Annie Metcalfe – Surprised and inspired by Living Reconciliation

First published on My Big Fat Prayer Project – the Blog of Annie Metcalfe

Don’t hide your light under a bushel !  Despite its ecclesiastical purple cover and its bland title, this lively,  modern  book is a pleasure to read.  To my great surprise,  I found it both informative and inspiring.

Of course, this book is meant to be both a summary of the Church of England’s [ed. Anglican Communion’s] Indaba initiative (more about this later) and a handbook for individuals and churches who want to take these ideas further at a grass-roots level.   It was never meant to be an airport sensation.   I did wonder though, as I was reading it, if with a few revisions and a catchier title and cover, it could now reach a much wider Christian market.  It starts off talking about the Black Eyed Peas and Justin Timberlake’s collaboration back in 2003 on a song with the lyrics “Where is the love?’ and takes us on a  journey that covers almost a decade and 6 out of 7 continents (I don’t think they got to Antarctica !)  And in an era where the Church seems to be struggling with defining exactly what the message of the Gospel actually is it delivers a strong message:  ‘Are you willing to be love in the world?’   I can certainly see this book, with its shiny new cover, on the shelves at Greenbelt Festival and The Big Church Day Out, making an impact on a new generation of believers.

So what is Indaba anyway?  And why haven’t I heard of it?  Was I away on holiday when the visiting speaker came?  Indaba is a Zulu word for a process whereby everyone sits down and talks about a matter of importance and everyone else listens.  This word has been adopted by the worldwide Anglican church as the name for a project in which a cross-section of people, clergy and lay, men and women, high church and evangelical would be brought together to discuss how the Church of England [ed Anglican Communion] could demonstrate love and reconciliation to a world badly in need of it.   This book tells the story of that project and of the on-going project nowadays known as “Continuing Indaba’.  To quote the very useful glossary at the back of the book:  “Continuing Indaba . . . (is) a project of the Anglican Communion to enable mutual listening, it has developed with official backing into a process to enable Anglicans worldwide to Live Reconciliation by facing our own conflicts, celebrate our diversity and difference and so become agents of God’s reconciling mission in the world.” (p162)  ‘Jargonese’?  you might think so, but read the book and you will see how Indaba and Living Reconciliation relates to normal people in ordinary parishes.   Believe me, this book is just packed with examples and stories that take the message to ‘shop-floor’ level. “Peace on earth and goodwill TO ALL MANKIND” would be my own comment.

At first I wondered about the expense, and the carbon footprint of so many people jet-setting around the world for these conferences.  And I did wonder about the privileged delegates;  I’m guessing the single parent mums and dads  had to stay at home,  the retirees on state pension, the very disabled.  But I was glad to see that at least one brave gay delegate sneaked in and had such a  positive influence on proceedings. But as the story unfolded and as individuals, some of them living in very difficult neighbourhoods, some experiencing prejudice themselves, many working in places dominated by gangs and drug dealers I found myself captivated, not only by the needs of the people  but by the courage of those delegates willing to open up to the groups about their need for change.

A look at the content:  

FOREWORD AND INTRODUCTION  – don’t be tempted to skip these!  They set the context for the book and provide some human interest background about the authors.   GLOSSARY – such a good idea and much needed, especially if you are not an Anglican.

CHAPTER 1  starts with the Black Eyed Peas and Justin Timberlake hook.  Global ‘heroes of peace and reconciliation’ are discussed  and the theme of the book is introduced, which is How can we be Love in the world? The Indaba journey is introduced, starting with the 2008 Lambeth Conference and the gauntlet is thrown down:  what does this mean for the reader, for the ordinary parish?

CHAPTERS 2-6 are the main body of the book.  We are introduced to the people on the journey and their stories.  We see some of them fighting against their cherished prejudices and their cultural assumptions and trying to come to terms with new ideas, and we see others opening up for the first time about the need for reconciliation in their own parishes and their own countries.  I particularly enjoyed John Mark Oduors’s powerful contribution about rhythm and the drumbeats (chapter 5).  I laughed (guiltily) over the hot-dog story and the one about the sweat-lodge.  I was delighted by the LGBTQ input – I’ve got my own story here since my own gay father died a few months after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act was passed and suffered immensely throughout his lifetime.  Time for change indeed!

CHAPTERS 7 AND 8 are key chapters.  When I review a book I sit down with post-it notes and a biro, looking for key themes, main points, quotable  sentences and the like.  Chapter 7 entitled ‘New Way of Being’  is literally covered with these sticky notes.  It obviously stirred something in me.  There are discussion points at the end of every chapter,  never vague, always about specifics and sure to open up group discussion.  ‘How might your describe to others an incident that encompasses reconciliation in your life, your family, your nation or your church?’ (p20)  ‘Whose are the voices not being heard in your church?’ (p75).  I assume that by the time the group gets to chapters 7 and 8 the group will be enthusiastically ready to discuss change and discuss ideas and embrace some of the practical challenges in these chapters.

See more thoughts and reviews by Annie Metcalfe here