(SPCK, 2014. 170pp. ISBN 978-0-281-07226-2. Also available as e-book, 978-0-281-07227-9)
Reviewed by Colin Patterson, Assistant Director of Bridge Builders
I found this book very stimulating – highly readable yet not lightweight. It’s worth having, just for Justin Welby’s foreword, “Reconciliation is the heart of the gospel”, but the rest of the book has the same ring of truth. You can tell it’s written by people who have wrestled with the practical challenges of making reconciliation more than just a nice idea. Phil Groves is the Director of the Continuing Indaba process for the Anglican Communion and Angharad Parry Jones was for some time its Communication and Resource Manager. They have considerable wisdom and experience to draw upon.
A key theme is that reconciliation is something to be lived rather than defined. Hence the authors aim to describe reconciliation by telling the stories of people who live it. Weaving together stories of those who travelled with Jesus and stories of present-day Christians, important characteristics of reconciliation are drawn out: it is a journey into uncertainty, with companions that you do not choose; it requires you to understand notions of power in a different way; it challenges your view of conflict (will you let it be a vehicle of transformation rather than just a problem to be fixed?); it is always risky. As a reader, I felt both challenged and inspired to be an agent of reconciliation.
The particular strengths of the book are its serious attention to Scripture, and the world-wide scope of its contemporary examples. It draws extensively (but not exclusively) on lessons learned through Continuing Indaba – a process that is described warts and all. I got a real sense of how disorientating it was, for those involved, to encounter differences at many levels, and how difficult it sometimes was to continue listening to others with whom they disagreed deeply. Nevertheless there were heart-warming instances of strong relationships being formed across divides. I was helpfully reminded how much this resonates with the experience of the early church, especially when facing the gospel’s imperative for Jews and Gentiles to live as one body.
A central metaphor of the book has particularly stuck with me: changing the drumbeat that sounds during conflict. The authors explain how this metaphor was developed by a group of Kenyan theologians. Reflecting on typical patterns of violent conflict in Kenya, they suggested imagining a drum with Jesus at the centre. Instead of beating out a call for blame and punishment of enemies, it would call for unconditional love, and would have the mission of reconciliation as its skin. Further, it would be helpful to think of five strings on the drum: relationship, conversation, a place of meeting, appreciation of uniqueness, and community life based on forgiveness and belonging. I think church leaders could fruitfully use this picture to offer a vision for renewal.
There is a brief review section at the end of each chapter, with a prayer and some questions to think about. They are good. But the usefulness of the book for group work is greatly increased by the further (free) resources provided at www.living-reconciliation.org. There is a study-guide, providing well-devised material for eight sessions, one per chapter of the book. This can be used in conjunction with eight five-minute Youtube videos, full of interviews, offering thoughts from around the Anglican Communion. The web-site also has a range of further resources.
I think Archbishop Welby’s call to put reconciliation at the forefront of the church’s life has offered an important lead. I commend Living Reconciliation, along with the supplementary material, to any church leader who wants to follow that lead.
This review was first published in “Anvil”. Read the full edition at http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/anv.2015.31.issue-1/issue-files/anv.2015.31.issue-1.xml