It Starts With Me

 Pope Francis praying at the Separation Wall in Bethlehem

Pope Francis praying at the Separation Wall in Bethlehem

“The overall purpose of human communication is - or should be - reconciliation. It should ultimately serve to lower or remove the walls of misunderstanding which unduly separate us human beings, one from another.”  ~ M. Scott Peck

Something has been on my heart for a while now. What does reconciliation look like as a Christian? How do I bring people together instead of fueling division and hatred? Okay, that is more than one question. I don’t pretend to be an expert on reconciliation. I am not. I do long to be reconciled in my own life, my spirituality, my relationships, to the world, and to facilitate that process for others. I’ve learned one thing through 15 years of working in other cultures and with people from other religions. Reconciliation starts with me.

I can’t address reconciliation for others until I address my own attitude, stereotypes, and definitely my own emotional health.  These separate me from any other human being: my hatred of people who are different and my inability to forgive those who have wronged me.

I have had broken relationships which have devastated me. I have had family members die after cutting off communication for years. They refused to acknowledge their actions in my hurt. This is a very personal and private pain when death enters the picture and the hope for reconciliation with your family is gone. I always doubt if I did the right thing by speaking up about past wrongs.  It would have been much easier to keep quiet, not make waves, and play nice. But by glossing over past injustices, I lose a little piece of my dignity. It does not give the opportunity for repentance or forgiveness, both of which are two major components of reconciliation.

This is where it starts, with me. I need to take responsibility for the hurt I have caused and the damage I have done to relationships. It starts with me making amends and restoring brokenness.

It starts with me expanding my worldview by participating in interfaith dialogue. I want to learn and shatter my stereotypes about others and I want to connect with people different than I am. I don’t want to easily dismiss people because they are different. By doing so that puts me in a position of power over another and keeps my world small and safe. I want to listen to their stories, desires, wants, suffering, and joys as an equal. An interfaith dialogue provides an opportunity to serve and be in community with them. I’m afraid I need these people much more than they need me. They teach me that they are just like me, a fellow human being made in the Image of God. I need them to teach me how to be their ally and to be in the thick of it with them, so to speak. Isn’t that what I’m called to do? They have stretched my heart and mind to discomfort and sometimes to breaking. And I am grateful.

Last weekend I saw the picture above of Pope Francis at the separation wall in Bethlehem. At that wall separating Israelis and their neighbors, the Palestinians, he stopped and prayed. The next day, at the request of Israeli officials, he visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem and prayed for the Israelis.  He invited both Israeli President Peres and Palestinian President Abbas to join him for a time of prayer and reconciliation in Rome. It’s a small step towards reconciliation. It’s a beginning.

 Pope Francis at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. 

Pope Francis at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. 

Below is an example of just how beautiful and powerful it can be to break religious stereotypes.