A key component of Christian Community Development
By: Sami DiPasquale
Many of you know that I was born and, for the most part, raised in the Middle East. Periodically throughout my childhood my family visited extended family in America, and on a few occasions we lived for a year or two in the United States. By the time I turned 21 I had lived in Jordan, Cyprus, Egypt, India and the U.S. Moving back and forth between continents was sometimes difficult, usually an adventure, but always informative. One invaluable aspect of life that I was exposed to through these moves was a diversity of perspective. I learned from an early age that there was almost always more than one perspective on a situation. Often these multiple perspectives seemed perfectly justifiable and legitimate from their own frame of reference. Yet opinions tended to be entrenched, misunderstandings persisted, anger sometimes flared and relationships were broken, if they even existed in the first place.
Last fall I began a series in our newsletter exploring the key components of a lifestyle dedicated to Christian community development (CCD), a holistic framework that we strive to pursue in our Ciudad Nueva community. One of the fundamental elements of this lifestyle is reconciliation.
Reconciliation is a word that is used in many diverse settings these days, which may dilute or weaken the relevance of the word. But we can’t allow this to diminish the power or centrality of reconciliation in the gospel; Christ came to reconcile all things to Himself. As followers of Christ we are called to reconciliation with God, with our neighbors and with all of creation. At this time I’m exploring reconciliation with our neighbor – maybe a neighbor we don’t know very well, or don’t understand, or are suspicious of.
In my present situation at Ciudad Neuva there are many differences in perspective to grapple with. We aspire to build bridges between the middle class and the under-resourced immigrant community where I live and work in central El Paso. In this process of bridging divides, of working toward reconciliation, we come across many differences – differences in culture, ethnicity, education, language, social grouping, income, political leaning, unwritten class rules, denomination, and nation of origin, among others. As you can imagine, this setting provides plenty of opportunity for misunderstandings, for painful experiences (whether the pain was intended or not – often it is not), for frustration, for feeling like our personal value system is being attacked. Sometimes our fundamental worldview is challenged. This is not an easy space to live in daily.
Over the last few years I have been thinking more about the role in the reconciliation process of those who identify with the American middle class. What does reconciliation with our neighbors look like? Whether we recognize it or not, our participation in the middle class means that we are sitting in a position of privilege. It is a position of privilege, in part, because most constructs in our society are built around middle class values – this means that the systems and institutions in our country work fairly smoothly for those of us in the middle class or above. We have an advantage, an advantage that can come from many different sources – from education, family of origin, knowledge of the hidden class rules, the neighborhood where we live, the church we attend, the language we speak, the color of our skin, the social networks we move in, and so on. We know how to navigate the system and the path to a successful life seems attainable.
But often I don’t think we realize what life is like for those outside of the mainstream life that we think of as “normal.” It is easy to remain blind to the pain of those suffering on the fringes of American society, or on the fringes of our globalized world. Yet we desperately need to enter into the reality of those for whom our systems don’t work—those at the margins; people in run-down inner cities; newly arrived immigrants; those struggling in prisons; the original inhabitants of this land forgotten on reservations; those held captive to poverty or oppression around the world, sometimes as a result of policies our nation promotes and that we support. Listening to the voices, and entering into the pain, of those on the fringes is a gift to us, a necessary gift, and it helps us comprehend a more whole picture of life. It is a first step in the journey toward reconciliation. It is also the way of Jesus.
For people of privilege, reconciling with our neighbor begins with sinking to our knees before God. We can choose to build relationships with those outside the structures we are familiar with, with people who we may have considered “other.” We can listen to stories, paying careful attention especially when we notice patterns emerging. We can put ourselves under the authority of someone from a different cultural heritage. We can choose to live in a setting where we are the minority. We can study history and theology from the perspectives of those who were not invited into the process of creating the standard textbooks we are familiar with – history can sound so different based on who is telling the story. We can grieve the tragedies that our forbearers may have been a part of and try to figure out how they factor in to how we live today.
Honestly pursuing reconciliation requires a posture of humility, a spirit of inquiry, an openness of mind, a willingness to forgive and be forgiven, and a whole lot of grace. Often we hear of a completely different story, or stories, of different ways of seeing the world than the one we feel comfortable with. Its not easy if cracks develop in the neatly constructed shells that we have built for ourselves, the shells that define our reality and our beliefs about the way the world is, the way our country is, or the way our world should be. This can be very scary. But I believe it is worth the effort and I believe we are called to this journey. And along the way, by the grace of God, we will learn to love our neighbor more, or love our enemy more, and realize that we are walking in the journey that Christ has called us to.