At the anniversary of  the September 11 attacks, I found myself thinking again about praying for one's enemies, and the process of reconciliation. On Monday, my friend Joe Canner posted a link to the story of Bryon Widner, a reformed skinhead whose new life was impeded by the venomous tattoos that covered his face. What people saw often kept them from getting to know the man whose heart had had a radical transformation.

Desperate to rid himself of the vestiges of his former life, Bryon considered extreme methods, including brushing his entire face with acid. His wife intervened, and their journey to healing began with contacting a former "enemy," Daryle Jenkins, who runs an anti-hate group called One People's Project. Through a series of conversations, Widner was finally connected to a surgeon who was able to do the necessary reparations. An anonymous donor agreed to cover the cost of the ongoing surgeries with a few conditions, including Bryon's attendance at counseling and obtaining his GED. 

When Bryon met the surgeon, he found a man who was able to look beyond his tattoos. During the process which ended up taking 13 months and costing over $35,000, Bryon was in agonizing pain, but his commitment to a new life was stronger. Both the surgeon and the nursing staff "marveled at Widner's determination and endurance. The Widners
marveled at the team's level of commitment and care." 

As painful as the removal of the tattoos was, the ongoing pain of what Bryon did while a skinhead enforcer continue to plague him. "Bryon has constant nightmares about what injuries he might have inflicted —injuries he can only imagine because so often he was in a drunken stupor when he beat someone up. Did he blind someone? Did he paralyze someone? He doesn't know. But there are moments of grace. After a recent screening of the documentary in California, a black woman embraced Widner in tears. "I forgive you," she cried.

The road to repentance and reconciliation is often a long and difficult one, for all parties involved, and can necessitate the support of a larger community. Stories like Widner's are inspirational, but also instructive. They encourage me to look below the surface - after all, Bryon's tattoos are truly only skin-deep. They remind me that the cost of reconciliation is high, and that I should be willing to offer my resources and encouragement to help in this restorative process, even and perhaps especially if it includes a former enemy. And they are also sobering as I realize that reconciliation may not truly be accomplished in this lifetime. 

As a Christian, I remain hopeful for ultimate reconciliation. The power of Christ's atonement is applicable at exactly this point. It undergirds my belief that one day, perhaps at the end of an age, things will be "put to rights," as N.T. Wright, Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar likes to say. Victim and perpetrator will truly be healed, and all tears, all scars, will be wiped away.

To read the entire article I've mentioned, click here. The above picture is from a documen-tary based on Widner's story which MSNBC aired on June 26.
Joe Canner
11/2/2011 01:23:35 pm

Your last penultimate paragraph about ultimate reconciliation reminds me of some online discussions I've had recently with people who had a hard time imagining spending eternity in heaven with their enemies on earth (whether it be a fellow Christians that they had a hard time with, or a murderer who repented in prison, or perhaps--if universal salvation is true--even a villain like Hitler or bin Laden. It seems to me that not only will the other person be changed, but our hearts, too, will be changed and we will have an unlimited capacity for forgiveness. More to the point, in anticipation of that time, we can ask God for an increased capacity to forgive and can get started on it now.

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11/2/2011 09:21:26 pm

Thanks for the comments, Joe. A good book that addresses this item is called "The End of Memory" by Miroslav Volf. He deals with the issue of reconciliation in a personal manner, having undergone sustained interrogation during military service.

I do agree that our hearts will be changed so that we will understand why our enemy was our enemy, that we are all broken, and will be filled with God's love in a way that will make living together in love truly possible in the life after this.

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