right, using the paper as a weapon against the unjust system of apartheid. The activist died in police custody, and when the editor decided to take his crusade to the world the South African government promptly banned him. The movie ended with the editor and his family managing to slip out of South Africa on a plane so that a book he could publish a book.

I bring this up because I don’t think we appreciate just how hard the work of reconciliation is. And much of that has to do with the unwillingness to consider life from another's point of view.

The incidents with Michael Brown and Eric Garner last year and Trayvon Martin the year before that should make that clear. (I don't need to go through the particulars, so I won't.) What bugged me the most was that activist Al Sharpton, who went to Missouri and Florida to organize, ended up being savaged for being, among other things, a "race-baiter" without considering his real mission. (By the way, Martin Luther King Jr. was denounced in the same way over 50 years ago.) What are people supposed to do — simply ignore the issue?

People need to be heard in their grief, and telling them simply to "get over it" is probably even more cruel than the act itself.

You see, to work on reconciliation you have to admit and come to terms with the fact that there's a breach that needs to be addressed for which you share the responsibility. "Well, I don't see one," you might say. Exactly, and that's the point.

That especially works on a spiritual plane as well. One reason why "evangelism" is so difficult in this country is because much of the church doesn't have a bead on its own separation from God — that is, the one that formerly existed. A second reason is that if often doesn't get the breach that exists between its members, sometimes based on race, class, culture and other things that divide. What's worse is that if you address these issues you're often labeled as "divisive." Though I recognize and thank God for the civil-rights and anti-apartheid movements, I mourn the reality that both pitted one set of Christians against another set of Christians.

So what do with do? Talk, listen and be willing enter another's world. Hard to do now, but we'll be blessed if we do.

When the editor and his wife were visiting with the activist’s widow after his death, she asked them, “You will come to the funeral?”

“Will we be welcome?” he asked, humbly.

“Yes," she responded. "You and [your wife] are our brother and sister” — a strong statement in that culture.

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