A recent interruption of my activist impulses by the power of poetry inspired me to do what I haven’t done in at least 10 years: write a poem. This came as a great gift, on Thanksgiving day no less, because I have come to believe that sometimes it is poetry which can communicate life as “sign” and “wonder” in a way that prose cannot. To be specific, living in South Korea and serving with the Mennonite Central Committee in engaging North Korea as well, it can be difficult these days to communicate hope about healing the divide. But a visit to a small sign of hope inside the (heavily-militarized) Demilitarized Zone near the border inspired this poem, which I claim (in faith) as primary reality.
On a Visit to the Border Peace School
But I saw the majestic red-crowned crane.
As tanks nearby and the tumult of nations clamored all around —
South, north, west, east —
For the first time, in the DMZ of all places, I saw the legendary crane.
And I heard a prophet whisper “peace …. someday soon,”
As he slipped away to pray on a mountain nearby.
Thanksgiving Day, Korea, 2016
The poetry of Denise Levertov inevitably, for me, gets life right. Frustrated with a number of situations I cannot solve, I happened upon her poem “Let Us Sing Unto the Lord a New Song.” My activist impulses to “fix” were interrupted. The greater neglect in our world is not activist revolution, but poetry; yet when they mesh, “the singing begins.” Here’s an excerpt:
breaks the chest almost,
and if its beat
life itself shall cease.
and if that pulse
fever shall parch the soul, breath
choke upon ashes.
But when their rhythms
then though the pain of living
never lets up
The singing begins.
Grace Day 2016: 4 Quotes on the Upside-Down, Unfair, Often Unsettling, and Utterly Beautiful Gift of Grace
In 1997, after experiencing a wondrous breakthrough to deeper love in our life together, the members of our Antioch Community in Jackson, Mississippi declared every October 18 forward to be “Grace Day.” A day to remember all of God’s wondrous interruptions in our lives. A day to remember that if the gospel we live comes to be mostly about trying harder and doing more, it is not good news. A day to remember to not take ourselves too seriously… and to get enough sleep. A day to remember, as the old folks used to say in Jackson, that “God might not come when you want Him, but He’s always right on time.”
Today, on Grace Day 2016, here are 4 of my favorite quotes about grace—from Nadia Bolz-Weber, Spencer Perkins, Pope Francis, and Flannery O’Connor. Lord knows these days we need a dose of what they speak of.
“I think a lot of congregations have a situation where there are more people talking about God in the basement during the week; the basement of their church is more full of people talking honestly about their lives and connecting that with some kind of trust in God. I think that happens more frequently in their basements than it does in their sanctuaries. … You know what organization is not really having a problem is AA; it’s doing fine. They’re not in a crisis. There aren’t meetings in AA where they’re like, ‘How can we get people to start showing up more?’ So I think that there’s something about people speaking honestly about their lives, and sometimes, I think, church is more about pretending your life is fine, and, I think, less and less people have time for that.”
— Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor of The House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, on basing some of her practice on Alcoholics Anonymous
“But grace is not about being fair. We wouldn’t dare demand fairness from God. What’s so amazing about grace is that God forgives us and embraces us even though we don’t deserve it. What’s new about grace, at least for me, is that because we are grateful for what God did for us, we allow him to do the same to others through us. This means that if I know this loving God who is so full of grace, then I will forgive, accept, and embrace those who, like me, don’t deserve my grace and forgiveness. Our willingness and ability to give grace or to forgive others is an accurate indicator of how well we know God … What I am learning about grace lifts a weight from my shoulders, which is nothing short of invigorating. When we can forgive and accept those who refuse to listen to God’s command to do justice, it allows them to hear God’s judgment without feeling a personal judgment from us. Which, in the end gives our message more integrity. The ability to give grace while preaching justice makes our witness even more effective.”
— Spencer Perkins, in the final article he published
“I am always struck when I reread the parable of the merciful Father. … The Father, with patience, love, hope and mercy, had never for a second stopped thinking about [his wayward son], and as soon as he sees him still far off, he runs out to meet him and embraces him with tenderness, the tenderness of God, without a word of reproach. … God is always waiting for us, He never grows tired. Jesus shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence and hope — always!”
— Pope Francis, Homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 7, 2013
“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”
— Writer Flanner O’Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor
This is my first time to announce a new published writing of mine with both great delight and a bit of dismay.
The delight: A wonderful new book was just released, Conflict Transformation and Religion: Essays on Faith, Power, and Relationship (Palgrave Macmillan). My chapter in this multiple-author book is “‘Word Made Flesh’: Toward a Pedagogy of a New We.” I tell the story of a conflict that broke out between Rwandans and Congolese at our 2013 African Great Lakes Institute in Kampala, Uganda, and use this as a backdrop to describe the methodology we developed which seeks to bring divided “us and them” groups into a new we.
For me, our pedagogy became a response to a question which haunted me from my first visit to Rwanda in 2004 , posed by a church leader there: “How do we form Christians who say no to killing?” The Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation (where I was co-director with Emmanuel Katongole) sought to provide an answer from the world of theological education. Could we create a school of conversion–a space that would bring together Christians from divided countries, denominations, institutions, and ethnic groups; change their hearts and minds and relationships; and form them into a community of change in the region? The “Word Made Flesh” methodology I describe is now embedded into the Duke Summer Reconciliation Institute, the African Great Lakes Institute, and the Northeast Asia Reconciliation Initiative. The gift of writing the chapter was to express how pedagogy can become a means of grace. What a privilege to work with the other authors, both scholars and practitioners, and to see the various ways we approach conflict transformation and education.
The dismay: I can barely fix my mouth to say this book costs $69.99 on the Palgrave site (an electronic version at that), and my single chapter can be purchased for the walloping price of $29.95. My goodness, this a book, not caviar. Still, do consider buying a copy for your church or organization, or ask your university or public library to order it. My fellow authors wrote some terrific chapters (and I am grateful for the tireless work of editor Ellen Ott Marshall of the Candler School at Emory). Here is what Palgrave says about the book:
Writing from a variety of contexts, the contributors to this volume describe the ways that conflict and their efforts to engage it constructively shape their work in classrooms and communities. Each chapter begins with a different experience of conflict—a physical confrontation, shooting and killing, ethnic violence, a hate crime, overt and covert racism, structural violence, interpersonal conflict in a family, and the marginalization of youth. The authors employ a variety of theoretical and practical responses to conflict, highlighting the role that faith, power, and relationships play in processes of transformation. As these teachers and ministers engage conflict constructively, they put forward novel approaches toward teaching, training, care, solidarity, and advocacy. Their stories demonstrate how conflict can serve as a site for positive change and transformation.
Wonderful article in The Mennonite by Sue Park-Hur on recent Northeast Asia Reconciliation Forum in Hong Kong. One excerpt from “Lament That Leads to Hope”:
Ellen Davis of Duke Divinity School gave a lecture on the Psalms of lament. She reminded us that lament is a spiritual practice that does not come naturally. Whining comes naturally, but lament is difficult theological work. Complaint is natural, but it does not transform us, whereas in the process of genuine lamenting to God, new vision unfolds and we can be transformed.
Her insights gave us a framework to lament the pain and despair we see so much in Northeast Asia. It provided a guideline to trust that the one we cry out to hears and transforms us, bringing us to a place of hope.
Sue also tells a moving story of our Macau pilgrimage. Known as the “Vegas of Asia,” less known is Macau’s place in the origins of Christianity shared by Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans. Sue tells of standing under a statue of Korean martyr who was the first Catholic priest in Korea:
It was in Macau in 1826, at the age of sixteen, that St. Andrew Kim first came to study at the seminary. Later, in 1844, he was ordained in Shanghai and returned to Korea to preach and evangelize. He was martyred for his faith in 1846 in Korea at the age of 25.
As a mother of a 16-year-old son, I considered not only the immense calling and sacrifice of St. Andrew Kim, but of his parents… In standing before the statue with other Korean participants [both Protestant and Catholic], I recognized that this was sacred ground. The kernel of wheat that fell and died has indeed produced many seeds. We who gathered under St. Andrew’s statue were Koreans living in South and North Korea, Canada, and the U.S. Although we were from multiple denominational backgrounds, we have committed to the work of peace and reconciliation, recognizing that this is at the heart of the gospel. The work before us is a gift and a privilege given to us from the sacrifices of our ancestors, and we embrace the calling to continue following Jesus who unites us.
In 2012, when I was at the Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation, we looked at rising conflicts around the globe and decided to gather 28 Christian leaders from China, Japan, Korea, and the U.S. to discern the signs of the times and ask if a fresh space was needed to further peace and reconciliation in Northeast Asia. It was a rare meeting of Protestant and Catholic, academics and church leaders and practitioners. It was awkward at times and there were many surprises. One Hong Kong church leader said he had never seen so many Japanese Christians in one room–six! (Christians are less than 1% of Japan’s population, but what a terrific sextet we had). For three days we worshiped together, ate together, wrestled with Scripture together, and talked deeply about historical wounds and current divides and rising tensions in the region. At times it was contentious. But unexpected joy and laughter too.
At the end, the group called for a new initiative to nourish Christian leadership, theology, mission, and collaboration for the ministry of reconciliation in Northeast Asia.
Over the three years since, a core group who were largely strangers to one another have become companions in organizing what we now call the Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia–a kind of “theological fueling station” for the difficult work of peace and reconciliation. After Duke in 2012 (Duke is still a core partner and Mennonite Central Committee is a newer one), we expanded the group in South Korea in 2014 and then Nagasaki Japan in 2015, and this year we meet in Hong Kong.
I am happy to introduce the Forum’s new web site at neareconciliation.com. Below are three of my favorite stories posted there which embody the “new we” at the heart of our vision which we believe God is about, even in this time of rising tensions.
Last week my wife Donna and I returned from six days in North Korea, representing MCC along with two colleagues. Along with other Christian organizations, MCC is seeking to be a reconciliatory presence at a time of rising hostilities. In this spirit we at MCC recently published “Frequently asked questions on North Korea, MCC’s work, and why sanctions matter.” In addition to the urgent need for humanitarian exceptions, one question we address: If North Korea is considered an enemy of the United States, why should MCC assist North Koreans with food and material resources?
See the full document: Sanctions on North Korea (DPRK) are not the answer
“MCC was engaged as a reconciliatory presence with people in countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Cuba before they had diplomatic relations with the U.S. Engagement, not isolation, is a more effective way to bring understanding between peoples and plant seeds for a new future of peace and security for all.”