And Finally: January 2018

As I sit to write this article today it is exactly one week until Christmas. We have just lit our pink candles in the Advent Wreath – the candle of joy or sometimes called the Mary candle. I’ve been thinking about Mary a lot and noticed that others have as well. In the past week I must have seen three or four posts on social media offering a remedy to the “sentimentalized” versions of Mary we so often settle for this time of year. One was an article taking an un-sentimentalized view of the Magnificat. Another was a re-write to the contemporary Christmas song “Mary Did You Know” doing much the same thing: recovering the strong vision of justice that Mary knows from the prophet Isaiah and foresees in the coming ministry of her son.

We need a similar movement to disavow any sentimental notions we might bring to the concept of reconciliation. I was re-reading a book recently that I highly recommend to you if you haven’t read it yet: Dear White Christians: For those Still Longing for Reconciliation. When I first read it several years ago I was preparing to lead an adult education session in the Season of Reconciliation. The first part of the book deconstructs why the language of “reconciliation” (which is a beloved buzz word among progressive Christians when thinking about race) is so problematic as to be unusable as a term all together. You can’t reconcile something that has never been conciliatory to begin with. The pressure to “reconcile” can feel to many people of color laboring for justice as just one more instance of someone crying “peace, peace when there is no peace.” I have not abandoned the category of reconciliation all together. But I have recognized that I am no longer satisfied with a sentimentalized vision for what the work of reconciliation includes. It is a labor of love that takes us deep into soulful work and the territory of equity and justice as well as the terrain of forgiveness and mercy. We cannot have the latter without the former.

I love a good reconciliation story. Truly, I do. The kind where impossible obstacles are overcome and understanding and forgiveness breaks through the bitterness and division we all know too well. Those are miraculous stories that are shot through with grace and can bring a tear to the eye as we marvel at the ways that with God nothing is impossible (to circle back to those stories of Mary once again). We have heard some of those stories in the witnesses to reconciliation members and friends of Hope Church have shared over the years. They are powerful.

But I also know that some of us have been slogging through the hard, hard labor of reconciliation where there is no happy ending in sight. And there may never be this side of glory. These stories don’t lend themselves so easily to a “Witness to Reconciliation”. But as I talk with people about those very messy efforts to work for justice in the face of inequity or to learn how to let anger go despite someone’s refusal to repent of the pain they have caused or figure out how to be sane in a situation that is anything but that, I bear witness to the work of reconciliation. It’s hard, hard work. Impossible in some instances. But it is our work nonetheless. It is the work God has given herself to and in her persistence and unwillingness to let us go, I find great hope. So as we move into the Season of Reconciliation in the month ahead, I encourage us to welcome all that this season can bring.

Peace to you,
~Pastor Jill