Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Vision and Realities of Reconciliation, part three

The Vision and Realities of Reconciliation, Part Three
Lecture Notes From Perkins, chapter 14 and Update
Rev. Ron Robinson

This is a key chapter with issues deep into ministry, and life itself, through the struggle along the spectrum of “Doing and Being.” As Plato said: To Do Is To Be. As Aristotle said: To Be Is To Do. As Sinatra said: Do Be Do Be Do…
As Perkins says, the focus should be on our complete holistic Being, for that is only achieved when it contains Doing, the living out of our Being, our Being in God. This is contextual, as he says, but in our Western cultural worldview, and Western religions worldview, and particularly American and Protestant Work Ethic worldview, we tend to find it more convenient to focus on programs than people, on a to-do list than a to-be list. This also tends to accentuate the individualist nature of our cultural and religious worldview, instead of the being approach which leads to a focus on the Body of Christ.

I like to use the mirror words of imitation and initiation. How are we Being? Is a question that reminds us that we are to be imitators of Christ, and to live as if the Kingdom of God were here; and in this way we help to initiate it; of course, sometimes we simply have to start helping to initiate it, to act our way into new thinking and being, just start doing, or jump-start our doing with others, and let that lead us into the Deeper Being from which more doing will come.

He says we must be the Body before we can do the work of the Body, but that it is not simply enough to be a community that does nothing but see itself as a reconciled community; that is a departure point not a destination point. This is all a part of how Perkins keeps coming back to a sense of holistic ministry. Social action in the neighborhood is necessary but not enough; being in a racially reconciled congregation with people of different races, or working regularly with those of other races, is necessary but is not enough. He sees evangelistic action as necessary to bring “unbelievers” to Christ, but it is not enough without social justice. I see it as one of the differences that Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost talk about between “community” and “communitas.” Community is inward looking and dwelling whereas communitas is a relational community that is externally looking and dwelling.

We each need to know, as he discerned about himself, toward which end of the spectrum of doing or being do we tend to emphasize and which do we neglect; in what ways do we lose our balance between doing and being?

Being in community, which is the deepest sense of Being, is difficult, he says, because it means inherently to be in tension with others, to struggle, to engage with conflict. (One of the reasons why it is difficult to grow in community among and with the most vulnerable is that the very community which would be most liberating and saving for them means also an increase in struggle and emotional pain and conflict, and being vulnerable they are already experiencing much of that from simple life itself; becoming a part of a community is harder for some people than others. This is where his admonition that we need to discern our gifts and diverse strengths and let them lead us in and through community is helpful.

Particularly, but not limited to, racial reconciliation work, he lifts up the importance of self-differentiation. He says persons of one ethnic group, of those in dominant cultures for example, can not hold themselves and their gifts back as a way of trying to further the lives of others and the reconciliation effort, because reconciliation needs the fullness of all who engage with it. Neither can they hold onto their natural inclination to set the cultural norms and to always be the leaders in the group, but must be willing and eager to submit their leadership to others who have been in abandoned areas longer, or who have suffered from the unjust systems and have grown into leadership through their own hard experiences in the local area. To be self-differentiated emotionally means to be able to hold the pain and vulnerability of one’s self and others without giving in to it; it means being able to risk the hard conversations about race and culture and class and privilege without the fear that making mistakes in that conversation, or the fear of change, will keep us silent and a part from one another.

I have refined and reframed the steps of covenant and community that were modified from the work of Tich Nhat Hanh particularly. Our task in community is  1. Show up. This act of simple doing, simple presence. 2. Look Up. Pay attention, be empathetic, hear others into speech. 3. Speak up. The truth in love. 4. Act up. Commit to working together with others. 5. Show up. When all else fails in steps one through four, have the trust to start it all again and not let the disappointment and disillusionment stop us.

How in community are we committed to one another through being committed together to the mission of the community? This is true for a small community oir congregation; it is also true he says for working in the broader perspective where it is congregations or people groups working together, especially if it is between a community that has relocated to a poor area and a church or group that has been there before and remained. This brings us back to his primary focus of the 3Rs on the need for ways to Relocate in order to facilitate the deepest kind of reconciliation, to meet God most fully in transformative work. (And yet, still he makes room for people to be engaged in reconciliation work even if they can not relocate with all of their life; for example, how a white woman enrolled in a black college, or even arranging for opportunities for people of different ethnicities to socialize together (preferably I would add in not just one setting which might be the safest for the host).

In the update in the revised edition of the book, Perkins even updates the reconciliation aims beyond race which has been his life’s story and work. In the years after Sept. 11, 2001, he says now there is need to work on reconciliation with Muslims more, and people of diverse cultures and beliefs. I would add in reconciliation with people of different sexual orientations as well. He ends the Update as he begins chapter 14: reminding us of the mission of loving God AND loving our neighbors; loving our neighbors AS loving God. This stance of reconciliation grows out of Relocation because relocation reminds us that when Jesus talks about our neighbors, as in the parable of the Samaritan on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, that our neighbors are those we fear, those we despise, those who are different from us, those we want to stay away from, etc.

Discussion Question:
Can you illustrate from your own life, the problem of trying to be without doing at the personal level? What about the problem of putting being ahead of doing? Which of these two tendencies do you have to guard against more? Which does your church, and why?

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