Rev. Dr. Willie James Jennings, the Associate Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School, wrote in his book The Christian Imagination: The Theology and Origins of Race: “In truth, it is not at all clear that most Christians are ready to imagine reconciliation.” I had to pause there. Not only was it true, but more needed to be said.
I could not move to the next sentence. I lost interest in reading the next chapter. Instead, I needed to sit down with these words and listen for more of their meaning and implications.
Dr. Jennings did not say that most Christians were not ready to answer the call to the ministry of reconciliation or even to practice reconciliation (Second Corinthians 5.17-21). He said that most of us are not ready to even imagine it. Think about that.
We cannot get a picture in our heads of reunion. The social construct of race has really gotten in the way and it is hard to see around it to how we can be brought together again. We aren’t even able to see how this is going to work or see ourselves in this work.
Sure, we have the Scriptures for it but what about a plan of action? Where are the real success stories? What about an actual ministry of reconciliation? Let me check the list of committees. Fellowship. Outreach. Missions. Education. Reconciliation? Nope.
Maybe the word is too long. It is too much too say and it does not produce quick results and instant gratification. It will not make us feel good right away.
I did an internet search of images of reconciliation and the pickings were slim and poor. See the image at the beginning of this post as proof. Most were cartoons as if to suggest that there were no real life examples. Some were statues so we are inspired by the word and we would like to look at it– even if it is not real life and the bodies are stuck in this position of embrace and welcome. This is not realistic. Others were artistic renderings of biblical stories of reconciliation so as to point to the model and the call to be reconciled. But, actual and real pictures of reconciliation were hard to find.
Why is that? Why is it that we do not have images and real models for the ministry of reconciliation? Perhaps, it is because reconciliation is a troubling word for Christians. We have had a long history of division, separation and splits. While we are being made new, I believe that we have held onto some of the old words and in so doing, we maintain these old and difficult relationships with each other.
If we are to have a vision for reconciliation, we must allow God to make us completely new– not simply swap out the parts that we don’t like. That’s the only way that this is going to work. We’re going to have to start from scratch, using God’s words only. I may be biased but it sounds like words associated with race would have to go.
Take a picture of reconciliation when you do and send it to me.