Michael Brown, Iraq, Putin, Gaza: How to Reconcile the Brokenness?

Reconcile CoverA soon-to-be college-bound Michael Brown is shot by Missouri police, reportedly while holding his hands above himself in surrender, and while unarmed. The resulting protests turn violent, leading ultimately to police setting up barricades, complete with snipers, tear gas and flash grenades. Local stores are decimated and scores are injured in the resulting tensions.

Not long ago, Eric Garner, another African-American man, died of suffocation while being submitted to a choke submission hold by a New York Policeman.

Last year in North Caroline, a black man was shot ten times by a policeman. And all of this is in the shadow the Trayvon Martin, whose tragic and unnecessary death, is still fresh in our minds and hearts.

As cited on the Economist website, it’s enough to elicit a grim question from Delores Jones-Brown, director of the John Jay College on Race, Crime and Justice. “People are asking,” she says, “Is it open season on us?”

Meanwhile, half a world away in Iraq, ISIS continues to wreak havoc, and the United States has resumed an airstrike campaign after a decade of military force trying to maintain a tentative peace in a fractured nation. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t have reports of more Israeli and Palestinian blood spilled over the historic Gaza conflict, and Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to – in the words of a recent TIME Magazine article – “create problems only he can solve.” All the while, he stokes resentments between east and west not seen since the Cold War, seeking, too, to weaken the cohesive strength of NATO and to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies in Europe.

What’s happening to us?michael brown

In fact, despite the swell of division and resulting violence, part of the issue is that we have such a sharply tuned and inexhaustible news cycle that places every tragedy, from St. Louis to Ukraine, right before us, morning and night. But this isn’t to say we’re not experiencing an unusual spike in our interracial, intercultural and international conflicts.

So what do we do now?

Longtime peace activist and author of “Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians,” says he experienced an epiphany while doing peace work in Costa Rica. An anonymous caller threatened to kidnap and kill his daughter, which made the otherwise political work he was engaged in starkly personal. To that point, he had understood the well-known verse from John 3:16 “primarily used as a formula for salvation.” But after this experience, he says he reads it now with fresh eyes. He then saw in the verse the profoundness that, “a parent gave a child for the restoration of and reconciliation with an enemy.  This was the part that jumped out – it speaks to the quality of love for an enemy as the core marker of God’s example then emulated in Jesus.  This quality of love embodies the nature of discipleship.”

Post Christian166x251In my book, “postChristian: What’s Left? Can we fix it? Do we care?” I point out that the “good news” of the Christian Gospel is one of liberation, rather than victory. “A conqueror obliterates or oppresses the enemy. A liberator removes the enemy’s power over its victim, with this result: both oppressor and oppressed must find a way to coexist, living side by side in a world where they can no longer be content to label their enemy as “other.”

We appreciate the Biblical image of the lion and the lamb lying down together in peace. But the issue, more often than not, is that we see the “other,” whoever it may be, as the lion. But most likely, they see a similar threat in us. Are we both lions? Both lambs?

Often times, though we don’t care to admit it, we’re some combination of the two. And until our own inner lion and lamb can find peaceful coexistence, it’s close to impossible to help realize it in the broader cultural context. I go on in
postChristian” to say, “both see the “other” as lions, preying on their identity, seeking to destroy something they hold dear. But if the lamb is liberated from the fear of being destroyed by the lion, the two must now engage in the hard work of learning how to live side by side. It no longer matters who is viewed as the predator and who as the prey.But it’s not fair, we say. We want justice, and all we’re given is peace! No wonder we killed Jesus. Would it really be any different today?”


In a recent interview, I asked Lederach how we even begin to engage this seemingly overwhelming task of peacemaking, especially when so much around us seems to be unraveling. “Start with things close at home and close at hand,” he says. “Don’t miss opportunities when they emerge – like a Sunday School argument.  Notice how you listen and how you express things you feel deeply.  Give yourself the gift of a meeting once a week or month with someone who is not like you, does not see the world the way you see it, and with whom probably disagree.  —  a lifetime gift of being in relationship with the “other.”  

It may seem small, even futile, to take on such apparently minor practices when larger needs are so obvious. And yet, until we’ve done the real, hard work of realizing the “lifetime gift of being in relationship with the other,” these cycles will inevitably repeat themselves, despite our best efforts.

It starts small, one person and one relationship at a time. And with God’s grace and our committed effort, it grows into something more beautiful than we could possibly imagine in our present reality.

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  • Elijah fan

    Check today’s photos on Michael Brown strong arming a store clerk 1/3 his size.
    If he was college bound, those fellow students were in for extortion. He was a thug….and some were lying about his character.

    • Christian Piatt

      and this justifies him being shot?

      • Elijah fan

        Legally maybe if the laws there allow shooting a fleeing robbery suspect….according to a lawyer correcting another lawyer on a tv show. in term of Scripture? Scripture’s Romans 13:4 is tougher than many modern Christians are….and five times tougher than the last three Popes within Catholicism.

        • Christian Piatt

          There is not one example of Jesus supporting the use of violence for any purpose. Paul is not Jesus; I choose Jesus.

          • Elijah fan

            Guess you missed His making a whip of cords, avoiding dialogue at that moment and whipping them out of the temple unless you think mideastern hustlers ran at the mere sight of a man with a whip…lol.
            Paul spoke by inspiration of the Holy Spirit who by the way killed Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 through Peter’s words as He killed Dathan and Abiram through Moses ‘ words.

          • WilmRoget

            Guess you missed the part that forbids women to teach or instruct men, or literally forbids them to speak up in public.

          • Elijah fan

            Errrr…. I’m a 6’3″ male…225 lbs. That’s Cordelia in the picture….9 years old bilingual in English and Mandarin since she was seven….now living in Taipei.

          • WilmRoget

            So you deceive people. Thanks for revealing that about yourself.

            By the way, the Bible also literally forbids putting on the appearance of someone of the opposite gender for the purpose of deception.

          • Elijah fan

            Show us a disque rule that the photo can’t be a loved one. You can’t. I see it all the time. You’re trying to get leverage against getting caught in rash judgement. Fail

          • WilmRoget

            “Show us a disque rule that the photo can’t be a loved one. You can’t.”

            Irrelevant. You’ve been using the Bible to rebuke others, not very accurately, and the Bible forbids taking on the appearance of the opposite gender to deceive people.

            ” You’re trying to get leverage against getting caught in rash judgement.”

            Nice slander, but since I’ve made no rash judgement here, your excuse is just more sin.

            We might want to talk about obesity and the sin of gluttony too, since your height/weight ration is on the unhealthy side.

        • (a) The laws do not allow shooting a fleeing robbery suspect. (b) Officer Wilson didn’t know that Brown was a robbery suspect.

          • Elijah fan

            Actually I read another legal opinion that says they can shoot a fleeing violent offender which he was just there on the site without the robbery being known since he was violent with the cop. But I think the cop will be indicted because if the witness is correct, the bullets entered not from the back. Were all the bullets entering in the back, ironically the cop would have a better case. This all depends on bullet entry but I think the cop will go to prison because the female witnesses seemed truthful but I wouldn’t believe his companion.

      • R Vogel

        Of course it does – first we dehumanize him by using the word ‘thug.’ Then we can all let out a big sigh of relief. It’s always OK to kill thugs. Trayvon was a ‘thug,’ Michael is a ‘thug,’ Jordan Davis and his friends were ‘thugs’, but a bunch of white gun-toting lunatics in the Nevada desert weren’t ‘thugs’, they were ‘patriots’ so we can’t shoot them. Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman weren’t ‘thugs’, they were concerned citizens and fearful little lambs exercising their 2nd Amendment Rights, so they get the benefit of a trial. ‘Thugs’ deserve to be gunned down in the street, in their cars or in dark alleyways. And the beat goes on…….

        • WilmRoget

          Bet all that changes when someone decides to call Elijah fan a ‘thug’ for some reason.

          • Elijah fan

            How would that bother me? I live on the New York harbor and had to fight a black criminal two years ago whom I beat in public who said he’d be back with a pistol. Black young people in that area look at me with respect after it but some do fear me as a thug like a 13 year old black girl I saw pointing to me and warning these two males she was with as I caught what she was doing from my car. I’m guessing there’s some ivory tower scholars on this thread living in the suburbs. May you never be intimate with thugdom because you’re not ready by a long shot. I put a tough ghetto girl through three years of Catholic school and tutored her each school night for those years right above a heroin drug den.
            Detective in that area told me to carry an illegal pistol when certain thugs were after me. I didn’t…6’3″… years of gymnastics still rings…and boxing combinations even now for ten minutes a session at fast speed. And yes…in one neighborhood, blacks think me a strange white thug. It’s better that way for my safety.

          • WilmRoget

            You can tell any fantasy story you want.

          • Elijah fan

            Right after your death and in your particular judgement, God will show you the entire video since you just committed rash judgement.

          • WilmRoget

            Your nastiness proves that your entire account is fiction.

            I made no rash judgement. Your slander is sin. Please repent.

          • Elijah fan


          • WilmRoget

            So know we know that you are a preteen or teen.

        • Elijah fan

          Shall we go into the list of names Christ used…whited sepulchers….the father from whom you are is the devil…( Herod) that fox…get be behind me satan ( to Peter). John the Baptist…brood of vipers.

        • sharon peters

          ever hear of ‘jackbooted thugs’?

          • R Vogel

            Ever noticed how that is only used when police and government forces are used against white people…..?

  • Peter

    Stealing should not be a capital crime. But really? Running off with Swisher Sweets? Given a story I read on The Daily Beast about the lies that Ferguson police officers have told in the past, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find that it was a fabrication, but Michael Brown’s friend’s attorney said it was true. Sad because it muddies the waters as far as perception.

  • Hey Christian, Thanks for this. I really hope that Lederach’s book gets more publicity, It’s one that should be on every church leaders shelf and the skills in the back need to be taught to the whole church often.

    I feel that a lot of us followers of Jesus are getting caught up in anger with the system and participating in rallies rather than engaging the conflict in transformative ways. Granted, I’m all the way over here in the Philippines and I only get the news about Ferguson every once in a while and through the #mennonerds conversations.

    Don’t get my wrong, I’m not being critical. I’m just curious if you know of anyone who’s taking the path of Lederach or some of the other amazing international peacebuilders and facilitating dialogue between “enemies” in this situation?

    ps. been reading your stuff a long time. Thanks for your reflections.