Later this week I will be inaugurating a bi-monthly podcast, entitled “Reconciliation Roundtable”. Reconciliation Roundtable will feature conversations with leaders who not only demonstrate a commitment to reconciliation, but whose life stories demonstrate a journey of evolution from positions and experiences held early on their career to a very different perspective that they embrace now. In each case, the people with whom I engage on the podcast recount what they are now able to see, which for a long time remained hidden, because of habit, prejudice, or an unwillingness to see and think differently.
The inspiration for the podcast comes from various reconciliations in my own life. In my book, Seeing the Unseen: Beyond Prejudices, Paradigms and Party Lines, I talk about the two years I spent living in Kyoto, Japan, just after graduating from college. I went with the conviction that I had successfully purged myself of “Ugly American” tendencies, which was the pejorative phrase of the day. My engagement in the anti-war movement had, I thought, cleansed me of cultural imperialism. It hadn’t.
About a year into my two-year tenure, something felt off. My Japanese housemates and I weren’t understanding one another as well as we had when I arrived. I was missing something. I sought out a graduating senior, who had been the most critical of my presence, for some feedback. He did not hesitate to provide it. He said that I seemed to be unaware to the fact that I was younger than all the seniors, but commanded a level of authority that I didn’t deserve (age is a very important benchmark in Japanese culture). He said that all the Japanese students in the house where we lived were committed to speaking English. Most of them were fluent in the language, but my facility in my native tongue meant that I would invariably win every argument and dominate every conversation. And I was bigger than everyone else, he said, and I lorded my size over them.
I was devastated. But the conversation opened me up to new and uncomfortable dimensions of myself. And it brought about an unexpected, but necessary, internal reconciliation. That was one of the first, and certainly not the last, series of conversations and experiences I have had that opened my eyes, broadened my horizons – and caused a fair amount of distress, if not pain.
As a person of faith, I believe that we are continually invited to move – from ego to soul, from hardbound habits to new practices, from tunnel vision and thinking, to an openness to new opportunities and ideas. It is hard work, yes, but in the long run enormously rewarding.
My first podcast conversation is with the Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck, the founder of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute. Rob and I became friends through our work in the gun violence prevention movement. But as he outlines in the podcast, and as he expresses in his book, Costly Grace, that is not where he started For years, he was one of the leaders of Operation Rescue, a fierce anti-abortion movement. For many years Rob had ready access to some Justices on the Supreme Court, and brought anti-abortion donors to various Supreme Court functions, (accounts of which were reported in the New York Times in late 2022). Rob has softened his position on abortion, which he talks about in the podcast – and reflects on the cost of grace, a term borrowed from the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who was hanged by the Nazis for his participation in a plot to remove Hitler.
We are all on a journey – into deeper awareness and understanding. My hope is that the podcasts will broaden perspectives – and enable the possibility of new ways of seeing, and engaging in reconciliation.
You can listen and subscribe to Reconciliation Roundtable on my website and all your favorite platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music / Audible, and more. Check in on my website to find out when and where they will be posted. The next podcast, to be issued in two weeks, will be with David Blankenhorn, the founder and President of Braver Angels, a national movement to depolarize America.