Saturday, September 6, 2014

Thoughts for White People, from a White Person (Brian E. Konkol)

The following reflection was published by the Star Tribune (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN) on September 5, 2014. The online version can be found at http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/274024641.html

I am white. Most of the people near my house are white. This is the way it is for most of us white people in the United States, and as we continue to be shown, the consequences are both critical and numerous.

While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits all forms of housing discrimination, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that millions of instances occur each year, thus the phenomenon of residential segregation continues to be a common facet of modern-day life. To put it simply, white people tend to live by other white people, and it is the way it is by no accident. For example, segregated neighborhoods are often reinforced by the practice of racial “steering” by real-estate agents, or when landlords deceive potential tenants about the availability of housing or perhaps require conditions that are not required of white applicants. In addition, lending institutions have been shown to treat mortgage applicants differently when buying homes in nonwhite neighborhoods in comparison to their attempt to purchase in white neighborhoods. As a result of such practices, white people tend to live in a state of residential separateness, for as the most recent U.S. census data confirm, genuine racial integration is — for the most part — alarmingly rare.

In addition to the systematic housing prejudices listed above, there are also a number of personal behaviors that have led to our current state of affairs. More specifically, white people seem to prefer housing located by other white people. As a result, far too many white people are willing (and able) to pay a premium to live in predominantly white neighborhoods. Therefore, equivalent housing in white areas commands a higher rent than in others, and through the process of bidding up the costs of housing, many white neighborhoods effectively shut out people of color, because those without white skin are more often unwilling (or unable) to pay the premium price to buy entry into such white neighborhoods. As a result of such white flight and isolation, not only do we witness a rise in racial ignorance and indifference, but it also leads to increased injustice in the form of disproportionate hostility directed at people of color.

If we affirm the shared value and distribution of basic human rights among all citizens, then an implication is that every member of humankind — regardless of skin color — is supposed to share a common dignity. The result is a connection of collective humanity that is expressed through companionship in community. In other words, not only does white housing isolation lead to increased levels of homicide within all so-called communities, but it leads to the homicide of community itself, as our white cultural conception of kinship is far too constricted. As a result, we should embrace the state of being connected as companions, for in doing so we are more likely to understand than ignore, serve rather than sever, walk alongside rather than push up against, and of course, speak with instead of shoot at.

There are many white people who wish to bring an end to residential segregation. For such people there are no simple solutions, yet one can argue that some of the most important steps are remarkably straightforward. We need to share life together. Black, white, brown and every shade in between, we need to be together. We need to struggle together. We need to celebrate together. We need to learn together. We need to live together. We need to speak boldly to one another. We need to listen humbly with one another. We need to enroll children in the same schools, set appointments with the same doctors, walk in the same parks, shop in the same aisles, serve in the same police forces, reside in the same streets and sit next to each other in the same places of worship. We need to be human beings together, because it is only together that we can truly be human. For in belonging to each other in such ways, we are more likely to expand our narrow notions of community, put aside the labels of “us” and “them” and instead see others — and ourselves — as we all truly are.

If we that are white people are open and honest with ourselves, we would recognize that many of us simply do not know many people with a different color of skin. In addition, we would admit that many of us are afraid, which is why many of us direct violence — directly and indirectly — toward people of color. We need to be real about these realities, and we need to take responsibility for what it means to be white people in the United States. This is not about guilt and shame, but it is about truth and reconciliation. We can move past so-called racial tolerance, go beyond our segregated residential comfort zones, and actively seek out cross-cultural and cross-class interactions, relationships and, most important, communities. As we learn to be accompanied by others across various lines, we will surely lose much of the power and privilege we have come to know over the past hundreds of years, but such loss is necessary for us all to gain what it truly means to be free. We as white people need to allow ourselves to be moved into something new, so our isolation and fear can be transformed, we may have “we” redefined, and we all can be fully restored into what the human community is supposed to be.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Opening Remarks for Candidate Education Forum on Clean Energy and Clean Jobs (Brian E. Konkol)

The following opening remarks were made while hosting an education forum for candidates running for seats in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The gathering took place at Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN) on August 13, 2014, and included representatives from the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light.

It is good to be here today to consider matters of economics and ecology, which are matters that, I believe, truly matter.

To begin, we recognize that the context of those setting an agenda determines the content of an agenda. Therefore, the agenda of this gathering begins with an honest and open recognition of our current context in the state of Minnesota, a context in which there continues to be a divide between the so-called “brown agenda” of economic opportunity and the so-called “green agenda” of environmental sustainability. 

On the one hand, a “brown agenda” concerns economic opportunity, or in other words, the alleviation of poverty. In light of ongoing distress surrounding malnutrition, infant mortality, and unemployment, the brown agenda is important, urgent, and quite worthy of our support. 

On the other hand, a “green agenda” relates to environmental sustainability and care for the Earth.  As scientific reports affirm the reality of climate change, and in recognition of decreased access to clean water and biodiversity around the world and in our own back yards, the green agenda is also deeply important, urgent, and worthy of support.

And so, with these thoughts in mind, one recognizes that both brown and green agendas are essential for the promotion of life in the state of Minnesota and beyond. However, the proponents of each agenda seem to be at odds with the adherents of the other, especially in elections seasons such as these.

For example, far too many with a “brown agenda” believe that the best way to reduce poverty is to reduce environmental controls, and to the contrary, those engaged with the “green agenda” too often place the needs of the Earth before the livelihoods of the human poor and marginalized. As a result of this persistent struggle between “brown” and “green”, progress on both agendas is limited, and our path toward economic opportunity and environmental sustainability through clean energy and clean jobs is put severely off course. 

So the question is, “Where do we go from here?”

In recognition of the ongoing tussle between economic opportunity and environmental sustainability in Minnesota and beyond, a growing number of people are embracing an alternative agenda, for as polling numbers indicate, an increasing number of people recognize that the brown agenda (of economics) and green agenda (of ecology) are deeply connected agendas; as both agendas are about the Earth and all that lives on it, and both agendas are about our responsibility to faithfully steward all of life on the planet.

And so, since this gathering is taking place here at a Lutheran college, I propose that we ask a Lutheran question and consider, “So What Does This Mean?”

For what it means, I believe, is that we need to get on board with the ever-increasing and ever-expanding agenda which combines both brown and green, an Olive Agenda, an agenda that holds together that which political and religious discourse too often rends apart, matters that matter, such as: Earth, land, climate, labor, time, family, food, nutrition, health, hunger, poverty, power and violence.

Among other things, an Olive Agenda is rooted in an understanding that economic production and consumption, as well as human reproduction, are unsustainable when they no longer fall within the borders of nature’s regeneration. In other words, an Olive Agenda recognizes that if we do not recognize that the laws of economics and the laws of ecology are finally the same laws, we are in – what my children like to call – deep doodoo.

In other words, while both brown and green agendas are “fundamentally right”, we also recognize that taken in isolation each is tragically wrong, and we must therefore integrate the brown of economics and the green of ecology into an Olive Agenda that offers sustainable livelihoods for all.

To conclude, as a person of faith, as a citizen of this state, and in response to the responsibility that I believe God has placed upon humankind to serve as faithful stewards of life on Earth, I believe matters of economics and ecology are not only connected, but they are matters of religion, matters of ethics, matters of morality, and yes, even matters of mortality. These matters matter, as they touch upon the core essence of what we as the human community are supposed to be about.

As a result, I hope that what we do today matters, as clean energy and clean jobs are not only smart politics during election season, but even more so, clean energy and clean jobs are part of an Olive Agenda that brings sustainable livlihoods to all on this Earth, now and into the future. Therefore, we must continue to transition to clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power, increase energy efficiency, and make it easier to generate local power. 

These matters are the defining matters of our generation. It is how the history books will judge us. I pray that we will be on the right side of history in such books. And it continues with writing another new page today.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Lenten Commitment to Homeland Insecurity (Brian E. Konkol)

In response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush proposed the establishment of an Office of Homeland Security (OHS). In fulfillment of this comprehensive legislative proposition, the Homeland Security Act was signed into law on November 25, 2002, which in turn began the largest U.S. federal government reorganization in over five decades. As stated by the National Strategy for Homeland Security (released in July of 2002), the purpose of the OHS was to “detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from” a wide variety of potential and/or present threats within the confines of the United States.
 
Since the formation of the U.S. Office of Homeland Security we have witnessed a significant rise in security-related efforts in all corners of the country. For example, U.S. citizens are well associated with color-coded risk advisory scales, readiness websites, cyber-security frameworks, heightened immigration and border patrol blueprints, and numerous other strategies that are meant to protect “us” from the so-called “them”. In specifics, The Department of Homeland Security was authorized a budget of $46.9 billion for the fiscal year of 2012, with expenditures ranging from nuclear detection and personnel training to advanced science and technological development (and one can assume that such budgetary priorities will remain). In the midst of it all, the new normal in the U.S. appears to be one of heightened security, for in addition to noticeable increases in federal government expenditures, the private security industry is also growing (and thus flourishing) at a rapid pace, as the number of full-time security guards – not to mention corporate profits – are at all-time highs.

We clearly live in a world that is filled with risks and dangers, and because the increased availability of modern technology allows for harm to occur at unprecedented rates and levels, one can argue that we live in one of the most treacherous eras of human history. However, while the need for protection from harm is both natural and commendable, we are forced to consider whether or not protection itself can eventually become harmful, unnatural, and even condemnable. In other words, with such extensive resources invested in the pursuit of safety and security, one is forced to consider: What are the consequences of such “protection”? More specifically, what happens when so much time and effort is dedicated toward protecting ourselves from our neighbors that we eventually lose sight of who are neighbors actually are? At what point does the heightened priority of protection lead to the increased inevitability of isolation and ignorance? And finally, in our efforts to build impenetrable walls of protection (often in the name of freedom), do we not eventually incarcerate ourselves from the rest of the world and thus limit what it actually means to live free?

While Jesus of Nazareth clearly lived in a social context far different from our own post-September 11th reality, he was fully aware of the risks and dangers that surrounded him, yet he was also cognizant of the vast consequences that an overindulgence in security can have upon a community. More specifically, throughout his Sermon on the Mount and other public teachings Jesus tore down the notion that people needed to fear each other, and in doing so revealed that authentic relationships come not through walls of anxiety, but within the open pathways of vulnerability. In fact, Jesus named as “blessed” the very things that produced an increased susceptibility to harm, and after embodying such commitments by dying on a cross, he affirmed that it is better to embrace others with vulnerability and faith than to exclude with hostility and fear.

As the Season of Lent allows for discernment and self-examination in the context of our ever-changing world, perhaps the time is upon us to fast from the fear of our neighbors – both locally and globally – and thus commit ourselves to the practice of homeland insecurity. Instead of placing our ultimate faith in government programs and private contractors and devices, and rather than looking at the so-called “them” with suspicion because of what might happen to “us”, perhaps we can find real security in God’s abundant grace and thus find more faithful ways to live in our increasingly-connected global community. While times have indeed changed and risks most certainly abound, we make a peaceful future by boldly living intro it, and in doing so affirm that the only real weapon of mass destruction in our world is not to be found in some distant country, but it is the fear of our neighbors that too often sits in misguided hearts. And so, even in a post-September 11th world the wisdom of our spiritual fore-parents continues to remain true: The best security policy is not to hide from our neighbors behind fences and walls, but to love God and love our neighbors, and in doing so embrace our neighbors to the point in which the so-called “them” eventually becomes a grace-filled and all-encompassing “us”. While such open pathways of neighborly vulnerability produces homeland insecurity, they help us to receive God’s radical hospitality, and in turn we receive a larger taste of what it truly means to be free.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Being Saved from Time in 2014 (Brian E. Konkol)

The following was published on the Sojourners God's Politics blog, the Chaplains Office blog of Gustavus Adolphus College, and under the title "Spend it, save it, give it: It's the time of your life" with the Star Tribune.

In order to orientate a variety of foreigners for residence in North America, L. Robert Kohls and his staff at the United States Information Agency constructed a groundbreaking article, “The Values Americans Live By”.  In specifics, Kohls felt that visitors to the US needed to understand “common American values”, as such insights would allow them to integrate more fully into the predominant cultural currents.  All together, “The Values American Live By” highlighted numerous ideals that most (but not all) US citizens possess, all for the purpose of awareness building and cross-cultural understanding.

Among the topics covered by Kohls was the importance of time, for people from the US often conceive of time in ways far different from others around the world.  As Kohls wrote:

Time is, for the average American, of utmost importance.  To the foreign visitor, Americans seem to be more concerned with getting things accomplished on time (according to a predetermined schedule) than they are with developing deep interpersonal relations.  Schedules, for the American, are meant to be planned and then followed in the smallest detail. The article continues:

It may seem to you that most Americans are completely controlled by the little machines they wear on their wrists, cutting their discussions off abruptly to make it to their next appointment on time.

These thoughts on timekeeping in the US are striking, for not only do they prepare foreigners to reside in the US, but they also allow those of us already living in the US to perceive ourselves through alternative lenses.  As common language in the US is filled with references to time, it shows how much we value (and sometimes obsess) over so-called “time management”.  For example, many in the US believe time can be "on," "kept," "filled," "saved," "used," "spent," "wasted," "lost," "gained," "planned," "given," "made the most of," or even "killed".  As a result, one can safely argue that far too many of us fail to manage our time by allowing time to manage us, and instead of owning our watches, our watches actually own us.

The ancient Greeks had two terms for time, chronos and kairos, and these conceptions are helpful as we learn to become less concerned with saving time and more focused on being saved from time. As chronos refers to chronology and deals with quantity, kairos signifies opportunity and quality, thus time is experienced not merely by the tick and tock of a clock (chronos), but as a variety of openings in time (kairos) that take place with each passing day. Which means, while a commitment to chronos time provides countless benefits in regards to productivity and organization throughout society, we also recognize its limitations if not properly balanced with kairos. As our collective experiences reminds us, though failing to prepare is indeed preparing to fail, some of the best times in life are unplanned, and just because someone has a clock does not mean they have the time.

As we mark chronos time by turning our calendars from 2013 to 2014, may we do with the words of Lao Tzu, “Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to”. With such kairos wisdom in mind, we recognize that we do have time for the lives we wish to live, and we do have time to be that which we wish to become, for every instant of time is a glorious opening of awesome opportunity, and every breath that continues to pour into our bodies offers a life-giving and life-freeing occasion for us to embody the best of what it means to be fully alive. The time to be saved from time is now, for tomorrow is today’s dream, and we do have time for possibilities to become reality. A New Year of new time is upon us, and the opportunities of a lifetime – at this time – are now in front of us.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

SERMON: "An Invitation to Reconciliation" (Brian E. Konkol)


The following is a transcript from December 15, 2013, in Christ Chapel of Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN). As part of an Advent Worship Service of Holy Communion, the following sermon considers Matthew 11:2-11.

Over the past week the attention of the world has focused on the Republic of South Africa, in order to celebrate the life of its former President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, known locally - and affectionately - as “Tata Madiba”.

When he died on December 5th at the age of ninety-five, the South African government declared ten days of public mourning, which concluded this day, December 15th, as his body was laid to rest just a few hours ago in his homeland of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

And so, to mark the historic nature of Mandela’s death, we do so with an Advent-related lesson about how this global icon helped bring South Africa back to life. This lesson begins about 100 years before he was born, with a group of European settlers called the Voortrekkers.

The Voortrekkers were a group of white-skinned settlers, mostly of Dutch, French, and German descent. In the early 19th century this group left the southern coastal region near Cape Town and moved hundreds of miles inland, and they did so in order to establish independent republics in protest against British colonialism. However, as to be expected, as the Voortrekkers sought land, the land they sought was by no means vacant, and clashes with South Africa’s black indigenous people were inevitable.

The white Voortrekkers and the black Zulu people of South Africa began to clash over rights to the land, but eventually, in order to put an end to the violence and reach some semblance of an agreement, in 1837 the Voortrekker leadership engaged in negotiations with the Zulu king. And eventually, the Voortrekkers and Zulus agreed upon terms for land distribution, and together they signed a treaty in February of 1838.

However, during a truce ceremony to mark the land distribution agreement, the Voortrekker entourage was killed by the Zulus (for reasons that continue to be debated by historians), a renewed battle between the Voortrekkers and Zulus lasted for months, and numerous lives on both sides of the conflict were lost.

On one specific occasion, which took place on December 16, 1838, nearly 175 years ago, about 10,000 Zulu warriors attacked the Voortrekkers, but the severely outnumbered Voortrekkers – with the advantage of gunpowder – successfully warded off the Zulu army. More specifically, according to some historical accounts, on that December day only three Voortrekkers were wounded, and more than 3,000 Zulus lost their lives - in what was later called the “Battle of Blood River”.

As a result of the Voortrekker victory that day, and because of promises they reportedly made to God before the battle, Dec. 16 was later instituted by the South African Apartheid-era government as a national public holiday, to be known as the “Day of the Covenant” and in 1982, it was renamed as, “The Day of the Vow."

On the other side of the South African political and racial spectrum, and in more recent times, Dec. 16th is also remembered as the historical anniversary of the 1961 founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe, translated as “Spear of the Nation”, also known as the armed military wing of the African National Congress (ANC). More specifically, Umkhonto we Sizwe was co-founded by Nelson Mandela, who was 43 years old at the time, and the group carried out an assortment of bombings of civilian, industrial, and infrastructure sites as a form of civil disobedience against the apartheid-era government. And while the tactics of Umkhonto we Sizwe were initially geared toward sabotage, they gradually expanded as ANC members engaged in urban guerrilla warfare.

Through it all, Umkhonto we Sizwe was classified as a banned terrorist organization by the South African government - and they did so with the political, financial, and even military support of the United States of America. However, in the midst of it all, December 16th continued to be celebrated among the black citizens of South Africa as the birth of Umkhonto we Sizwe, and the date stood as a source of social inspiration for liberation from apartheid-era rule.

Now, to review…

With these historical details in mind, Dec. 16 could be remembered as a date of extreme violence and deep racial division within South Africa. Whether it was the Day of the Vow in 1838 or the start of Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961, both occasions commemorated on December 16th could symbolize deep cruelty and harsh brutality.

However, with the advent of South African democracy in 1994, and with the election of Nelson Mandela, although Dec. 16 retained its status as a national public holiday, instead of having the white population celebrate the Day of the Vow and the black population celebrate the birth of Umkhonto we Sizwe, December 16th was given a redefined purpose of multi-racial historical significance. More specifically, instead of celebrating a victory in war or recognizing the founding of an armed unit, the first democratically elected government of South Africa, under the leadership of a former political prisoner, recommissioned Dec. 16 as “The Day of Reconciliation”.

As President Mandela declared on December 16, 1995, the occasion was meant to promote a “decisive and irreversible break with the past”, to declare a shared allegiance to justice, non-racialism and democracy”, and to promote a common “yearning for a peaceful and harmonious nation of equals.” In what can now be described as a dramatic social conversion as a result of a historic post-apartheid national conversation, the newly redefined public holiday is celebrated with each passing year, and tomorrow, on December 16th, once again - for the 18th time - South Africans of all skin colors and political persuasions will commemorate “The Day of Reconciliation”.

With the people of South Africa who celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, and with all those around the world who seek a world of peace, we can say “Thanks be to God”.

But not only that, as a community of faith gathered around word and sacrament at this time and in this place, we collectively wonder: “So what does this mean”?

So what does this mean… For us?

To start with, we recognize that The Day of Reconciliation to be celebrated tomorrow in South Africa is appropriately placed within the Christian liturgical Season of Advent, and we can make the connection, for just as South Africans celebrate the 16th of December as a day of reconciliation, the Season of Advent is meant to serve as a liturgical reminder of the ways in which God’s presence heals wounds and redefines relationships. Which means, in many ways we could call this Season of Advent God’s “Invitation to Reconciliation”.

In other words, as the people of South Africa reconstructed their national holiday to embrace a transformed identity, the Season of Advent invites us to be made new through the birth of Jesus, and thus moves us to promote restored relationships, transformed social structures, and empowered people, as is written in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God’s self, and entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation."

The Ministry of Reconciliation.

Or, in the words of South African theologian John De Gruchy, “...a process in which there is a mutual attempt to heal and overcome enmities, build trust and relationships, and develop a shared commitment to the common good”. More specifically, John de Gruchy states, in line with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and liberation theologians, that the ministry of reconciliation is first an action and a movement before it becomes a theory or dogma, and reconciliation is something celebrated before it is explained. Which means, reconciliation is first and foremost a gift of God, and then it is a social task through the courage to struggle for human forgiveness and repentance in our relations with our neighbors. Which therefore means, reconciliation is at the very core of what God is about in our world, and reconciliation is what we anticipate in this Season of Advent.

In this time before Christmas, we anticipate God’s gift of reconciliation in the world, made known to us in Jesus, in which we are shown the ways in which the deep brokenness of the world can be made whole, and the wrongs of our existence can be made right through the world. Which reveals, reconciliation is a past gift from God, which we experience here in the present with God, and which leads us into a future not yet fully realized but fully trusted in because of God.

And because of it all, we say: Thanks be to God.

For this is what God is “up to” in our world, and because of it, we receive an invitation to reconciliation...

In the midst of our divisions, anger, and estrangement…

In the midst of our bickering, complaining and pointing fingers…

In the midst of the various ways that we incarcerate ourselves with ignorance and indifference and by allowing resentment to corrode its container...

By God’s grace we are made right with God, and in doing so we are invited into a reconciling journey of transformation and empowerment, toward a new future of communion with God and all people, which we can name an all-encompassing vision of human flourishing.

Yes, we have received an invitation to Reconciliation…

Which includes lament, truth-telling, confession, and pain…
But also includes forgiveness, absolution, freedom, and justice…

It includes letting go and moving forward…
It includes the boldness of being humble...

And perhaps most of all, as was shared in our Gospel lesson this morning, it includes a radical process by which:

“...the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

And so, what this all means is that, while the Season of Advent is viewed in various ways, one method is to perceive it as God’s invitation to reconciliation, for such personal and public reconciliation is dearly needed in our present day and age. For if we need anything in our world, we need reconciliation, and we need it ever do deeply.

At the risk of stating the obvious, we dwell in arguably the most divided period our planet has ever witnessed, as we observe income disparity, unequal access to health care and suitable education, as well as dangerous levels of racism, sexism, religious extremism, environmental injustice, political polarization, xenophobia, and discrimination based upon sexual orientation.  

We witness division between nations, to the point that it becomes international news when two world leaders simply shake hands.

We witness division within nations, as our so-called public servants are more interested in keeping their jobs than actually doing them.

We witness division in our school children, to the point that some bring guns into the classroom and attack their teachers and classmates.

We witness division within religious communities and between religious communities…
We witness violence and warfare… We witness resentment over petty differences...

And yes, we witness division on college campuses such as ours, to the point that some would not even look each other in the eye, and some would rather shut others up than allow all to be heard.

Yes, you know and I know, at times it seems as if our world is simply filled with hate, and our actions are too often fueled by fear.

But there is Good News.

There is Good News, for in the midst of all these dangerous divisions, we do not seek new theories or strategies or latest self-help guides. But we receive Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and with him we receive an invitation to reconciliation, for the sake of transformation and empowerment, by the grace of God, and for the sake of the world.

We are invited to replace our acts of violence and estrangement with God’s peace, so that our divisions are removed in favor of unity, and our daily acts of exploitation are altered by a sustained pursuit of fairness and justice around the world and in our own backyards. And in doing so, our relationships may be redefined, our identities affirmed, and our communities more fully restored.

And so, to conclude, we do so as we began, mindful of what is taking place about 10,000 miles to the east.

When Nelson Mandela walked out of Robben Island Prison in 1990 after 27 years of incarceration, his words and actions were, in many ways, a surprise. What many of us tend to forget is that, when Mandela was arrested in 1962, he was an angry, relatively young man who had founded Umkhonto we Sizwe and was labeled as a terrorist by the South African government, as well as our own. But when Mandela was released nearly three decades later, not only did he refuse to speak of revenge, but he told others that his mission was to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. And as he rode the ferry from Robben Island back to Cape Town after 27 years of imprisonment, he realized that, in order to accept his own invitation to reconciliation, he would need to leave his resentment and anger in his prison cell, for if he did not, then he would still be in chains.

As he told those around him, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies." Which means, “...to be free in not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.

And so, my dear friends, during this Season of Advent, may we accept the invitation to reconciliation that has been placed before us. We have been made right with God through Jesus, we respond by putting divisions aside and recognizing the importance of living in ways of peace, forgiveness, and justice.

For as Tata Madiba and countless others have shown throughout our history…

There is no future without forgiveness…
Enemies can be transformed into companions…
We can admit our own faults without fear...

And there is no such thing as community without a sustained commitment to truth and reconciliation.

And so, may we embrace our invitation to reconciliation, not merely on the Day of Reconciliation tomorrow, but in this Advent Season, and beyond. For it is in this journey that we receive life in its fulness, the peace that surpasses all understanding, and a glimpse of what it means to be alive.

May God bless you, this day, and always. Amen.