Michael T. McRay
Herald Press, 256 pages
Reviewed by Karie Ann Charlton
I would love nothing more than for every white American Christian male to read Michael McRay’s introduction as it is a shining example of acknowledging privilege, wisely seeing others and amplifying voices of truth so that we have better stories with which to base our lived togetherness around. But, as a white American Christian female, I have a lot to learn too, and others may think he could have stretched farther.
McRay traveled to Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland and South Africa to listen to the wisdom of those living there and to learn from them about the problems and possibilities of reconciliation. What he learns quickly is: “There’s something about the language of reconciliation that can seem friendlier to those in power and an enemy to those suffering, while language of justice may be the exact opposite.” He says that dialogue for the sake of dialogue only keeps the oppressors in power. “If pursuits of dialogue and relationship with those on the other side are not actively leading toward a secure, peaceful, just and equitable future for all involved, then they aren’t worth having.” Dialogue is not the goal; it is the tool used to get to the goal.
Empathy hopefully can undo some of the lies or the false stories told to keep things as they are. Everyone in Israel and Palestine experiences trauma continuously; there is not PTSD because there is not an end to the trauma. He compares occupation in Israel and Palestine to white supremacy in the U.S.; these systems are poisonous and destroy people.
With empathy, there must be a commitment to nonviolence. He tells the story of a woman whose son, an Israeli officer, was killed, and she tells army officials not to kill anyone in her son’s name. She comes to realize that her son was killed because he was in uniform, not because the man who shot him knew him. Like dialogue, empathy must “lead toward constructive efforts for personal and social improvement.” It is not enough to understand why a Palestinian might kill an Israeli soldier, but together everyone must work toward nonviolent solutions.
Bridge building starts with work on your own foundations, then meeting the “other” in the middle and building something together that others can walk across. McRay shares a story of a woman who met the man who killed her father. They both do their own emotional work before they meet, and they build a friendship.
Reconciling relationships are important, but they are not enough because “we must also consider things like power, generational trauma, redistribution of resources, reparations for harm, economic empowerment, and what to with four hundred years of grieving.” The work of justice needs compassionate relationship building and to address economic imbalances.
Reading this book was like reading the script for a documentary. Watching people tell their own stories often is more compelling than reading them, so I’m hoping this book becomes a film. To his credit, McRay made me want to see people I don’t often think of, and for that I am grateful.
Karie Ann Charlton is the associate pastor at Third Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, and is the leader of the Pittsburgh Chapter of Days for Girls making reusable menstrual hygiene kits. On her blog periodpastor.com, she reflects on her work and interprets it as part of living out her faith.