Reconciliation: Adventures in Avoiding Community

In the previous post, I gave some background about our community in reference to recent conversations and teaching we have had about reconciliation and conflict resolution. So, the question I want to tackle here is why these divisions persist among us, even within an intentional community committed to reconciliation.

The dynamics at play, while certainly personal and relational, also have to do with systemic, structural and cultural conflicts. For example, in any household, if the husband dominates the wife, whether its verbal, emotional or physical, there is more than just personal or relational conflict at play. Obviously there is a relational conflict, but there are also structures and cultural norms that make that dynamic both normal and more likely. If you only address the relational conflict and not the underlying problems inherent in cultural norms and structures, then you have just scratched the surface of what is really happening within that family dynamic.

A + B Does NOT = C
This can even come out in the language we use to describe reconciliation. We often use the term “new humanity” to describe what we’re striving for in our community. However, that language can become problematic for some. So, if we are bringing together people from two different cultures, Anglo and Latino, we believe that through reconciliation God can create something new. We are transformed into this new third culture of the kingdom.

What happens often in reality is that Latinos, or those not from the dominant culture, are asked to give up more of their culture and assimilate. Many of us Anglos who are dissatisfied with North American culture are all too happy to abandon our own culture to form something new and different. Immigrants and those from another culture are not interested in giving up their cultural identity to form something new and different. Their relationship to their cultural identity is a necessary and healthy part of their identity as minorities and people living in a country other than their country of origin.

How To Avoid Community
One thing I noticed as we engaged the discussion about structural and cultural conflicts is that the conversation could also be a way of avoiding dealing with the reality of the problem in our midst. So, we could externalize the issues within our own community by calling them “structural”, “cultural” or systemic problems. Then it becomes an issue that is somehow imposed on the community from the outside and we can shift the blame and responsibility from ourselves to “structures”, “cultures”, “systems” and “powers.”

I want to suggest that these broader systemic and structural issues are never resolved or addressed apart from the personal and relational sphere (personal being between individuals and relational involving the larger community). The structural/systemic conflicts do not exist apart from people and their relationships to other people. This is where the reality of these structures is manifest. I’m not denying the reality of structures and powers at work that are more than the sum of the individuals that constitute these systems. Nevertheless the expression of these structural and systemic realities is played out in relationships between people and within communities.

So, recognizing the realities of racism and other -isms that shape me, I can only begin to deal with or address these problems with another individual across that barrier or division. Reconciliation cannot happen in the comfort of my living room or in the company of people who look, think and speak like me.

So, as a community that believes in the power of reconciliation in Christ the question is, “What is formed when we come together across some of these barriers and divisions to form one Body (Eph 4:4-6)?” It is not the case that we simply obliterate all cultural expressions and identities any more than all the believers started speaking Esperanto at Pentecost. I am inclined more to the metaphor/idea that we gather around the same table with all of our cultural identity and baggage intact.

No one owns the Eucharistic table around which we gather. God is the one who invites us all. We can only properly come to the table in submission to both God and those gathered with us. Then it is in relating to each other around the table, listening and learning from each other, that we can begin to call ourselves one Body. I’m not sure I believe that a third culture or thing is ever created. Instead, the Spirit is at work in, through and in between us working out the kin-dom in our midst. This is not something we can grasp or identify enough to even call a third “thing”, but instead is the fruit of the Spirit at work in and in between us.

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