Tag Archives: Reconciliation

Quick Review: The Skin You Live In

 

A book that I wanted to offer a brief review of that I’ve read recently is Dr. David D. Ireland’s The Skin You Live In: Building Friendship Across Cultural Lines.

The author hides his own ethnicity until the end of the book to avoid any potential reader bias, which I found interesting. I did not know the author’s background until the end and at many points I found myself wondering.  But that choice does allow one to engage the content of the book without any potential bias against the content and where it’s coming from.

Diversity efforts are occurring everywhere. This is a helpful and somewhat brief treatment on how to take steps from cultural isolation towards cross-race relationships.  There’s a lot of helpful insights throughout the book – particularly related to ethnicity and identity. There are prophetic challenges to both majority culture folks as well as ethnic minority folks who can find their identity in their ethnicity or their political-social situation. From a Christian perspective – both sides of this divide are challenged related to fundamental identity and to live out a God-given identity to reconcile and bridge difference through meaningful relationships.

A part of the purpose of this book is trying to help provide a roadmap to what he calls being “racially attractive.” By that term, he means someone who can form meaningful relationships across racial or ethnic difference.  From the author’s own doctoral research he asked people who were consistently living life with these types of relationships about what makes them “racially attractive.” Here are the responses:

  1. Offer hospitality.
  2. Be free to laugh and joke.
  3. Go on social outings.
  4. Engage in vulnerable conversations.
  5. Have cross-race friends.
  6. Seek mutually rewarding outcomes.
  7. Demonstrate comfort in the friendship.
  8. Practice honesty in the relationship.     (pg. 71)

This list was interesting to me and links to several other models, but noticeably Andy Crouch’s matrix in Strong and Weak.  I’m currently reading and researching a lot related to multi-ethnic negotiation and there are some connection points here as well.

This book is written primarily with the U.S. ethnic context in mind, but it was interesting to read this through the international lens as well as much of the suggestions about building relationships are just as relevant here in Asia as elsewhere, maybe they are even more crucial here because of the weight of relationship and community in collectivist cultures.

Many people today, despite increased political polarization, do want to experience diversity and cross-cultural relationships even if there is systemic racism and hidden personal racism that prevents those desires to be realized. It always starts with identity and relationships and this is a helpful resource for people on the journey. There’s other helpful sections related to cross-cultural forgiveness, advocacy and other aspects of diverse community so it’s definitely worth reading if this is an area of development for you.

Quick Review: How to Have That Difficult Conversation

Over the last few days I had a chance to read Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s How to Have That Difficult Conversation: Gaining the Skills for Honest and Meaningful Communication.  This book formerly used to be called Boundaries: Face to Face but adjusted some things for a more practical application and marketing effort. And it’s a good move because this book is really about how to plan and prepare and execute plans in difficult conversations.

I have had this book for a while and wish I’d gone through it a long time ago. I found it very helpful.  The focus on it isn’t as much conflict resolution and reconciliation, but more on how to be an adult and have grown up conversations.

There’s immense practical value in this book and I’m thinking about adding it to the interpersonal relationships class I teach as a supplement to the other resources and books I use that deal with the heart and theology of relationships.

The book has some great sections related to dealing with your own self first, making a plan to have a conversation, helpful ways to talk through difficult issues, and how to be prepared for immature or other difficult responses to speaking the truth in love. It provides a lot of “how to’s” that are needed because most people are paralyzed in these situations – part because of heart issues and part because of being overwhelmed by the lack of knowledge and ability.  This book addresses the former in part but does a good job on the latter.

The examples are sometimes very clinical in nature or extreme, but they illustrate the principles well. One of the issues that is not addressed very clearly is the role of culture and context as most of the examples and contexts are Western and “white” for lack of a better word.  But it doesn’t mean the principles don’t apply, but they may be harder for people of a non-white, western context to take in and envision for their lives.  But I believe much of what is in the book is just as needed for the majority world and non-white communities and cultures.

The audio book is also good and pretty affordable, but it’s somewhat abridged.  The e-book has additional examples and Scripture foundations throughout the book while the audio book is more focused on the core content.  The e-book includes several appendix chapters that focus on specific relationships:  marriage, dating, kids, parents, and work.  These sections are like abridged versions of some of their other books like boundaries in marriage, boundaries in dating, boundaries, and others. But it’s a great compilation of insight and wisdom in these different relationships.

This is a needed resource for many, if not all of us and I recommend it.  I’m reading through books in the similar genre related to conflict management and this has offered some of the best practical advice on all the emotional/developmental/adulthood dynamics that make or break whether a good conversation can take place where reconciliation is experienced and healthy relationships are built.

 

Butt Friction

Matako ghawi ghaleka cha ku kwenthana

(Two buttocks cannot avoid friction)

—Malawian Proverb

Niyi Gbade and John Becker start off their article “Buttocks, Bridges, and Kola Nuts”with this Malawian proverb in the most recent Missio Nexus Anthology (Vol 4 No 2 October 2016) on Conflict.

It is now my favorite African proverb.

My first take on this was that the proverb is prophetically or tongue in cheek using the metaphor of butt cheeks to connote how people in conflict can be, pardon my language, asses. But that is not the emphasis of this saying. Gbade and Becker reinforce that this speaks to the dynamics that proximity leads to inevitable conflict. Closeness leads to tension, to friction.

I’ve never thought about this reality through the metaphor of friction producing buttocks, but it’s hard for me to imagine a more memorable metaphor that normalizes conflict in relationships.

The article also includes the following Nigerian proverb as well:

In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges
and the foolish build dams.

In my PhD cohort I have the privilege to study with a couple others from Nigeria and there’s an abundance of storytelling and these types of sayings that provide such a grounded way of thinking about social wisdom.

If you have access to Missio Nexus I recommend checking out the latest Anthology on Conflict as there are great cross-cultural and north-south intercultural insights for conflict resolution and partnership.

But what’s most important now is that as you go about your day taking stride after stride, you now can reflect deeply about conflict through the gentle reminder of your own butt friction.

Quick Review – Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas

I recently read David Cortright’s Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas  as part of the Peace Studies PhD program I am currently in.  I had not heard of the book prior, but it blends some of the themes of my current area of study with my enjoyment of history as a history major.

The book is a history of the approaches people and groups have taken to take a stand against violence over the course of the past few centuries, especially the past 150 years or so.  There is a helpful overview of the origins of peace movements, nonviolent strategies, as well as the great barriers that have traditionally undermined peace efforts in the course of history which is perhaps the most insightful and interesting portion of the book.

The history of peace efforts in the face of great international challenges such as World War I, World War II, and other wars was incredibly insightful. There is an abundance of histories written on just about all other aspects of these conflicts, but I had not yet come across an analysis of these events through the eyes of peace advocates.  It was fascinating to read about the various groups, philosophies, different methodologies, and key figures like Einstein among others.

Where the book is really strong is in illuminating the forces that undermine the work of peace when it really matters.  One of the key themes that consistently shows up is nationalism functioning as a barrier to peace efforts.  I’ve known the distinction between patriotism and nationalism, but I came away wanting to distinguish these concepts even more clearly. Nationalism is a key theme that exposed the limits of the peace movements from the World Wars all the way to more recent conflicts.  I was amazed at how much was in place prior to the World Wars to support the peace processes and how quickly much of it dissolved in the waves of nationalism that swept over the countries.

There is a great introduction to the historical movements of nonviolence as well general treatments of the dynamics of violence in society and the difference between pacifism and nonviolence. One of the things that struck me is how leaders of nations time and time again have routinely sacrificed hundreds of thousands of lives because of certain patterns of thinking that history has shown to be inadequate to the moment they faced. It’s a tragedy and a reminder to advocate for Biblically based reconciliation in society and between nations as the path of hope for peace.

 

 

Quick Review: Forgiving As We’ve Been Forgiven

This summer I had a chance to read Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven: Community Practices for Making Peace by L. Gregory Jones and Celestin Musekura.  The book is written where each author trades off chapters and complement each other’s perspective.  Musekura is from Rwanda and had countless friends and relatives murdered in the Rwandan genocide. Jones has been part of the Duke Divinity School faculty and the school of reconciliation they have developed there.

The stories that both Jones and Musekura bring in addition to their theological and Biblical reflection are powerful together as a collective narrative. There is a helpful section on how reconciliation involves needing new hearts, renewed minds, and healing from unjust actions.

There is also an excellent chapter on forgiveness and memory – how the fallacy of forgiveness as “forgetting” needs to be replaced by a more Biblical and Christ-focused paradigm of forgiveness in community. This echoed some of the work of Miroslav Volf on memory, but it is captured in a pretty succinct form.

This is a book that can be read in about 3 hours so it’s manageable and well worth the investment to be challenged to think about forgiveness through the communal lens as opposed to the therapeutic models of today or the purely individualistic models of forgiveness that people function out of.  The authors offer a vision of how practices of forgiveness are crucial to community building and creating healthy and strong futures – not just dealing with past wrongs.

Here is their rough outline for an approach to community reconciliation.  They include Scripture references and connections to Christ’s work, but I’m just giving you the headlines of the categories they offer.

TRUTH TELLING

Step 1: We become willing to speak truthfully and patiently about the conflicts that have arisen.

Step 2: We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness, and a desire to overcome them.

Step 3: We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God.

Step 4: We recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step of repentance.

Step 5: We make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts. Forgiveness does not merely refer backwards to the absolution of guilt; it also looks forward to the restoration of community.

Step 6: We confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation.

If you’ve read a lot of Volf or other writings on reconciliation and community oriented forgiveness this may not give you much new content outside of the narratives from Rwanda and other contexts the authors draw from in their writing, but the stories are really are what makes the theology and methodology come alive in powerful ways.  This was of great personal value to me so I recommend it, especially if you are wrestling with unforgiveness or difficult relationships.

 

Quick Review: Resolving Everyday Conflict

Sande and Johnson’s Resolving Everyday Conflict is essentially an abridged version of Sande’s more well known The Peacemaker.  It’s a great summary of Sande’s approach to resolving conflict and it’s very manageable and framed in a very accessible and smooth way.

I did this book via audio book despite already having the e-book. It took me less than 3 hours to listen to it so it wasn’t long at all.  I covered all of Resolving Everday Conflict to and from a hospital visit to a friend (Manila traffic!)

It includes chapters on Sande’s “4 G’s” as well as the “7 A’s of Confession/Apologies.” If you don’t know what those are – get one of these books or google summaries of the Peacemaker and you can probably find a good summary out there. I have no doubt there are fantastic summaries online out there for free.

This would be a great and manageable resource to do conflict resolution training because it’s concise and clear and easy to go through. The ebook version is only 2 –  3 $ less than the full version of The Peacemaker which goes into a lot of the content on a much deeper level so if you had to pick one book I’d suggest The Peacemaker, but if you know you only can manageable a smaller dose of content that covers the essence – this is a great option.

If you have not read either, I highly recommend going through it. It’s great content on conflict resolution, forgiveness, and essentially the gospel as well since that is the foundation of Christian reconciliation.

 

Quick Review: Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge

I recently read Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace and wanted to post a few thoughts as I found it a really rich book on several levels.

The book is dividing into two sections.  As the title suggests – the first half focuses on giving and the second half focuses on forgiveness.  I would say first of all – the first 3 chapters as a theology of giving is one of the best and maybe the best Scriptural and theological grounding of giving that I’ve come across.

The dynamics of giving, receiving, taking, and exchanging are covered in this section in a way that explores giving through the overall Biblical narrative.  So Volf grounds giving and receiving in the doctrine of creation and the image of God. He also explores the depth of how sin and the fall corrupts loving giving and receiving in ways that provide a strong critique of the many ways we manipulate each other in community and even seek dominance as one community over an other.

The forgiveness section is also very well done and is framed on top of Volf’s work in the 1st half of the book on giving.  I had not thought about forgiveness through this lens before, but I found it powerful for reflection and thought.  Understanding the giving and receiving dynamics and sides of forgiveness are crucial to developing an ethical practice of peace and reconciliation and restoration.

Volf’s personal background and history as one who has experienced great loss and has had to struggle through these themes at the deepest of levels brings credibility and power to the reading.  This is a book I’ll keep coming back to in the future both personally and for teaching.  The kindle version is only $5 too 🙂

 

 

Quick Review: A Farewell to Mars

I’m excited to share this quick review as A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd was one of the best and most compelling and challenging books I’ve read in some time.  The book in general is a treatment of how the gospel gets coopted by culture to serve national interests – usually through the rationalization or justification of violence as the means to achieve “peace.”

There’s much I can relate to in the journey of the author as generationally I’ve experienced some of the key events that he describes as being critical to his journey at a similar life stage to him.  The challenge of this book is to explore deeply all the ways in which we have actively or passively endorse a path of violence while believing the lie that such violence is “righteous” and that God is on our side.  This can be reflected in our attitudes towards war, politics, international policy, and even action movies!

This is one of the books that I anticipate will be one of the most recommended books to others.  But let me share a couple of the highlights for me in the book.  First, the book has 2 chapters that rank among my favorite of any book I’ve read.  The first was entitled, “Jesus Versus the Crowd” and goes into some of the best treatment of the scapegoating dynamic that fuels violence in community.  This area is an area of great passion for me as a result of my exploration into family and congregational systems theory, but Zahnd gives a phenomenal treatment of it as it relates to violence and society with a great treatment of the Biblical text in the book of John.

The other chapter that really stood out centered on the nature of freedom, which is a critical issue for us to understand since violence and freedom are often presented as hand in hand when we celebrate our national histories.  This was an excellent treatment of freedom, again with the theme of peace versus violence as the greater context.

I think the majority of Christians, especially evangelicals, would find this greatly convicting and it’s why all should read it.  Christians are often portrayed as a violent people in western society today – not always because they are perpetuating physical violence, but because the way Christians engage society or deal with difficult or sensitive issues often tends to reflect language and attitudes that are violent in nature.  Christians need to reclaim the identity as peacemakers that we are called to be and I am grateful for the challenge that A Farewell to Mars brought me.  Can’t recommend it enough to you.