“Learning to Live By a New Imagination“
A Review of
Two New Books on Reconciliation
by Emmanuel Katongole.
By Chris Smith.
Reconciling All Things:
A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing.
Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice.
Paperback: IVP Books, 2008.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $12 ] [ Amazon ]
Mirror to the Church:
Resurrecting Faith after Genocide in Rwanda.
Paperback: Zondervan, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $13 ] [ Amazon ]
Having never read anything by Emmanuel Katongole, Ugandan priest and professor of theology and World Christianity at Duke University, but having heard him praised numerous times by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and others, I was excited to dive into two new books that he has written. These books, Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing (co-written with Chris Rice) and Mirror to the Church: Resurrecting Faith After Genocide in Rwanda, are both deeply rooted in Katongole’s experiences in Africa and both offer the hope of reconciliation – even after the deepest and darkest of tragedies, such as the Rwandan genocide of 1994 in which 800,000 people were killed over a 100 day period.
Reconciling All Things is the introductory book in the “Resources for Reconciliation” series from IVP Books (We reviewed the second book in this series Living Gently in a Violent World by Hauerwas and Vanier in Issue #2.1 ). Chris Rice, Katongole’s co-author and co-founder of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School, is known for his work as part of Voice of Calvary, an inter-racial Christian community in Mississippi that was founded by John Perkins. This book begins with both authors describing their experiences that have led them to be especially interested in the pursuit of reconciliation. In short, Reconciling All Things makes a striking case that reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel. Katongole and Rice argue convincingly that reconciliation is the end of the scriptural story toward which all history is moving. Similarly, they depict reconciliation as a “journey with God,” an “adventure” in which we move through the transformation from the old, fallen creation to a new redeemed one. However, lest we get too enamored with the excitement of this journey, the authors spend a chapter on “the discipline of lament,” which teaches us to “become people who stay near to the wounds of the world, singing over them and washing them, allowing the unsettling cry of pain to be heard” (94). A couple of striking facets of the discipline of lament that are noted in this chapter are the unlearning of speed and distance. God’s reconciliation, the authors maintain, happens slowly and locally and is “a reminder of the long journey to tear down walls and become different people. It prepares us for the slow, daily work by which authentic transformation happens over time” (82). Another excellent chapter addresses the question of why “reconciliation needs the church.” The short answer that the authors provide (and then elaborate on) is that “[we] need the church to form patterns and habits that sustain the journey of reconciliation, even as the church continually reminds us as Christians that this journey is what our life is all about” (110). Katongole and Rice conclude the book with ten theses on recovering reconciliation as the mission of God. These theses provide us with an excellent summary of the book:
- Reconciliation is God’s gift to the world. Healing of the world’s deep brokenness does not begin with us and our action, but with God and God’s gift of new creation.
- Reconciliation is not a theory, achievement, technique or event. It is a journey.
- The end toward which the journey of reconciliation leads is the shalom of God’s new creation — a future not yet fully realized, but holistic in its transformation of the personal, social and structural dimensions of life.
- The journey of reconciliation requires the discipline of lament.
- In a broken world, God is always planting seeds of hope, though not often in the places we expect or even desire.
- There is no reconciliation without memory, because there is no hope for a peaceful tomorrow that does not seriously engage both the pain of the past and the call to forgive.
- Reconciliation needs the church, but not as just another social agency or NGO.
- The ministry of reconciliation requires and calls forth a specific type of leadership that is able to united a deep vision with the concrete skills, virtues and habits necessary for the long and often lonesome journey of reconciliation
- There is no reconciliation without conversion, the constant journey with God into a future of new people and new loyalties.
- Imagination and conversion are the very heart and soul of reconciliation.
Reconciling all Things is an excellent book that provides a solid framework for the books that will follow in IVP’s “Resources for Reconciliation” series. It also would serve well as a conversation starter in our church communities, particularly as we seek to discern what the Mission of God looks like in our particular location.
Mirror to the Church is a poignant theological reflection on the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The Rwandan story is deeply personal for Katongole, who was born in Uganda of Rwandan parents, his father a Tutsi, his mother a Hutu. Katongole begins the book by telling a little of his own story and that of the Rwandan genocide, which began almost exactly 15 years ago during Holy Week (the week before Easter) 1994. Katongole notes that Rwanda was one of the most Christianized nations in Africa, having been held up in missions journals as “a model of evangelization in Africa” (19).
And yet, this Christian nation would become the site of one of the worst genocides in the last fifty years. To reflect theologically on this problem and to imagine how the Church might be a people better prepared to resist atrocities of this sort in the future are the tasks that Katongole sets himself to in this work. At the outset, he names one particular challenge that he faces in addressing these topics with a largely American audience:
Almost every time I fly home to visit family and friends or teach in Uganda, I run into Christians on my flights who are going to do mission work in Africa. These Christians are not just going to tell people about Jesus. They are going to educate people about AIDS, dig wells, teach children and help start small businesses.
These enthusiastic Christians are doing great work. But sometimes I am troubled by their assumptions. I worry they do not see how Africa’s problems are ties up with the problems of the West. But even more, I worry that by operating under the assumption that they are going to “save Africa,” they miss the fact that Christian mission is not so much about delivering aid or services as it is about the transformation of identity. (p 23)
Specifically, as he narrates the history of Rwanda, and how it sets the stage for the genocide, he emphasizes that Western colonization and evangelization is deeply responsible for the ethnic tensions in which the Rwandan genocide was rooted. He notes that for hundreds of years prior to colonization, the Hutus and Tutsis lived peaceably together in a society ruled by a king and under social arrangements that were essentially fair. However, with the arrival of European missionaries in the nineteenth century, there arose a racialized account of Rwandan culture. In the physical features of the Tutsi people such missionaries saw signs of descent from Abyssinian Christians who had migrated south from Northern Africa. Thus, the Tutsis were seen as superior to the Hutus, who according to the wrongheaded theology of these early missionaries, (sadly not uncommon in Western culture of this era) were cursed as descendents of Noah’s son Ham. This new racialist narrative ultimately led to the development of the Tutsis as a privileged people in Rwandan culture. After decades of living as second class citizens, the Hutus fueled to some extend by liberation theology preached by Flemish priests in the 1950’s – began to rebel. In 1959 there was a huge massacre in which 20,000 Tutsis were killed, perhaps foreshadowing the genocide of 1994. Katongole poignantly describes this story of Western Christian complicity as a failure of imagination. The European missionaries came to Rwanda with the baggage of racialist theologies:
[They] knew far too much about Africa before they set foot in Rwanda. They already had in their minds all those categories of race and tribe, primitive and advanced. As a result, they could not allow for a new Christian social reality that would not follow the logic of race, modernity, and so-called Western civilization. (71-72)
However, Katongole is quick to point out that this telling of the Rwandan story is not offered to assign blame for this atrocity, but rather to help “us name the spells whose invisible power holds us in bondage, unable to see and pursue the better alternatives that God sets before us.” (76) He goes on to reflect on the stories that captivate us in American culture. Throughout the remainder of the book, Katongole uses stories of Rwanda to explore how the Church has related to the larger culture and to imagine how it might do so in more faithful way in the future. One of the most striking parts of this section is his call for the Church to “cultivate wild spaces.” Borrowing from the works of Sally McFague, he implores us to nurture a culture that in some ways does not conform to the norms and values of Western civilization. He summarizes this passage on “wild spaces”:
We live and move and have our being in this world’s brokenness. We do not flee the world, but rather carve out wild spaces within it. We are a people who can imagine new possibilities because we worship One who took on flesh and joined us where we were.” (143)
Reflecting on the Rwandan genocide and the vision of resurrection offered in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, Katongole concludes by issuing a call for our churches to be formed by Memory, Mirror and Mission:
- Memory—as we take seriously the history of Rwanda and the tragic failure of the church to offer a baptism that ran deeper than tribalism
- Mirror—as we see in this story how resurrection happens in fresh interruptions of the so-called natural identities and patterns of life that we have assumed to be normal
- Mission—as we realize a new and urgent call to create and become the mixed-up people whose allegiance to our national, tribal, ethnic or racial identities is suspect
Mirror to the Church is a phenomenal work, whose theological roots run deep in Scripture and the tradition of the Church, but whose language is strikingly clear and accessible. If reconciliation can start to take root in Rwanda, following on the worst genocides in human history, then we should be inspired to stoke our imaginations with these stories and, in our local churches, begin to embody an imaginative culture of reconciliation, carving gout wild spaces in which the values of Western culture are turned on their heads. This vision is one that Katongole and Rice cast in Reconciling All Things, and which Katongole preaches in Mirror to the Church. We desperately need these calls to be a people of reconciliation and these two books are fiery beacons that point us in this direction. May we have the faith and the courage to follow Christ in this way!