Last week I posted some thoughts on Miroslav Volf's work on reconciliation, peacemaking and questions of human identity and otherness. I omitted to give the quotation from Volf, incorporating his encounter with Jurgen Moltmann. Here it is.
" After I finished my lecture Professor Jurgen Moltmann stood up and asked one of his typical questions, both concrete and penetrating: "But can you embrace a cetnik" It was the winter of 1993. For months now the notorious Serbian fighters called cetnik had been sowing desolation in my native country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women, burning down churches and destroying cities. I had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ. Can I embrace a cetnik - the ultimate other, so to speak, the evil other? What would justify the embrace? Where would I draw the strength for it? What would it do to my identity as a human being and as a Croat? It took me a while to answer, though I immediately knew what I wanted to say. "No, I cannot - but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to".
That is one of the most courageous and honest theologically anguished exchanges I know in theological literature. Moltmann's own theology has been hammered out for decades, using the raw material of his own experiences in war and imprisonment, supplemented by deep reflection on the nature of hope, the meaning of the cross and the mystery of the Triune God. Volf's theology is equally born of profound suffering, experienced and witnessed, and passed through the lens of Christian theology and discipleship. For both men, what is believed has to be able to be lived, faith issues in action congruent with what is believed, convictions about God have decisive purchase on human behaviour, relationships and community.
It is one of the great ironies of Christian history and contemporary Christian existence that a faith tradition which proclaims a Gospel of reconciliation, is embodied in communities and alternative traditions characterised by grievance, suspicion, unhealed fractures and unresolved differences. It is difficult to maintain credibility when the forgiven resist the call to forgive, and when the reconciled build walls of self justification, and construct a rationale for defining identity over and against "the other". Yet it was ever thus, and it may be that the Gospel of Reconciliation entrusted to the church, and the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to those who seek to follow faithfully after Christ, together provide for all Christians an obvious mission imperative in a fractured world, divided by mutually hostile ideologies; a world in which peacemaking, community building, forgiveness and active compassion are to be given embodied presence through the witness of communities of reconciliation, from which attitudes and actions of willed vulnerability and hopeful courage flow outwards offering a radical alternative utterly earthed in the truth of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.
All of which is idealistic - as most far reaching visions of human flourishing tend to be in their origins. The issue is whether these ideals find embodiment, commitment and the willed practices of a community resourced by the grace, mercy and peace of God who, like these his children, hungers and thirsts for righteousness.