Reconciliation: A Pastoral Perspective

Jim Knapp

In todayís cerebral culture, one often focuses on expedient problem solving versus the more complex theology of finding God in the everydayness of life. Why is this? If self-esteem is the problem, then get therapy. If unfulfilled, join a support group. If habituated to anything, take part in a twelve-step program. Similarly, it is often said in the Hospice movement that all persons come to death with two questions on their minds: "Am I loved," and "Did I love well?" What is missing from these lives? Why must these questions be asked? Can these persons be reconciled with the object of their affection? Is it important to recognize a Healing Presence? The focus I bring to the table for reflection is that of the human need for RECONCILIATION.

What Dreams May Come offers penetrating statements on the old Shakespearean theme of to be or not to be. This time it is not Hamlet asking the question on the ground of being, but every person who believes that thought is reality, not physical existence. By promoting this philosophy, the film reflects a post-Christian, self-deterministic society. Is God even searching for me? What is the best route for God to take? From this movieís truth perspective, the Human Will to Power (or Anthropological Perspective) allows God to be the question, not the answer of the inquiry. Can God even be located, or communicated with, in this existence?

Communication with the dead has long been a keen interest of human beings, especially in the deep desire to contact a deceased loved one. A common expression that parallels What Dreams is that s/he has Ďgone to the other side.í Use of mediums to conjure up dead spirits has existed in common culture for hundreds of years. One such example is found in the canonical biblical text of 1 Samuel 28:11-20. Saul reaches across the accepted boundaries of existence to seek the specter of Samuel for advice during a battle with the Philistines. A common theme in this historical context is reconciliation.

The New Lexicon Websterís Encyclopedic Dictionary defines "reconcile" as "to bring together in love or friendship" (p. 834). On first blush, the Greek transliteration of reconciliation is apokatallaxai. It is defined in the Greek Lexicon as "to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken...to reconcile (is) to make things right with one another...

Some terms, for example, imply that the individual who initiates reconciliation is by doing so admitting his guilt in causing the estrangement. This, of course, provides a completely untenable meaning for reconciliation in speaking of God reconciling people to himself through Christ. In a number of languages the contextual basis for an expression of reconciliation is often found in terms relating to the reconciliation of husbands and wives. Such expressions fit well with many contexts in the Scriptures, especially in speaking of reconciliation of people to God, since God is frequently referred to as the husband and the believers as the wife ( Accordance Bible Software).

The contextual basis for reconciliation in What Dreams is between father and children, husband and wife. The term apokatallaxai is used only three times in the New Testament: Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20; and, Col. 1:22. Is it the most precise portrayal of the practice of reconciliation found in the film?

Eph. 2:16 ...and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

Col. 1:20 ...and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Col. 1:22 But now he has reconciled you by Christís physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

Thus reconciliation, when used by Paul, is in specific reference to Jesus Christ salvific power. Reconciliation, in this expression, belongs only to Christ.

George MacDonald once began a sermon by saying, ĎIf I cannot persuade you to understand a little more of Jesus Christ, my labor is lost coming to you. If I cannot help any human heart to draw closer to the living one, my labor is lost...Did the fact ever cross your mind that you are here in this world just to understand the Lord Jesus Christ, and for no other reasoní (Crabb, p. 15).

In light of this insight, one must look to Christy as a possible Christ figure (i.e. as the divine actor in reconciliation where oneís story may be placed within the redemptive story of Jesus Christ).

The name "Christy" carries the implication of the name Christ. Names are historically powerful descriptors (e.g. Christy uses the nickname "Bella" to describe his enduring love for his wife, Annie). This might be significant to the plot of the movie. Jesus is a male and, like Christ, Christy is a physician. Is Christy a "Great Physician?" Does the comparison end there? Christy "unwillingly" sacrifices himself for another. Scripture indicates that Christ willingly sacrificed himself on the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). Christy was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Christy was "the strong one" after the death of the children, but not strong enough to enter into his wifeís pain. Christy did not feel at home in heaven. He did not recognize his children. Christy continued to be "very human" in heaven (e.g. fear of drowning; unable to walk on water). Encouragement is a requirement in his supernatural existence (i.e. "donít give up!"). Where is the transformation? Christy continued to feel strong emotions in paradise and, most significantly, he continued to feel gut-wrenching pain to the point of physical violence and intense loneliness. Christy needed other people to take care of him in the afterlife. He needed a spiritual guide, Albert, and he needed an emotional guide, Doc. Christy required a personalized and ever expanding heaven, yet, he was constantly confused and disorientated. The boundary between heaven and physical existence can be crossed at human will in What Dreams. What kind of heaven and what kind of hell is this? What are the proper boundaries? I conclude by allegorical comparison that Christy is not a Christ figure.

(Note- An extended allegorical correspondence is necessary in this study, especially as the character of Christy in death resembles the life and times of the historical figure, Jesus Christ. The traditional Apostleís Creed illustrates the Christianís common acceptance of Jesus as "his (i.e. Godís) only Son" and that in death, and prior to ascending into heaven, "He (Jesus) descended into hell" (U. Methodist Hymnal, p. 882). The specifics of this dramatization has Christy taking an overcrowded elevator up to a private level before falling into the Abyss). Although greatly simplified, one could conclude that Christy is a Christ figure, albeit an impotent one. This verdict is further judged in light of what Wesley refers to as reason.

Although one may recognize that Godís revelation combined with individual experience of grace continually surpasses the scope of human language, John Wesley believes that disciplined theological work calls for the careful use of reason. By reason we determine whether our Christian witness is clear. By reason we ask questions of faith and seek to understand Godís action and will. This human struggle is shaped by the culture in which we live (Weems, Oden, interpreted). Reason does not change the outcome of the theological analysis. By reason, Christy could not be a Christ figure.

The most accurate sense of reconciliation in What Dreams, according to an extended word search in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, and that which eliminates divine estrangement, is katallageto. The substantiating reference to Cor. 7:10, illustrates this usage as a reconciliation to avoid divorce and subsequent requirements if a divorce occurs (p. 172). This definition most accurately fits the human relationship of Christy and Annie, and may be extrapolated to include

relationships with family members. This descriptive definition correctly encompasses their

"double ĎDí anniversary" (i.e. avoidance of their divorce and Christyís departure). Therefore the movie plot implies that through this form of reconciliation, which occurs between individuals, a divine Healing Presence is not required. God exits stage left! Still, mirabile dictu - miracles speak; boundaries of heaven and hell are crossed by human will. How is this happening?

Christy: "I screwed up. Iím in dog heaven."

Albert: "Heaven is big enough for everyone to have their own universe."

At the end of CS Lewisí beloved "Narnia Tales" is described the events that transpire as the characters of the story enter heaven.

The things that begin to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before (Lewis, pp. 183-184).

Lewis would have us depart from the story here- at the moment of Christyís death- but reconciliation in What Dreams is an exercise that transcends death. In fact it involves a re-prioritizing of relationships through what Robert Neville calls broken symbols

(Neville, adapted). Ian is not measuring up to his fatherís expectations at the private high

school, Headroyce. In a flashback sequence, father and son are able to reconcile their differences through the acknowledgment of their unfulfilled expectations (i.e. old symbols are shattered). Christy is now able to respect the new creation and physically recognize his son. This powerful message of transformation, through the use of the convention of flashback sequences, is carried through in the reconciliation process first with father and daughter, and later, with husband and wife. No one gave up! The family is reunited in Christyís construct of heaven.

From an anthropological viewpoint, it might be surmised that they all lived happily ever after, but this is not the case. Something is lacking. Where is God in this story? Christy and Annie chose reincarnation so that they might begin the process all over again. This concept of reconciliation implies that even in heaven, one cannot find shalom.

He is a fool, if he would chose, to give the thing
he cannot keep, to buy what he could never lose.

(Missionary Jim Elliot)

 

Concluding Thoughts

There is a mystery to tragedy. Some events in this human life will not yield to any explanation. Christians share the biblical understanding that life is a gift as well as a mystery; and that creation really does somehow make sense. For some it may be

comforting to believe that "thought" is real while "physical" is not. The post-Christian, self-determinist chooses to continue the anthropological struggle to find liberation from

pain and suffering. As stated in my colleagueís analysis, "(p)opular theology looks for redemption in psychology, psychiatry, human institutions, work, and human love." The

formula illustrated in What Dreams is an intellectual exercise, but lacks substance in

theological analysis of the pursuit of the eternal existence. Another option, employing a Christian perspective,

...involves bringing oneís own story of suffering into contact with the story of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ...a practice Christians call uniting their suffering to the suffering of Christ. (Further) A focus on the (resurrection) stories of Jesusí suffering and death might provide a helpful way of enduring suffering. The passion and death tell us of the depths to which suffering, might look like (Schreiter, p. 5).

The challenge of this earthly life and a model for pastoral praxis, is to learn and then to teach others to accompany loved ones in this walk through physical existence, and to experience no regrets at the time of our individual deaths (i.e. to say, "I am loved" and "I have truly loved well!").

 

Works Consulted:

Accordance Bible Software: Scholarís Collection. Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, Inc., http://www.OakSoft.com

Bible: RSV. New York: American Bible Society, 1952 OT; 1946 NT.

Brown, Robert K. & Mark R. Norton. The One Year Book of Hymns: 365 Devotional Readings Based on the Great Hymns of the Faith. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1995.

Crabb, Larry. Moving Through Your Problems Toward Finding God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993.

Lewis, C. S. A Grief Observed. New York: Bantam Books, 1976.

Lewis, C. S. The Last Battle. New York: Macmillan Press, 1970.

Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Little, Paul E. Know Why You Believe. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Neville, Robert. The Truth of Broken Symbols. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology: Vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978.

New Lexicon Websterís Encyclopedic Dictionary. New York: Lexicon Publications, 1990.

Oden, Thomas C. John Wesleyís Scriptural Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.

Rahner, Karl. The Content of Faith. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999.

Schreiter, Robert J., The Ministry of Reconciliation: Spirituality & Strategies. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2000.

Suchocki, Marjorie Hewitt. God Christ Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999.

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology: Three Volumes in One. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.

The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989.

Weems, Lovett H. John Wesleyís Message Today. Nashville: Abington Press, 1991.

 

A Pastoral Addendum on RECONCILIATION: 1 Peter 3:15

"Reconciliation is the work of God, who initiates and completes in us reconciliation through Christ." These are the words of Robert J. Schreiter, C.PP.S., in his reflective volume, The Ministry of Reconciliation.

...for Protestants, there is an emphasis on reconciliation as the result of Christís atoning death and justification by faith (Schreiter, p. 14).

To move beyond the premise of the movie, that salvation is a human process, demands faith. In my tradition of expression and experience, I believe in a God that no word, concept or system might capture, picture, define, or encapsulate. Imagination is not capable of such a feat. I offer a pastorís reflection by the means of a Liturgy. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi (i.e. the law of praying is the law of believing).

On Sunday, November 11th I celebrated a Service of Remembrance. I prayed that I might come to understand reconciliation in the light of faith, and that I might be led to offer something back as a means to grace. I heard an echo through the corridors of time, "Never give up. Jesus never did!" I also am tuned to St. Augustine as he repeats, my heart will not find rest until it finds rest in Thee. Life is the soundtrack for the music. Holy Scripture is a tune played on the heart. This Ecumenical Church Service is a model of faith for a world that is lost in its pain and suffering.

Opening Hymn: Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley {Jesus knows, firsthand, the pain and suffering of this earthly existence. Our pain is His pain. We walk within His story of reconciliation.}

Jesus walked this lonesome valley;
He had to walk it by himself;
Oh, nobody else could walk it for him;
He had to walk it by himself.

We must walk tis lonesome valley;
We have to walk it by ourselves;
Oh, nobody else can walk it for us;
We have to walk it by ourselves.

You must go and stand your trial;
You have to stand it by yourself;
Oh, nobody else can stand it for you;
You have to stand it by yourself.

Opening Prayer from Psalm 90: {To acknowledge that God is: Omnipresent- not limited by time and space; Omniscient- all perfect from eternity to eternity; Omnipotent- God can do all things consistent with His nature and will.}

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. A thousand years in thy sight are but yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. The days of our years are threescore years and ten, and if by reason of strength they be four score years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow, for it is soon cut off and we fly away. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Satisfy us early with thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us. And establish thou the work of our hands upon us. Yea, the work of our hands, establish thou it.

A reflection on reconciliation through poetry of a Southern Slave: {Behold, I go and prepare a place for you... This is a heaven of Godís making, not a human construct. In Godís heaven there is SHALOM.}

Soon this life will be over, And our pilgrimage will end.
Soon weíll take our heavenly journey, Be at home again with friends;
Just a little while to stay here, Just a little while to wait;
Just a little while to labor, In the path thatís always straight.

Heavenís gates are standing open, Waiting for our entrance there;
Some sweet day weíll all go over, All the beauty there to share.
Just a little while to stay here, Just a little while to wait;
Just a little while to labor, In the path thatís always straight.

Just a little more hard trouble, In a world of sin and hate;
Then weíll enter heavenís portals, And go marching through the pearly gate.
Just a little while to stay here, Just a little while to wait;
Just a little while to labor, In the path that always straight.

Hymn of Reconciliation: Amazing Grace {The gift of forgiveness, an essential component of reconciliation, is often appreciated by those who need it the most. In the publication The One Year Book of Hymns, the tombstone of John Newton is reported to read: "...clerk, once an infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had so long labored to destroy" (Brown & Norton, March 17). "And God raised us up with Christ...in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:6-9)}.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now an found; was blind, but now I see.

ĎTwas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed!

The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.

Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;
ĎTis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

When weíve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun,
Weíve no less days to sing Godís praise, then when we first begun.

______________________________

A time for PRAYERS:
REMEMBRANCE, RECONCILIATION, CONCERNS & PRAISES!

______________________________

Readings from the Gospel of Luke, and the 23rd Psalm: (I place my story of reconciliation inside the greatest story in history, that of Jesus Christ.)

And behold, two of them were walking on the road to Emmaus. And Jesus drew near and went with them, but there eyes were beholden so that they should not see him. And they drew nigh the village, and he made as though he would go further. And they constrained him, and he tarried with them. And as he sat with them he took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened and they knew him in the breaking of the bread.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. he restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his nameís sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Hymn of Promise: Just A Closer Walk With Thee {Bad things happen to good people. This is a enigma for faith. The closer I walk with Jesus, the better chance I have to understand this mystery.}

Just a closer walk with thee, Jesus grant it if you please;
Daily walking close to thee, Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

I am weak but thou art strong; Jesus keep me from all wrong;
Iíll be satisfied as long, As I walk, let me walk, close to thee.

Through this world of toil and snares, If I falter, Lord, who cares -
Who with me my burden shares? None but thee, dear Lord, none but thee.

Meditation based on Revelation 22: {The New Creation.}

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former things had passed away. And I heard a great voice saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with his people, and he will dwell with them and be their God. And his servants shall serve him, and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there, and they shall need no candle, neither light of the sun, for the Lord God giveth them light. And they shall reign for ever and ever.

Offertory Hymn: Precious Lord, Take My Hand {Tommy A. Dorsey wrote Precious Lord in 1932 following the tragic deaths of his wife and child. He did his grief-work by placing his story inside that of Jesus salvation story. If he can reconcile himself to God, so can I.}

Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night, lead me on, to the light:
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

When my way grows drear, precious Lord, linger near,
When my life is almost gone,
Hear my cry, hear my call, hold my hand, lest I fall:
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

When the darkness appears and the night draws near,
and the day is past and gone,
at the river I stand, guide my feet, hold my hand:
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

Closing Hymn: When The Saints Go Marching In {In New Orleans there are often parades through the city. Behind the band is the "second line"; the dancers. To work through my pain toward reconciliation, I dance. I give my pain over to God.}

When the saints go marching in, When the saints go marching in,
Lord, I want to be in that number, When the saints go marching in.
When the sun refuse to shine, When the sun refuse to shine,
Lord, I want to be in that number, When the sun refuse to shine.

Benediction from Psalm 150: {To reaffirm faith in God above all things. I humbly submit that I do not understand, and cannot hope to understand the great mystery of Creation. I can look to Paulís experience in prison, as an example of faith, and can chose to praise God no matter what the circumstances and except the miracles of each new day.}

Praise ye the Lord; praise him in his sanctuary; praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him with the trumpet; praise him with the psaltery and harp; praise him with the high-sounding cymbals. Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord. AMEN!

Postlude: Give Me That Old Time Religion {Many are reassured of Godís presence in their day to day life through the comfort of tradition. It is intended that those in attendance take their faith outside the protective walls of the church and live the mission of Matthew 28. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).}

Give me that old time religion, give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion, itís good enough for me.

It was good enough for Paul and Silas, it was good enough for Paul and Silas,
It was good enough for Paul and Silas, itís good enough for me.

Give me that old time religion, give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion, itís good enough for me.

It will take us all to heaven, it will take us all to heaven,
It will take us all to heaven, and itís good enough for me.

Give me that old time religion, give me that old time religion