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A Feature Review of
Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness, and Justice
Brenda Salter McNeil
Hardback: IVP Books, 2016.
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Reviewed by Megan Fetter
Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil’s Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness, and Justice is a practical guide to how to go about the process of working toward reconciliation. She states, “I’ve been calling people to reconciliation for a long time, but in some ways I’ve been remiss because I haven’t fully explained how to go about it.” McNeil shares the process of first discovering the need for reconciliation and then becoming deeply invested in building communities of justice. She does this by sharing stories of her own 25 years of experience in the ministry of racial, ethnic, and gender reconciliation and the experiences of people she has come into contact with through her consulting work.
At times, I found myself laughing and then in tears reading the stories that McNeil tells of her work, relationships, and experiences in reconciliation. In my work in community organizing and leadership development, I wished that I’d had a book like this to assist me to work through not only racial, ethnic, and gender issues but also for places where conflict, age, and ideological differences occur. I am reminded in the reading of this book of Hebrews 10:23-25 where we are encouraged to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” McNeil’s work seems to come from a space of a loving provocation toward becoming better people both individually and collectively.
As McNeil describes, the impetus for someone deciding to engage in the journey of reconciliation is a catalytic event in his or her life. I think this might be the one area that is challenging for me in its simplicity and complexity. In my mind, everyone needs to be concerned with reconciliation and McNeil maintains that it takes an awakening of consciousness for him or her to take that step. We are challenged then with helping people arrive at that point, at creating environments for personal and public change to happen for individuals and groups. How do we assist the process for people to come out of a preservationist mindset and into the cycle of reconciliation? I am prodded by her guidance to ask the hard questions that will be difficult on either side of the conversation.
As I have learned through my own education, there is this tension that exists for all of us who follow Christ in the “already, not yet.” Tension that we have to live within as we work, worship, and live in our homes and communities. We have to live within a space where we are both a part of the existing community and have a vision for the community that has yet to arrive. McNeil describes this anxiety and encourages us to “embrace the chaos,” because in this paradox will come our own education and growth.
McNeil explains what she calls, “first-order” and “second-order” change. First-order change is adding diversity in numbers to our staff, committees, and groups we come in contact with. While a good first step, we need to reach beyond it to second-order change in deciding to do things fundamentally different than we have in the past. It “requires leaders and groups to create learning environments that incorporate transformation and change into their operating systems.” This statement made me take notice because of its depth and the work that would be involved in making it happen. She definitely does not say that any of this will be easy. Throughout this work, McNeil challenges us to not only make surface changes but then to shift the very culture of the organizations and communities in which we exist. Some might find this easier than others, but she also provides solid examples of how to work toward a spirit of reconciliation in all that we say and do.
One of the most compelling arguments for reconciliation that McNeil makes throughout this book is that we have to count the cost of change. This process involves looking at what the cost will be for us to work toward a culture of reconciliation. It might be great and involve the loss of our lives and it might be, to quite a lesser extent, the loss of an evening at home. Through it all though, reconciliation is about building relationships with others in order to bring about lasting change. Not only will this change our environments and the lives of other people but it will also change our own lives. When counting the cost of change, we have to consider if we are willing first to change our own lives for the betterment of other people.
Overall, I believe this book to be a wonderful guide for working in community, no matter where that community exists. Each chapter includes activities, questions, and resources that will guide each of us on a path to reconciliation. While the book is focused on racial, ethnic, and gender issues from McNeil’s experiences, I found myself applying it to my own work and family in additional ways. I believe that we all live within a space where we feel safe and this book was challenging to me to stretch myself outside of my comfort zone. It also reinforced my belief that this process is long and we need to celebrate the small joys we have along the way.
I have this plaque on my desk at work that says, “Do small things with great love.” When I think of the work of reconciliation, it often seems daunting and hard to achieve on a global scale. Not all of us can be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or even Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil, but we can certainly ask questions. We can certainly be on a journey toward making changes in the way we measure progress in our workplace, the way we provide tools and experiences for our co-workers, and the way we seek to develop partnerships within our congregations with those who are different from us. We can make seemingly small changes with a great love for all of humankind that will end up impacting the world around us. Roadmap to Reconciliation will certainly assist and challenge us as we walk this journey together.
Megan Fetter is a reader, writer, works in leadership development, and has more than a slight addiction to coffee.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com