the pencil reads

posts on articles, books and movies

The history of the siege of Lisbon, by Jose Saramago

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I don't have very much to say about this book because I didn't have the patience for all that history so I leafed through it and read only the choicest parts, and I'm not telling which I consider the choicest parts, but the choicest parts were really good.

The Ministry of Reconciliation, by Robert J. Schreiter

Monday, May 15, 2006

This is nothing short of an astounding book.

Sometimes when I look at the state of the world, I want to bury my head into a hole and say: "Sorry, things are too messed up. Nothing I do or say or believe can possibly help in your horrible situation." History shows the worst of human nature: during the Rwanda genocide of 1994, up to a million people were killed in 100 days. Did you know that in the 1930s, Rwanda experienced a great Christian revival, sweeping great numbers of the Tutsi aristocracy into Christiandom, so much so that Rwanda became known as the "Christian kingdom"? In 1994, the year of the genocide, 90% of the population belonged to one Christian denomination or another. How could something like this happen in such a context? What did we do wrong? What can we do now?

This slim book by Schreiter gives a person hope. I can't begin to describe the impact of this book. He uses the resurrection stories in the Bible to forge a way of reconciliation for us in the 21st century, with the understanding that when Jesus died on the cross, it was to reconcile man to God. Through the resurrection appearances, Jesus gently and wonderfully initiates reconciliation to a people truamatised by guilt and despair, thus showing for us a way of reconciliation today. He appeared first to the women, then to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, to Thomas, to Peter and the disciples, and to many others, and then he went away.

What Schreiter says sometimes takes you completely by surprise, the same way Jesus takes us by surprise in the gospels. You would think that the wrongdoer would have to repent first before there can be forgiveness and reconciliation; Schreiter says instead that reconciliation is the beginning: a point of transformation by God's grace, equivalent to the fall of the Berlin wall, or the release of Nelson Mandela. Reconciliation begins with the victim! It actually makes sense.

Schreiter emphasises that reconciliation is first and foremost a "spirituality" rather than a "strategy", yet in the stories he uses in this book, you can catch a glimpse of how to be a peacemaker in today's divided world. The two disicples who were on their way to Emmaus were trying to escape from Jerusalem, but no matter far they went, they carried their burdensome story with them, re-telling to each other the terrible things that happened. Jesus came by to listen to them tell the story, then he retold the story within the larger context of God's work in Israel. Schreiter points out that in reconciliation, stories need to be listened to, and then retold in the larger context. Jesus pointed out that his death was not the end of the road! It was the beginning of a remarkable transformation. Jesus was so transformed that nobody, not even his closest disciples, recognised his face.

Reconciliation is about making things new, not about going back to the way things were, which is why it is so difficult to imagine its possibility. It is 2 Cor 5:17: "The old has gone, the new has come!" It is a process driven by God, but tasked to men.