A culture is shaped, to some extent, by the vocabulary it uses, or develops. Some words seldom show up even though they exist. In Canadian Law, especially in the practise of criminal law, the word forgiveness, is noticeable by its absence. As a young Indigenous man reminded me once: “commit the crime, do the time.” He saw no other possibility.
In the book, Comeback, John Ralston Saul, indicates that in aboriginal culture, when moral codes are broken, the community deals with the offender, and the hoped-for goal is a kind of restoration. In other words, the culture is shaped by this possibility.
South Africa, as late as the last quarter of the 20th century, was infamous for its apartheid policy, which categorized the black citizens as second class. Why second class? one could ask. The cynical reply might be: because there was no third class. The darkness of that history is well known. Significant aspects, left-overs, are still ruining lives.
Into that dark culture an old, almost forgotten term, was reintroduced: reconciliation. It came in a pregnant title; three words: Truth and Reconciliation. The goal was to do away with Apartheid. The goal was to remove the concept and reality of two levels of citizenship. The goal was to face the terrible wrongs that had been committed under apartheid; which meant facing up to the truth of what had been done; not in general, but also in particular.
Amazingly the goal went even further. Reconciliation between individuals, and indeed the races, was the ultimate goal. There are many inspiring stories.
One huge result is that that action reintroduced the term reconciliation to the whole world. I am sure that wonderful word appeared in headlines of all respectable newspapers around the globe.
The concept or phrase: Truth and Reconciliation, nay the idea of its possibilities has echoed into many dark corners. Even into Canada, where the government appointed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008, to deal with the racist legacy of its colonial past. The Commission dealt with the terrible history of Residential Schools, and the more recent “murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls.”
The implied and suggested answer/solution for this dark history and present pain, is RECONCILIATION. There is much to forgive.
Reconciliation is an ancient word, and St. Paul claimed it as a deeply spiritual term, describing the coming together in harmony between God and humans. (2 Corinthians 5) God wants it; God is the initiator. It is the theme song of the Kingdom of God. Christ calls us to it.
Racism, ethnic and religious, as well as political differences alienate one community from another. Our world is badly out of tune with God.
Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, encapsulates the truth and reconciliation reality. It begins with alienation, when the son grabs his inheritance and leaves home. His father’s “Aufwiedesehen” hardly registers. In the far country truth dawns on him, and he longs for his home, his father. The father sees him coming and organizes a celebration. What are they celebrating? the older brother asks. The answer: Reconciliation!
In terms of our basic theological grid we called: God’s Order, reconciliation begins between God and humankind; but reconciliation between humans is the next order of concern. It is about the doctrine of peace.
Can you think of something more necessary for our world, than reconciliation? Perhaps it can’t happen without God.
With God the impossible becomes possible.