Can Reconciliation Be Beautiful?

A few months ago I wrote a blog post called “Freedom is not a Zero-Sum Game,” and my point in that blog was that the thriving of one community does not have to happen at the expense of another. This is a lesson that gardening taught me. There is a way in nature for different plants, species, and soil microbes to live and work together so that everyone thrives, blooms, fruits and prospers in their own time. Its quite miraculous really.

The metaphor of the garden is one that I frequently return to in my justice and reconciliation work because I think that God has written his intentions for humanity into every piece of creation. Sunrises and sunsets are beautiful and awe-inspiring. The tallest trees take decades to grow and they provide shade for the earth. Water flows, moves and bends downhill to nourish the lowest places. Tomato plants and basil plants– in all of their differences – when grown up together, provide nutrients and sustenance for one another. The natural world – creation – has so much teach us about life and about what it means to be human.

Following this train of thought and given my experiences with growing things, I can’t help but wonder: if it’s true that God is telling his story through the natural and created world, then is it possible for us to be compelled by not only by anger and pain, but by a sheer love for beauty to pursue reconciliation, justice and equality across lines of difference? Is this possible?

I hesitate to ask this question because many of the justice and reconciliation frames that I have inherited over the years have been very angry. And justifiably so. I don’t condemn anger – it’s valid. I simply wonder what it would happen if we employed a different frame. What would that even look like?

In my community development training, I have been taught that when seeking to address a social problem, you can’t start with deficits. Old paradigms of poverty alleviation and economic development began with the questions, “What is wrong here?” and “What assets from outside of the situation do we need to bring in to fix the problem?” In the late 80s/early 90s, a couple of researchers, John Kretzmann and John McKnight began asking a different set of questions. They began exploring, “What is going right here?” and “How can we mobilize capacities across the board to engage and empower the gifts that already exist in this community?”

This is the difference between asset-framing and deficit-framing. One emphasizes abundance; the other emphasizes lack.

When I ask the question, “Can reconciliation be beautiful,” what I’m really wondering is whether or not there is room for us to be compelled by a different narrative. The reality is that in the next 25 years, demographically, our country will no longer be majority white. The reality is that my generation and that the generation of my children, will live in a substantially more diverse and more integrated world, with interracial marriages and multi-racial families on the rise.

I think of my regular interactions at farmers’ markets and movie theaters and I see people coming together and sharing life in ways that would have been unprecedented twenty to thirty years ago. The world is changing. Do I think that we have it all together? No. Do I think that we have a lot of work to do to understand each other, to nurture compassion and to build cross-cultural competency? Absolutely. But are there glimmers of a new humanity that we can champion, celebrate and lift up along the way? Yeah, I think so.

Last week I was sitting in a class where the teaching pastor shared one of my favorite quotations by John Eldredge. He said,

“I daresay we’ve heard a bit about original sin, but not nearly enough about original glory, which comes before sin and is deeper to our nature.”

It takes courage to live into original glory because it requires that we do the uncomfortable and new work of re-framing original sin. That’s vulnerable. I think we’ve grown used to our deficit-orientation in the church and there is fear that we will shine too brightly or become too exalted if we focus on our assets. I can’t help but wonder what our good Father has to say about that.

So, can reconciliation be beautiful? Can we be compelled by beauty first? I think my answer is yes. I am giving myself permission to begin looking at this conversation differently. Will you join me?

You can listen to more of my thoughts on this here; listen to the SoundCloud Link Titled "Intro_Can We Be Compelled by Beauty?"

Much love, friends.