I am doing a lot of thinking, slow pondering and imagining about reconciliation, a theme that lies at the heart of the Christian Gospel. Reconciliation finds varied expressions in forgiveness, conciliation, understanding, compassion, negotiation, self-expenditure, peace-making, bridge-building, and many other attitudes and activities in human healing and wholeness within the heart and within the communities we inhabit.
There are several reasons for this current research interest.
It is a central motif for understanding the meaning of Jesus. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself".
Asked what the mission of the church is, and how to do mission, I default immediately to "God has given to us this ministry of reconciliation" as a theological encapsulation of Jesus words that are both promise and demand, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God".
Then I look on a world fragmented against itself, criss-crossed by dividing walls of hostility and hear that other Pauline echo, the through Christ God purposed "to reconcile to himself all things making peace by the blood of the cross".
Then I reflect on the rise in Christian culture of conflict resolution courses, and reflect on years of experience of Christian communities struggling and straining, at times crumbling and imploding by the inability of Christians to live their communal life as reconciled reconcilers, peaceable peacemakers, forgiven forgivers and merciful receivers of mercy.
And after a number of conversations with experienced pastors, and reflecting on the responses to a questionnaire on what is essential in ministry training, it is confirmed that a major felt need is training in conflict resolution and dealing with difficult people.
There is a not to be missed irony in all this. That Christian communities experience powerful internal tensions which create strain and stress on relationships and structures is not new. Corinth is one of the reassuringly flawed churches of the New Testament - from the start Christians have unabashedly demonstrated pride and self-regard, power hunting and the urge to dominate, judgemental words and argumentative habits, unforgivingness as obstinacy of the closed heart, and much else. And yet.
As Jesus said, the language of empire, government, self-appointed and self-inflated leaders, and of all those who aspire to be first in any queue for handouts of power and status is not the language of the Kingdom of God. Mark 10.42-45 is for me the deal clincher in the arguments about how the life of the Kingdom is expressed in community. And Mark has preserved the tone of Jesus veto "Not so amongst you". Abrupt, uncompromising, comprehensive negation without negotiation - "not so among you."
But it is so. In many Christian communities the cultural drivers for recognition, status, power and possessions are deeply and invidiously installed. Mark 10.45 crucially links "giving himself" with "not to be served but to serve". So a Christian doctrine of reconciliation begins at the cross and ends in the embodied practice of reconciliation through self-giving love.
Conflict resolution for Christians is a process that is traceable to the deepest reality of the universe, the reconciling heart of God.
The painting is Van Gogh's "Pieta".