Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Ministry of Reconcilliation

Being a religious minority in Utah can make some things obvious.  Like how being part of a majority makes it hard for people to realize when they are being openly critical.  At my job its not uncommon for me to hear LDS people gossip about how they disapprove of people whose religious opinions they disagree with, whose life choices have taken them in different religious directions, or who they feel don't live up to the tenants of the LDS religion in some ways or others.  I don't think it ever occurs to them that anyone in the room might think about life and religion differently than them and might take exception to this kind of criticism being thrown about so casually.  Most of the criticism is pretty tame, being constrained by the professional environment we are in, but the naive lack of sensitivity reveals both the power of a hyper majority to influence how people think and talk and also how distant I feel from much of the surrounding culture.  I feel estranged in many ways from most people that I interact with at work and at times with family.  It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, having gotten used to being part of a dominant close knit culture only to end up so far outside of it.  I don't want to be such an outsider, but there isn't much help for it.

The coworker whose desk is in front of mine often plays religious material of some kind through the speaker on her phone while she works, just barely loud enough that I can tell what it is without quite being able to hear most of the words.  I don't mind terribly much, especially since its so quiet, though I have to wonder how quickly I'd get reported to HR if I practiced my own devotional habits out loud instead of quietly reading to myself or using headphones to listen to scriptures and sermons.  I think it only irritates me at all because of the rest of the religious gossip I've heard from this coworker.  Often after eating my lunch I'll sit at my cubicle and silently read over a noon time prayer devotional.  One passage that comes up often is the following-

If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has passed
away, behold the new has come. All this is from God, who
through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry
of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:17-18

This passage has a lot of power for me in more ways than one.  When I was a teenager I had what I think would be called in some religious traditions a "being born again" experience.  I came back out of that experience feeling such a deep emotional "reset" to the world that I walked back into the toxic environment of my home and instead of being part of the toxicity I was able to stand apart from it, feeling like a stranger in my own house because I largely no longer participated in the petty hatreds that surrounded me. I gained the strength to fight back against abuse directed towards me by attacking the perceptions and situations that allowed the abuse to occur rather than by being consumed by emotional warfare.  It was as if I was a new person and helped me act as an agent of reconciliation with and between other people in my life as a result.

Now in my life I've again gone through another huge transition of becoming a new person.  Except this time its not about letting go of old hatreds and bitterness.  Its about letting go of the identity that had been built around being Mormon and especially the parts of me that were unnecessarily judgemental and unemphatic as a result of how I had lived out that tradition in favor of a new sense of community and identity much more flexible and embracing than I had before.  I'm becoming again a new creature.  It's a bitter irony that the reconciliation part isn't automatic.  Letting go of fear and bitterness is a fundamental change that makes reconciliation a pretty direct result.  Changing your group identity can include that, but if the group identity is the biggest part of you that is changing, the reconciliation that happens is a matter of group dynamics.  Mostly there is nothing very personal about it.  The part of me that was born when I decided I could trust God enough to abandon holding onto my bitterness and pain is still here, that part of me doesn't change.  I was big enough to fight back against intentional emotional abuse without being consumed.  I'm big enough to glide past unintentional petty gossip without being consumed by that either.  Emotionally its small stuff, I'm battle hardened to a lot worse.  But it still hurts to feel so estranged from family and the surrounding culture.

It is all to easy to toss off this feeling with a sense of holier than thou snobbishness.  Matthew 10:34 comes a little too easily sometimes:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
While that is a comfort to think that some level of estrangement is a natural sacrifice to doing what I think is right, it doesn't negate Matthew 26:52:
Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
I am all too familiar with how emotional combat can consume people's lives and destroy happiness and relationships.  Victoriously sulking in the pain of being estranged from others breeds contempt and conflict.  I was dwelling on these tensions during my noonday devotional when I was reading in Romans 14 about the conflicts regarding the Jewish Law-
Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another?  It is before their own lord that they stand or fall.  And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister?  Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?  For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God.  For it is written, As I live says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.  So then each of us will be accountable to God.  Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.  I knew and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

Its an ideal to strive for, that we should acknowledge the integrity of people trying to live a good life the best way they know how, even if any given tradition, including my own, can have their frustrating blind spots and refusing to white wash over the very real pain and damage caused by those blind spots.  That is in a sense, the beginnings of a ministry of reconciliation in the heart.