Advent Friendship Reflection, Day 14
True reconciliation is hard. The past few days I have been talking about Jesus' friendship notions as illustrated by his parable of the Good Samaritan. One of the possibilities I have touched on is that engaging in friendships may be one of the ways in which we bring healing and reconciliation to our racially divided communities. Peter Slade, in his book, Open Friendship in a Closed Society, studies how the work of Mission Mississippi (see yesterday's Advent reflection) encourages racial reconciliation through the formation of friendships in twice weekly prayer breakfasts. He uses the concept of the embrace, developed by the theologian, Miroslav Volf. If you look at the painting of the Good Samaritan by Vincent Van Gogh, you can see the Samaritan helping the wounded wayfarer onto his pack animal. If you look more closely, you can see the wayfarer embracing the Samaritan. In this painting we see an illustration of Volf's concept of the embrace.
Reconciliation is hard because the strict demands of justice for past wrongdoing can seem insurmountable. In fact, conciliatory justice may demand punishment, even retributive violence upon perpetrators and their descendants. This in turn unleashes another cycle of violence and retribution. Easy forgiveness, on the other hand, can leave simmering resentment, anxiety, or even paralyzing depression among those who have been wronged. Volf suggests instead that the "will to embrace" enables us to recognize the other's wounds, the other's brokenness, while opening our own vulnerability to be healed by the former enemy. As you look at Van Gogh's painting, which character do you relate to? Who is the enemy to whom? Which do you think is acting out on their will to embrace? Can the will to embrace lead us to friendships with others whom history, culture, and continued injustices would preclude? When have you made yourself vulnerable to another, unexpected stranger? Were you then able to see the world through the lens of their brokenness and pain?
Each day of advent, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25, I plan to post a few thoughts on an aspect of friendship I learned while writing my book, Virtuous Friendship: The New Testament, Greco-Roman Friendship Language, and Contemporary Community, available on Amazon through this link. This will be a chance for me to share with you all a little bit from what I learned, while giving you, hopefully, a chance to take a deep breath during this busy season and do some reflection. Also, you won't have to secure another resource for Advent. I realize that you are all at many different places with regard to faith and belief, so use these reflections however you see fit. If you'd be interested in having me come speak at your church, lead a Bible Study, or even just Zoom or Skype in for a Q&A with a Sunday School class or other small group, let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.