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The process of reconciliation

by Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief –

As I write this, my emotions run deep as I ponder the amazing and fascinating confluence of events taking place between the 15th and 20th days of January in this year of our Lord 2009.

January 15 is Reverend Martin Luther King’s birthday. On January 19 the nation pauses to remember this Baptist preacher of Montgomery, Alabama who would have been 80 this year– this man who awakened awareness of our national failure to live fully the ideals of our heritage. We honor his life by recognizing the courage of his conviction, the power of his passion for good, the wisdom of his words, the strength of his non-violent stance, the excellence of his ethic.

January 18th is reconciliation Sunday.

I am continually intrigued that God would use a Christian minister to help us see the sin of separation.

Some say that not much happened in the fifties. Not so.

In 1955, the year the United States Supreme Court ruled in the memorable Brown vs. Board of Education case, finding that segregation by race in schools is illegal, King joined the Montgomery Improvement Association immediately after Rosa Parks, a Negro woman, was arrested and jailed for refusing to move to the back of the bus. This event triggered the American civil-rights movement. Less than a year later the court ruled that bus segregation was illegal.

King’s speeches were never inflammatory. There was always something of the Baptist preacher in the words, the ethic, the pacing of his presentation. He spoke with a sense of love for his neighbors on the day the newscasters announced the court’s decision. He urged us to begin the process of reconciliation. He said:

This morning the long awaited mandate from the United States Supreme Court concerning bus segregation came to Montgomery. Our experience and growth during the past year of united nonviolent protest has been of such that we cannot be satisfied with a court victory over our white brothers. We must respond to the decision with an understanding of those who have oppressed us and with an appreciation of the new adjustments that the court order poses for them. We must act in such a way as to make possible a coming together of white people and colored people on the basis of real harmony of interests and understandings. We seek an integration based on mutual respect.

A few months later, King formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to fight segregation by race and gave our nation the opportunity to look at the morality of racism.
I paraphrase some of his words on this occasion as he spoke before 15,000 people in Washington, D.C.:

Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds and unites. Hate tears down and destroys. When you fight fire with fire, the end is bitterness, chaos and devastation. With love, you end with reconciliation. Love – which means understanding and redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies, is the solution to the race problem.

On January 20, 2009, our nation inaugurates a new President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama who happens to be black.

In the last 50 years, and even today, our nation has struggled with that word – reconciliation. This is valuable for us. We seem to have ignored it, confronted it, changed laws that we had hoped would provide it, and, in our ignorance, steadfastly marched toward another important goal – statutory equality. We have changed laws – even changed some behavior, but we have not achieved “true reconciliation.” Desmond Tutu described it like this.

True reconciliation is never cheap, for it is based on forgiveness which is costly. Forgiveness in turn depends on repentance, which has to be based on acknowledgment of what was done wrong, and, therefore, on disclosure of the truth. You cannot forgive what you do not know.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu – 1995

Reconciliation is a process. It first demands that we become aware that we have chosen to separate from others through some kind of judgmental manipulation. That awareness means we have unfinished business in our life. It will bother us until we choose to acknowledge its reality. Second, we must repent – to feel such sorrow “as to be disposed to be penitent” – to seek forgiveness. It is the act of confession that cleanses us. What the other party does is their responsibility. God, however, guarantees forgiveness

The cost of reconciliation is a “broken and contrite” heart. It is painful us for to recognize the “iniquity of our separation” – from God, and from each other. We manufacture criteria to justify this separation. It all comes down to God’s simple plan of confession and forgiveness.

Your sins have hidden his face from you.
Your hands are stained with blood,
Your fingers with guilt.
Your lips have spoken lies,
And your tongue mutters wicked things.
Isaiah 59: 2,3

This nation has traveled far and wide. We are very human, but we slowly find ways to become better. Just look at the man we inaugurate as our leader. He is a symbol of our movement, our progress – not of our success with reconciling with those from whom we have chosen to separate.

We have far to go – but we are moving.

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