In their book, Living Reconciliation, Phil Groves and Angharad Parry Jones give an account of reconciliation between a number of theologians from different African countries. When gathered together, they were asked, how did they as African Anglicans understand the processes of transforming conflict? For them to go forward together, how would they reconcile against the backdrop of a recent civil war? The writers reflect that ‘reconciliation was not a vague irrelevance…this was the reality in the room.’ How would the call to reconcile in Christ be received where symptoms of continuing conflict kept rising?
The days passed and people — clergy and laity alike — discussed the Gospel and conflict resolution found particularly in the Scriptures. How could they live the new perspective offered by biblical reflection and discussion? Their suffering was indeed real and their doubts of reconciliation were equally as real. The Southern writer Flannery O’Connor once wrote there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe, but for her, these torments were ‘the process by which faith is deepened.’ And so this deepening in faith occurred among those attending the conference. And as a group they looked at the account of Jesus and Peter.
Enthusiastic and uncertain, allow me to introduce Peter. Temperamental, sometimes bullying, especially when food is involved; however, he was teachable. He learned that reconciliation does not end. Groves and Jones explain, ‘Key to Peter’s journey with Jesus is the constant refrain, not of getting it right and then getting it wrong, but in thinking he has got it — he has arrived — only to realize that the journey with Jesus never ends’ (p. 18).
This makes me think are we defining who we are and explaining the Christian faith to those who genuinely do not know what grace is, or who think redemption is not much more than some sort of retrieval system?
Peter is always shocked with Jesus’ decisions and teachings only to have moments when he realizes there is more to this Jesus than what he immediately gets.
‘There are people who live their entire lives with faith only as small as a mustard seed. And that’s my wife,’ says a friend. ‘But it’s still faith.’ And the clergy and laity in Africa, moved in faith, in the steps of the journey of reconciliation. A journey with the Lord.
As Christians who step forward daily in faith, are people seeing the true kindness in forgiveness? Are they seeing us journeying into reconciliation?
John Paul Sartre wrote man is condemned to be free; because once he is thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. But people are asking the Church, is that really all there is to this life?
There is a sign in a nearby restaurant that reads: Focus, Discipline, Effort, Care.
And this is the sign for the Church as they dwell in the grace of God in the love of Christ and with the comfort and direction of the Holy Spirit.
The Church has proven itself not to be a balloon of cuteness, where everyone is longing for a pin. The Church has shown its relevance. As the writers of Living Reconciliation contend, the Church is not ‘called to be flawless, because like Peter we are going to get things wrong, but to be open to constantly learning, to be drawn further in by Jesus and to look beyond our immediate horizons. The first task is to hear the call and embark on the journey’ (p. 20).
Rebecca Terhune, ’15
Phil Groves and Angharad Parry Jones, Living Reconciliation (London: SPCK, 2014), 14-20.