Blessed Are Those Who Reconcile

When my family moved to the urban core of KC over three years ago, friends and family cautioned us, “It is more dangerous over there!” Some said, “It isn’t safe!” The narrative of our part of the City had been told in terms of its crime and instability.

The neighborhood alerts on our community boards do sometimes reach a fever pitch, announcing another suspicious person, another break in, or worse. But it’s the city. We expect that, right?

Violent acts and violent rhetoric seem to dominate our landscape. From suicide bombings in far off places to murderous rampages and vehement speech closer to home, violence presses in on us. We turn on the news or browse the headlines expecting it, even looking for it. It seems inevitable to us that certain places or certain people would be violent.

But violence is as close as our own hearts.

I have cringed at the sound of a mother berating her child at the bus stop. I have called the police when the argument heard coming from a nearby house sounded like it was turning dangerous or if I heard gun shots closer than I’d like. I have taken an alternate route on my walk when I encountered two women shouting and degrading one another. Yes, violence is pressing in, but it is also pressing out.

In 1 John 3:15 it says that, “anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” That isn’t some flowery metaphor or shocking image. It is fact. An act of hate is murder.

So what makes me different from the mother berating her child at the bus stop? Nothing, really. I despise her behavior. I despise what she represents. I despise how she treats her child. Therefore, I despise her, hate her, murder her in my heart.

In the end I put myself in the place of judgement over these violent “others” and assume that they are just degenerates and perpetrators, forgetting that their story is most definitely one of victimhood as well, with complicated and traumatic stories that have played out time and time again.

So how do we battle violence?

Reconciliation.

Gentleness, forgiveness and reconciliation. These are the weapons we must use.

We see examples not only in the Bible but in Christian saints, modern day activists, and mystical teachers—of how peace can disarm violence. St. Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian saint entreated, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” We see in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:9 in the Bible, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Peace is this thing that we must acquire, hunt down, work for, struggle to maintain. We are urged to close the gap between ourselves and others in peace and reconciliation. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who reconcile.

It seems an overwhelming proposition to me to take on a violent culture, the vehement rhetoric of today’s warmongers, the institutions and religions that perpetrate violence. That is why I must make my most strategic battlefield my own heart. This is where I begin my struggle to overcome violence. From there, who knows what may come!

Jodi-square.jpg

Article by Jodi Mathews

Our Reason for Existence

The word 'Venerate' sums up what we do and how we operate here at Reconciliation Services but what does it mean?

Recently a close friend visited Diveyevo Convent in Russia while on pilgrimage. This was the very place where a famous Orthodox Christian monk, St Seraphim of Sarov, labored as pastor. In 1921, the fourth year of Soviet rule, the Diveyevo Convent was destroyed; the bells were silenced, churches and cells were emptied but in recent decades it has undergone a renewal and has been restored as an active monastery.

St Seraphim of Sarov

St Seraphim of Sarov

While visiting, a priest of the Convent began to share with my friend something unusual that had been happening in last two years. The priest related that a painted wooden icon all covered with soot, previously unknown, had been discovered on the monastery grounds. All sensed that it was very special but the soot obscured the image entirely. So they began to perform prayers in front of the icon every day in the church. After several months the faithful found a little spot on the hands and on the forehead that began to be lighter. They continued to pray and within a year they saw a face appear. Within two years the icon was miraculously and totally restored! Under the soot was none other than St Seraphim himself!

When I heard this story I thought it was a powerful image of the human condition and cure. Rather than political rhetoric and argument usually wrapped up in blame, this story gives us a way to sidestep the pitfalls in discussing how to "serve the poor" and opens a way for both the rich and the poor to seek mutual healing and reconciliation.

Each of us is in fact a living icon, created in the image of God but striving to recover our likeness. Each of us is covered over in layers of soot; various trials, experiences, passions, addictions and struggles. Through contact with the love of God communicated through the tender actions of other fellow strugglers, the true person is revealed. This story has become the primary way I understand the work of Reconciliation Services and thus the meaning of the word Veneration.

There are many ways of speaking about human beings, especially those of our neighbors who are in need who come to 31st and Troost. At RS we seek for every action—be it emergency services, self-sufficiency services or economic community building—to be an act of veneration. What we have found is that by treating each person with authentic respect and seeking to reveal their hidden strengths rather than "fix" visible deficits, people who otherwise felt hopeless find dignity, strength and solutions.