This changing identification of embrace reminds of when I was sitting at Youth Workers Round Table Meeting. There was a small group of us present. Josh, the paid-staff person of Young Life, challenged us that why we do youth ministry is because we love kids. As he continued to proclaim that we do what we do because we love kids, it turned in to a broken record. As we looked for ways to challenge Josh, he bundled it all up into an understanding that we do what we do because we love kids. We knew there was more and we knew that we could not bottle our calling into a simple phrase. When I begin to understand embrace through the philosophy of Volf, the same thing comes to mind. There is more to the phrase “embrace the other” or “love the neighbor.”
Yes, all of that is part of it, but not the final equation. In the same way, we saw our ministry as more complex than just loving kids. Should we move about from the complexity? And in the same way can embrace return to the idea that we simply love the neighbor? Maybe? Yet I do not think that is something that I will see occur in my lifetime. I do not think the humanity is able to love the neighbor in its simplicity. Volt’s four step process shows the difficulty of embrace –
3. Forgetting (making room for the other)
4. Healing memory
Embrace, like much of our lives, has been linked to a process. I don’t think Volt is completely out of line. There are things that we try to simplify and the very idea of embracing the other is one of those things.
Volf brings his process into reality when we think about the ministry of Christ. Christ’s ministry begins with repentance and moves to reconciliation. Christ does not instantly make right, but seeks for peace as he brings communion with his former enemies. And it is not until God meets us, the enemy, on the cross that the ‘process’ has made it’s full circle. When we think of embrace in this way, it makes real that embrace continues to happen for we know that God continues to meet the enemy on the cross. It is not a one time communion, but a continuous process.
So, I live in this difficult reality of what does embrace really look like. Am I really embracing the neighbor, or I am stuck in the reality that I think I do because I can say that I love the neighbor.
Volf writes, “reconciliation [step two in embrace] with the other will only succeed if the self, guided by the narrative of the triune God, is ready to receive the other into itself and undertake a re-adjustment of its identity in the light of others alterity” (110). This shows that embrace is not easy. Reconciliation is not easy. How are we able to move past our identity to make room for the other. The opposite of reconciliation and embrace is revenge. Revenge is our very nature to fulfill something or substitute something in our being. Why is it that we choice revenge over reconciliation? Why is it so hard to love the other?
I was recently part of a conversation at a congregation about the reality of welcoming a Spanish Speaking congregation into their building. They used language of ‘those’ people and what will this mean for our worship and our building. My initial reaction is that they are not ready to embrace the other. They first needed to see that they are not those people. Maybe currently they are the enemy, but how can that not be the case. How can one move past that idea? What will it take in our culture to be able to say, ‘Yes, we embrace the other.”
Being in an urban setting, the need to embrace the other is so clear. As I travel to worship I pass a American Indian welcome center, a Salomi mediation center, and a synagogue. To be part of a ministry in the city we cannot look at this other institutions as the other, because their needs to be that communion of embrace. But what does communion with one another look like? And how do we move past this reality that it is only us? How do we make room for the other in our identity?