Sunday, January 17, 2021

We Have a Choice

 

We always have a choice.  

Sometimes we feel we do not. We find ourselves swept up the torrent of cable news, social media postings, loyalty to people with whom we identify, and suspicions of those with whom we do not identify.  We find ourselves carried down the river of division, mistrust, animosity, and fear.  We feel as if we are victims  of irreversible current.

When Paul writes “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus [Philippians 2:5],” he is saying we have a choice.  Wherever we find ourselves, we can choose to migrate to a different place.  We can choose the “mind” we live out.

In another place Paul writes:  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect [Romans 12:2].”  Paul is asserting that we can push back against the “Spirit of the Age.”  We can be different; we can be set free.

The beauty of the Gospel is that we none of us are who God created us to be--none of us.  We all carry implicit biases for and against certain people.  We did not choose these mindsets.  Then on the heels of that uncomfortable truth of own flawed nature, the Gospel asserts that we do not have to remain this way.  We can, through the power of the Spirit and an honest look at ourselves, change; we can be made new.  This is a message of hope, water for thirsty souls.

This weekend we remember the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Perhaps no one has with such eloquence and power and candor laid bare the sin of systemic racism in America.

Yet, there was always hope in Dr. King's message. In the midst of his laying bare our nation’s sin, he uplifted those who heard his words--not just black and brown folks, but also white folks.  Why?  Because King believed we could all do better; he knew we could change if we applied ourselves to the hard work of regeneration in our hearts and in our society.  He never wavered in his faith about what God could do in us:

I look to the day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character-Dr. King, August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial

Dr. King could see it; he took it for granted.  He knew we, all of us, have it in us to do  better.

In times like these, when hope seems sometimes hard to find, we realize what a treasure Dr. King was and still is to our nation. 

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister-American Baptist Churches of New York State

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Challenges of the Assault on the Capitol

 


The Event

There are some things that really should go without saying among decent people.  The vast majority of Americans looked upon the spectacle of an armed assault on the U.S Capitol building as a frightening attack on our nation by an internally-spawned enemy.   If it is necessary among us to condemn this—if the jury is still out on that in people’s minds, then we are quite likely already destined for our own destruction.

We certainly should pray for our elected leaders, the various law enforcement workers in the Capital, and all those who live and work in Washington, DC.  This should be instinctual among us.  It is good to remind one another of this, but I hope is it not entirely necessary.

I want to step back a bit from the routinized responses and set all this in a broader context.  If you know much about me, you know I find the lens of Bowen Family Systems Theory helpful.   This way of looking at life reminds us that we are all part of a common emotional and behavioral system.  We all participate in that system; we all contribute, for better or for worse, to what happens in that system.  This is true whether we do or do not directly participate in an event.  Another way of saying this is that we all co-create one another in an ongoing cycle of interactions.

It is easy to look with disgust at armed rioters running through the Capitol building, debasing emblems of our national values.  This creates two challenges for followers of Jesus.  First, we can be tempted to an arrogance that absolves us of any responsibility for or connection to this outrage.  Second, it confronts us with the challenge of loving our neighbor when we find the behavior and values of our neighbor objectionable.

Challenge One: Arrogance that Absolves Us

What happened at the Capitol was, one could argue, the inevitable outcome of a series of choices people have made.  Outrage is an appropriate response, surprise—maybe not so much.  This was not all spawned in a single day of infamy.

Followers of Jesus are to be salt, the light of the world.  We are to be a city set upon a hill to which others look for guidance and hope.  We are to let our light shine before others so that they might see a better path forward (Matt 5:13-16). The Gospel writer John pulls no punches in describing our work as a type of counter-cultural insurgency:

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (3:19-21).

Have we fulfilled our role in recent years?  What things have we done or left undone that have made a space in our nation for this clear and imminent danger?  How have we gone along in silence because it was easier and less costly than taking a stand for the things of God—love, peace, mercy, charity, the dignity of all human beings, and justice? 

Perhaps none of us stormed the Capitol building on Wednesday, but how did we contribute to that catastrophe by leaving undone the work of our calling?  This is not a time for self-exonerating arrogance; this is a time for sober reflection. 

Challenge Two: Loving Our Neighbor 

It is hard to love our neighbor when our neighbor is acting in an objectionable way or espousing values that violate the convictions of our faith.  Jesus laid an even more ambitious challenge before us than simply loving our neighbor; we are to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-45).  This does not mean we endure every outrage in silence.  It does not mean we that we stand paralyzed in the face of the abuse and degradation of others.  It does mean that we extend to all people the dignity and regard that is due everyone who is formed in the image of God.  To extend dignity to someone does not necessarily mean we respect their values or condone their actions.  It means that we strive to see buried beneath the armor of their hate and hurt and malevolence that part of them that is irreversibly of God.  

Stephen Carter wrote that any human being “whatever his or her strengths, weaknesses, and simple complexities, is also part of God’s creation.  We should be struck with awe at the fact that we are face to face with a part of God’s work.”[i] It is hard to despise someone who elicits awe in us.  This is our challenge as followers of Jesus, to see God even in the armed violent White Nationalist scaling the walls of the Capital building.  This will take some work.

In Conclusion

Wednesday was a frightening day.  It can, nonetheless, be an opportunity for us to reflect anew on what it means to be the children of light in a world where darkness is always trying to gain additional ground.   It is also an opportunity to stress test, as understood in the world of banking, our capacity to love our neighbors, even the ones who behave objectionably.  As we feel our neighbor slipping into the category of enemy, our task grows more challenging. 

As we see images of those breaking down the doors of the House Chamber, it is an opportune time to ask what does it mean for us to be faithful to the Gospel as the wood is splintering. 

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State



[i] Carter, Civility, 101.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Winners and Losers on Wednesday

 

Are you “red,” as in Republican red?  Or are you “blue”, as in Democrat blue.  Some people are “purple,” a mixture of red and blue.  I know that real life is not this simple, but these are the colors we have been given.  Let’s go with them.

You may be aware that Tuesday is Election Day.  We have “blue” candidates and “red” candidates and a few “outside the lines” candidates.  In particular, we have a presidential contest where the “blue” guy and the “red” guy are in a closely contested battle with enthusiastic followers.  Only one will win in the end.  We could have an Electoral College tie; in the end, however, a winner will emerge.

On Wednesday, or maybe Thursday or maybe Friday or maybe early January, those of us who voted will wake up feeling, in a way, that we won or lost.  This is inevitable.

So how will these winners and losers have rewarding and reconciling conversations?

One way is to listen with curiosity and understanding.  We will need to do more than simply hear what others are saying and then agree or disagree with it.  We will need to sort out why they say what they say.

Let me give an example, a divisive and highly politicized one:  guns.  We talk of gun control and of the right to bear arms.  Even the terms we use betray our bias.  The language we choose to use to talk about guns is a product of our experiences and loyalties. 

I was talking with a colleague whose father-in-law is offended by the use of the word “weapon” for his gun.  He says his gun is a “tool” he uses as he works his ranch and supports his family.

 I, on the other hand, have lived in populated areas where guns have one function: to shoot people, be those guns in the hands of soldiers, police officers, homeowners, or criminals. So guns, in my experience, are weapons. 

Tool or weapon?  Our word choice reflects our experiences and our loyalties.  I wonder how much more productive our conversations about gun control/rights (both loaded words—no pun intended) would be if we began by asking one another:  So tell me what has been your experience with and exposure to firearms?

As we talk our way into our common future, we will need not just to hear what someone is saying but also understand why they are saying what they are saying.  This does not mean that we will all agree on all things; we certainly will not; there are significant values at stake in our disagreements. It does mean that we can preserve our relationships, heal our communities, and extend dignity to one another in all our diversity.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;  for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness [James 1:19-20].

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State

Friday, October 2, 2020

White Supremacy is Beyond the Limit

 


Civility

I have been reading and writing about civility in these unsettling times.  I give a robust definition to civility as making room for others in our lives and hearts—particularly making room for those with whom we disagree. 

 Civility is a discipline whereby we create a place in our lives where others can be heard, appreciated, and shown dignity and understanding.  We stake out this space through curious empathy, which fuels civility.  We do this because God has done that with each of us. Mirsolav Wolf writes: “God’s reception of hostile humanity into divine communication is a model for how human beings should relate to one another” (Exclusion & Embrace—A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, 98).

 This “room-making” enterprise is grounded in the dignity due all human beings, each of whom is created in the Image of God (Gen. 1:27).  This dignity is not conditional. It is not dependent. It is not negotiable.  People do not earn it; it is not the product of merit or accomplishment. It adheres to all people in all situations.  This image of God within may be hard to discern sometimes, as the poet wrote “buried deep with the old man’s lined face was the heart of a child.”  Civility honors this organic dignity inherited from God the Creator.

Respect, on the other hand, is earned writes David Brubaker (When the Center Does Not Hold—Leading in an Age of Polarization, 38).  Respect flows from the content of one’s character and from acts of love and righteousness and justice.

Civility is not in every case the highest value. It does not require us to endure every outrage in silence, accommodate every abomination contentedly, or accept every obscenity without protest.  Jesus extended dignity to all people, but in some cases he subjugated civility to higher priorities. 

In Matthew chapter 23, Jesus sees the religious leaders exploiting and misleading the less initiated and powerful (vv. 4, 13, 15, and 23).  He calls the leaders “hypocrites, snakes, and a brood of vipers”—not very civil language. 

In another place, Jesus clears the temple area in Jerusalem in a not-so-civil way and accuses the leaders of making it a den of thieves (Mark 11:15—17).  The next day he points out how the temple system was, arguably, exploiting a poor widow (Mark 14:41—44).

In a third example, Jesus says that to enter the Kingdom of God, one must become like a little child.  He goes to say whoever misleads one of these “little ones” and causes them to sin would better to have a millstone hung around their neck and be thrown into the sea (Matt 18:5--6).  That is not a very civil image to paint.

In each case, Jesus is confronted with powerful people misleading or abusing less powerful people.  For Jesus, the instinct to protect the powerless and vulnerable takes precedent over showing civility to the powerful and influential who are misusing or misleading them.

White Supremacy

I believe White supremacy is one of those areas where higher values than civility reign supreme.

White supremacy (also called White nationalism) leads to injustice, poverty, violence toward, and even the death of, people who are Black, Brown, or of a faith other than Christian.  We live in a nation still marred by the vestiges of White supremacy; it is baked into our national life with devastating consequences for people of color.

White supremacy in its explicit formulation is, however, more than these damaging consequences.  It is an anthropological categorization of human beings.  It is about who is considered fully and supremely human and who is not.  There are key humanizing characteristics that are found only in White Christians, assert White supremacists.  This is something more sinister than prejudice and racism, and discrimination.

The American Defamation League summarizes the agenda of White supremacists in this way:

White supremacy is a term used to characterize various belief systems central to which are one or more of the following key tenets: 1) whites should have dominance over people of other backgrounds, especially where they may co-exist; 2) whites should live by themselves in a whites-only society; 3) white people have their own "culture" that is superior to other cultures; 4) white people are genetically superior to other people. As a full-fledged ideology, white supremacy is far more encompassing than simple racism or bigotry. Most white supremacists today further believe that the white race is in danger of extinction due to a rising “flood” of non-whites, who are controlled and manipulated by Jews, and that imminent action is need to “save” the white race.

White supremacists can go under a number of names.  The Southern Poverty Law Center includes a variety of other designations as well: the Ku Klux Klan, neo-confederate, racist skin heads, neo-Nazi, and Christian Identity movement.

Self-described White supremacists are advocating something more than simply passively letting the effects of racism continue unaddressed.  They want to bring change inspired by the four clearest historical examples of unrestrained White supremacy ideology in practice:  the American institution of slavery; the Jim Crow regime; Nazi Germany; and South African Apartheid.  They are divided over whether violence is desirable or at least necessary to achieve their goals.

When it comes to White supremacy, I believe there is a higher value at stake than civility.  To borrow form the writer of Ecclesiastes, there is a time to be civil, and there is a time when the demands of decency and justice overrule civil dialogue and curious engagement.

To seek mutual understanding and respect in the face of rhetoric or actions that are repulsive, devastating to communities, and lethal to innocent human beings is beyond the bounds of civility.  I believe White supremacy lies in those bounds.  The only responsible response to White supremacy is condemnation and a call to repentance.

Within the Bounds of Loving Our Neighbor

Loving white Supremacists is within the arena of loving our neighbor.  They are made in the Image of God.  They are due the dignity instilled within them by their Creator.  We are to love them as our neighbor, even if they position themselves as our enemies.

 Here is an opportunity for followers of Jesus Christ to grow ever more into the image of the One who said “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Loving White supremacists, while not tolerating for a moment their actions or crediting their views, is our formidable task.   Believers must resist arrogance and a sense of superiority.  We must labor to see White supremacists as brothers and sisters who, like us, are in need of God’s grace and forgiveness.  This the challenge of the Gospel in our lives in these days 

We must not, however, give an inch to their beliefs and agenda.  White supremacy is a direct assault on God’s “very good” (Gen. 1:31) crowning achievement in creation.  It is a denigration of the Creator.

 Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister of American Baptist Churches of New York State

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Marathon of Covid19

 

Paul Simon captures my sentiments about COVID19 in his song You Can Call Me Al: “I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore.”  I don’t find COVID19 amusing anymore, not in the least.

I was asleep in Rwanda on Wednesday, March 11th, when my wife called me at 1:30 a.m. Rwandan time and said the president was closing the U.S. borders on Sunday.  I had to get home before then or spend a long time in Rwanda.  I like Rwanda, but I also like being at home with my wife.  She made for me a reservation that night to fly home through Qatar on Saturday.  The next day the Administration clarified that citizens would be admitted to the country but would need to go through quarantine.

It was good my wife acted fast nonetheless.  The next day airlines started canceling all flights from Africa to Europe.  Tickets for other routes became hard to come by.

Thus began my introduction to the pandemic. It was jolting and disruptive and cost me staying in Rwanda long enough to do a reconciliation practicum in a Rwandan prison.  The virus and I got off to a bad start.  Things between us have not improved.

New York State is doing better these days after some grim and frightening months.  New Yorkers are enjoying a bit more freedom; our churches are free to meet in person if they follow strict safety protocols.  Many are choosing to play it safe and postpone gathered in-person worship.  Even when we are together, it feels awkward. There is an inevitable sense of wariness as we greet one another.

Americans in other places are suffering unprecedented infections and deaths.  And even New Yorkers  know the tide could turn against us at any time, and we would be sent back to our bunkers in quarantine.  And there is the agony of what to do about students returning to school.

I really don’t find this stuff amusing anymore, really not amusing. 

What we took to be a quarter mile race has turned into a marathon, and they keep moving the finish line.

I think about the Apostle Paul these days; he characterized the life of faith as a race to be run.

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.  Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.  So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air;  but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24—27).

How do we exercise self-control and run this pandemic race successfully?

First, we need to change our expectations of ourselves and others.  We are working harder and having fewer tangible to results to show for our efforts.  We think if we try harder and put in more time, we will overcome these challenges.  So we lurch ahead doing all we can at every moment; but when running a marathon, the key is to find a rhythm and gait that are sustainable for the distance.  We must run in a way that preserves our health—emotional, physical, and spiritual.

The Mongol Derby is the longest horse race in the world, spanning 600 miles.  It recreates the messenger system established by Genghis Khan in 1224. 

Lara Palmer, in 2013, was the first woman to win this grueling challenge and came to the event with no experience in marathon horse racing, none.

When asked how she did it, she replied that one must find a rhythm with the horse, get in sync with the gate of your animal.  She rode 70 different horses during the trek and had to adapt to each horse’s characteristics.  It was like riding 70 different races.

During the race, each rider must take breaks; and at the break, event officials measure the horse’s heart rate.  If the rate does not return to normal within a set period of time, the rider is docked 2 hours.  The point is the riders must pace themselves.  Abusing themselves and their horses is a losing strategy in the long run.

So it is in any marathon.  We must exercise self-control and pace ourselves so we can keep running and not fall ruined by the side of the road.

The COVID19 pandemic is a marathon; it is not a sprint, not even a miler.  It makes a cross country race look brief.  We cannot see the finish line, so we must find a rhythm we can sustain for as long we shall run.

A rhythm that will sustain us consists of sleep, prayer, work, and play.  Everyday.  Keeping track of the balance between these disciplines will carry us to the finish line, whenever and wherever that might be.

The writer of Hebrews, after cataloguing centuries of hardship and suffering of the faithful, writes:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God [Heb. 12:1—2].

We are not the first people to run with perseverance a race fueled by faith, inspired by the one who always ran faithfully and finished well.

Sleep, pray, work, and play—every day. Start keeping track of your rhythm and keep your daily gait sustainable.

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State

 

Friday, July 31, 2020

John Robert Lewis: Memory & Legacy


Memory and Legacy
Representative John Robert Lewis died on July 17, 2020.  There have been multiple memorial services remembering his fine deeds and exemplary character.

Rep. Lewis was one of the six principal organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, a peaceful demonstration demanding civil rights for people of color.  Rep. Lewis was the youngest speaker on the platform the day of the protest.

As time passes protests have a way of becoming “marches.”  In this change of language we can domesticate the past and enable ourselves to avoid drawing direct connections between the past and the present.

Rep. Lewis was on the front line—literally—of the orderly peaceful protest on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, and was a victim of police violence on that day.  The orderly protest became disorderly when the forces of order began to beat the demonstrators.

In 1986, Lewis was elected to represent Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, where he was known as the “conscience of the House.”  He served there until his death.

One could go on quite a while cataloguing the accomplishments of Rep. Lewis.  That is all memory.

How is memory different from legacy?  Memory is rooted in what was but is no more.  Legacy is what we leave behind that lives on after we are gone.  A legacy has lasting consequences and shapes the future. It is like planting seeds in a garden we will never see.

Jesus on Memory and Legacy
The difference between a memory of the prophets and their proper legacy was a point of conflict between Jesus and some of the religious leaders of his day.

Jesus and these religious leaders went round and round about the prophets.  They both thought the work of the prophets should be remembered and honored, but they remembered that work in different ways.  They assign differing legacies to it, as well.

Jesus reminds these leaders that their ancestors killed the prophets.  He then goes on to say the present generation is not unlike their ancestors:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous,  and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’  Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets…Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town… (Matt 23:29-31, 34).
These religious leaders did not want anyone messing with their comforting memories of the prophets.  Thus they found Jesus rather aggravating.

Jesus saw himself as building upon the legacy of the prophets: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17).  His opponents wanted to construct a different legacy.  Jesus responds to their shaping of the prophetic legacy with:  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others” (Matt 23:23).

This argument is about differing legacies.

The Legacy of Rep. Lewis
It is important to maintain the memory of Rep. Lewis not just as “the conscience of the House” with a lyrical prosaic voice but also as an unsettling conscience that often discomforted America, aggravated people, and at times drew violent responses.  He carried in his body scars of the cost of his conscience.

We need also to ask how we will build on Lewis’s legacy.  How will the seeds he planted come to bloom in the garden of our nation?

It is easy when a great person dies to put them on a pedestal and admire the memory.  Rep. John Lewis’s legacy, however, will be built in the classrooms, in the courtrooms, in the jails, in the legislatures, in the board rooms, in the living rooms, and in the streets of our nation.  A legacy is a living thing, not a monument set in stone.

We truly honor people not just by remembering them but also by nurturing the seeds they planted into a living legacy of their lives—in Lewis’s case by getting into “good trouble.”

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister-American Baptist Churches of New York State

Friday, July 17, 2020

Apologies and Reconciliation


She lamented:  “He has never once said he’s sorry in all these years.  If he would simply say that, it could be over for me.”
Fifteen years earlier her husband had an affair.  They worked through it and were raising two children together.  As far as she knew, he had not done anything like that again; their marriage was secure.  Yet she was still waiting for an apology—nothing elaborate, simply an apology.
When we hurt one another, it is often not possible to undo all the damage done.  Yet an apology can sow reconciliation where all cannot be repaired.  Perhaps apologies are part of the ministry of reconciliation in which we have been enrolled (2 Cor. 5:18).
Apologizing for something we did that injured someone else makes sense.
What about apologizing for something in which we played no part?  
Perhaps we have some connection to the people who did this hurtful thing or maybe we have somehow benefited from what was done.  What about that?
I spent some time in Rwanda earlier this year going through a training called “Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict” with a group made up mostly of Africans, with a few North Americans and Europeans thrown in.  The purpose of the program is to bring reconciliation among people who have a troubled history with one another. 
Part of our training involved a practice called “standing in the gap.”    This is where you apologize for something “your people” did in which you played no personal part.
Our group traveled one day to a community populated by both perpetrators and victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  At one point a French man, who was a part of our group, walked over and kneeled before the villagers and apologized for the role France had played in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, how they helped create the divisions and then did nothing to stop the killing.  As he kneeled, an audible gasp passed among the villagers.  They were stunned that a Westerner would kneel before them and ask for forgiveness; Westerners rarely humble themselves before Africans. 
 I cannot remember the last time I have had such a compelling sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit; I felt myself standing on holy ground, like Moses by that bush that burned.
Apologizing for something “your people” did to “another people” for a thing in which you played no part—perhaps you were not even born—may make no sense in the social and political economy of our day.  We are more interested in calibrating personal responsibility than seeking out avenues of reconciliation.
If we read more of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5, we see Paul found this true in his day as well:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:16-21).
Paul writes that we no longer regard others (and ourselves, I assume) from “a human point of view.”  We are “a new creation." What used to characterize us and still characterizes the world around us no longer describes us.  In other words, what makes sense to and is accepted by those around us is no longer true of us.  We are ambassadors from another land, so to speak, where the norms and values and people’s intentions are different.
That day in the Rwandan village as that French man apologized, something broke loose in me, some good and holy, I believe.  I was transported, for a moment to another land where this made sense in the interest of reconciliation.  I am now willing, for the sake of reconciliation, to apologize for things in which I played no part but from which I have benefitted if that apology can bring reconciliation where there is now hurt and division.
Some people might find this unintelligible or even infuriating. I don’t judge people who don’t see God in this or, on the other hand, have little interest in experiencing the presence of God at all. I am simply saying that I experienced the power of the living Christ in this practice.  It has made a fertile place in my heart for the growth of this “new creation” the Spirit is nurturing in each of us.
I cannot undo the past, but I can acknowledge it and own my inheritance of it.  And I can take up the ministry of reconciliation and do all I can to be a good ambassador of the one who seeks all people to be reconciled to one another and to God.
Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State