Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Learning reconciliation - Berlin tales part 1

Last week was nothing less than extraordinary. I was given the opportunity to accompany some of the Coventry curates to Berlin, to explore a contextual theology of reconciliation...and am not sure when I last learned so much in the inside of 5 days. Colleagues were predictably sceptical about the working nature of the trip, given that we were due to arrive on the same day that the city's Christmas markets opened - but though we did indeed have a wonderful time buying Christmas decorations and sipping gluhwein, the things that I've brought home are rather more demanding and important, as I grow into my ministry in this Cathedral. 

You see, since June I've been here in Coventry, where the reconciliation story is a constant theme, where we pray the Litany of Reconciliation every day, where I walk past, or through, the ruins of the bombed cathedral en route to pretty much any meeting...And it has been easy - EASY - to buy into the concept while safe at home. It's very easy indeed to be generous if you are the victor...almost as easy as it is to be magnanimous when you are the injured party.
Our ruins, beloved and beautiful as they are, might almost be seen as a passport to self-satisfaction, as if they tempted us to say "Look what they did to us - and yet we can still forgive".

To arrive in Berlin and see something of the other half of the equation, the damage we caused, the ruined church that our bombers destroyed - this requires a change of gear. It may seem obvious, but for me this was a real moment of truth....

Suddenly there is real repentance needed, for there is no possibility of evading the knowledge that we are indeed equal partners in the destructive patterns of behaviour which so badly scar our two cities - and so many others. I can't pretend that we are the nice guys...Do I actually WANT reconciliation, or would I rather run away and pretend I carry no responsibility for the harm that has been done? If I accept my share of the guilt, do I have the energy and commitment to work for a reconciliation that is based on complete honesty about mutual failures.

Yes, the events of WW2 were part of my parents' stories - but there are a thousand other conflicts, great and small, which bedevil the world today. For all my dislike of conflict, my determination to avoid confrontation whenever possible, I know that I can't hide behind a facade of niceness. Whenever I pray the Litany, "Father forgive" is only as real as my acknowledgement of my own guilt.

But please don't imagine that the Berlin experience was a wretched one. Far from it. I learned other things too...That agressor and victim are both really victims if they stay shackled to the past - but that they can support one another to move forward into a future which acknowledges all that has been, but refuses to be defined by it - a future represented for our two cities by the new buildings that share a site with the precious ruins. 

That there is a place where reconciliation becomes deceptively easy for us - because the pain has been borne by someone else. Again in may seem obvious, but when I was given the privilege of presiding at the Eucharist in the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche I found myself offering Christ to women and men whose parents would almost certainly have been fighting mine. As our eyes met at that moment of holy intimacy the discomfort of guilt acknowledged, and the longing to share a better, more Christ-child-like world brought us together and there was no room for anything except deep gratitude, and, yes, the dawnings of love.

1 comment:

UKViewer said...

You make some valid and profound observations about the nature of reconciliation and particularly about forgiveness.

For me, coming from a military background, where i saw active service twice(in 43 years) but where latterly the norm for my former comrades has been a war 'as the norm - steady state' since the early nineties I can see their difficulty in being reconciled to being used as a pawn by successive governments to prosecute war in the name of peace. Whether it's war or peace keeping operations, they're still being told to kill or be killed, perhaps for causes that they can't hope to understand the complexities off, but are expected to fight, because a politician said so. :(

I for one, left the armed forces as a pacifist, just in time perhaps, but my experiences with the families of those who had been killed or injured on operations, convinced me that Jesus' words about turning the other cheek have more power than the point of a gun.

I know that My father and Uncle who both fought in WW2 had never been able to forgive themselves for the things that they had seen and done. My Uncle ceased being a Catholic, because he couldn't bring himself to believe that God could have mercy on him after he'd killed so many others. He never ceased to believe in God, just in his Mercy not extending to him. Nothing I could say would change that, the saddest thing was that when he died, his son (not a listener by any means) consigned him to a meaningless, humanist funeral, full of platitudes and nonsense and utterly no hope.

On the other hand, I had the privilege of knowing and sharing the story of a WW2 Japanese POW, who was used as slave labour throughout his captivity. Later in life, he managed to visit Japan and to meet his tormenters, and to be reconciled. Enough to invite them back to the UK to his home and parish. His view was that all life is too precious to waste on vengeance and hatred and that God gave him forgiveness to actually use. For him and his family it worked very well.

When he died, his funeral was attended by reprentatives from the Japanese Embassy, showing how much that country valued the reconciliation that he had brought about in his lifetime.