Date of Award

2018

Document Type

Project

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Reconciliation and Intercultural Studies (MA-RIS)

Department

Theology

First Advisor/Committee Member

Brenda Salter McNeil, D.Min., Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies

Keywords

Psychic trauma; Defeat (Psychology); Despair; Disappointment; Discontent; Frustration; Helplessness (Psychology); Hope; Bible. Corinthians, 2nd. IV. 8-10; Reconciliation—Religious aspects—Christianity; Peace—Religious aspects—Christianity; Peace-building; Shalom (The Hebrew word); Liminality—Religious aspects—Christianity; Presence of God; Healing—Religious aspects—Christianity; Spiritual formation

Abstract

There seems to be an assumption in many Christian communities that suggest people should avoid the experience of pain and suffering. This is often communicated by encouraging those who grapple with difficult realities to have a positive perspective or attitude. As a future leader in the Church, I am concerned about the negative impact of this message on the emotional and spiritual health of people. I am specifically concerned about those who engage in the arduous work of reconciliation and peacemaking and how they can survive the inevitable pain and difficulty of this work over an extended period of time, when this is the message that is given so prevalent to them. Is there a theological perspective that addresses and gives insight into how people can experience these places of desolation without succumbing to despair or having to deny the reality of their grief?

In her book The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper writes, “The good news of my gospel doesn’t feel good enough… The best that human peace can offer is broken peace.” This quote speaks to the reality of my experience of frustration and hopelessness in Christian peace efforts—the best we can do is still broken, and that doesn’t feel good enough. On the other hand, as a Christian, I theologically know that God’s shalom is perfectly enough, but we exist in the liminal space between our desolation and the knowledge of shalom.

So what do we do in the in between? How do we exist in this liminal space knowing that our efforts for peace are insufficient? How do we sustainably live in desolation— exist in the liminal space— without it breaking us? Must we accept our desolation and settle for broken peace? Is there anything redemptive to be gained through the experience of desolation?

The apostle Paul seems to address and understand the way in which we can experience desolation without despair. He says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:8-10 ESV). Therefore, I believe that it is possible for those who are in desolate places to experience life, and the answer may be that the goodness of our gospel is in its proximity to desolation. In times of desolation, people may not need the good news of the gospel to feel “good enough,” as Harper puts it. Instead, this thesis will propose an understanding of a gospel that is proximate to the pain of our world. A “proximate gospel” is a good gospel, it’s a shalom that meets us in our desolate places. The goodness of God stands in direct opposition to desolation, and yet remains proximate and sustaining. This thesis project will discover a new way for Christians engaged in the work of reconciliation and peacemaking to live in the desolation of human efforts and broken peace while still experiencing God’s ultimate shalom. Therefore, the purpose of this thesis project is to explore the question, “What are the practices that empower Christian reconcilers and peacemakers, in areas prone to trauma, to carry pain differently and experience the reality of a God who is proximate in times of desolation?”

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