Enmity, Estrangement, and Reconciliation

Those of you who have paid much attention to my sporadic blogging activity of late will find little surprise in my confession that I have not exactly been on the best of terms with either Blake Ostler or Ralph Hancock. In fact, assuming the bloggernacle is a serious enough space in which to even speak of enemies, I think it’s safe to say that I have, at times, treated both of these men as enemies.

Some of the acrimony has been rooted in philosophical or ideological disagreement—Blake and I have very different ideas about politics, and Ralph and I have very different ideas about, well, a lot. But that could be said of any number of people, including (and sometimes especially) of people I consider to be my friends. There’s easily as much distance politically between me and Rebecca or me and Rosalynde as there is between me and Blake, and yet I have nothing but respect and admiration for both of them (Scott B, on the other hand, is a monstrous scoundrel). The fact is that I am capable of respectful disagreement and genuine friendship and fellowship with people, quite in spite of ideological disagreement. But I have treated both Ralph and Blake with a combination of too-vicious substantive engagement, dismissively hostile non-engagement, and even open contempt. I have done so repeatedly and in a number of different venues. If these men have been my enemies, it is because I have insisted on treating them as such. Again and again.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the annual conference of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, at Utah State University. And as wonderful as it was to engage with the best of intellectual Mormonism, to see and be with old friends, and even to make new friends, what meant the most to me, in hindsight, was the chance to see and speak with my enemies.

Both Ralph and Blake went out of their way to very generously reach out to me this weekend. We spoke regretfully about our combative pasts, engaged each other substantively and spiritedly, and clasped hands as brothers and friends. Setting aside our differences and cultivating fellowship in such conciliatory circumstances honestly affected me in ways I hadn’t expected. Ralph approached me the moment he walked in and began to heal the breach. Blake spoke movingly about the love of God and its power to forge communion during his conference presentation (a response to a panel on one of his books), and immediately afterward I approached him. Before I had the chance to say anything he extended his hand, apologized for past wrongs, and asked sincerely if it would be possible for us to start again. I confess I found myself holding back tears as we spoke.

But this post is more than just a chance for me to publicly apologize for treating these men so poorly (though I am deeply sorry for it). After the weekend, I spoke with another close friend and bloggernacle regular about my experience. He confessed that he too did not have the best of relationships with Blake or Ralph, but that whatever interactions he had had with them were far less acrimonious, combative, and visibly spiteful than mine had been. Yet for this exact reason he said he envied me a bit. He wasn’t capable of having such a dramatic reconciliation precisely because he wasn’t so obviously estranged with them and, whatever their differences, didn’t consider them to be anything like enemies. Yet it seemed to me that the sheer magnitude of the former disaffection between us played an important role in why reconciliation with each of them had such a powerful effect on me.

It would be foolish to suggest that the following analogy be taken as entirely precise or apt. But as I though about this—about the range in the swing from the hostility and alienation to the sudden surprise of genuine fellowship and brotherly affection—I was reminded of dramatic scriptural stories of miraculous conversion, of people finding reconciliation with God after lifetimes of waywardness, of language that describes humanity in its fallen state as enemies to God. It is the depth of our estrangement that makes the promise and realization of reconciliation with God (and with one another) so potent.

So today, Yom Kippur, I celebrate the possibilities of healing and reconciliation that were powerfully hinted at to me this past weekend, a weekend that showed me not only some of the best of what Mormon intellectual life has to offer but, more personally, the best of what Mormonism, and religion generally, is capable of.

Comments

  1. *like*

  2. You’re a good man, Brad. If you’re not careful, you will be a wise man, too.

  3. “It is the depth of our estrangement that makes the promise and realization of reconciliation with God (and with one another) so potent.”

    Yes. I needed to be reminded of that. Thank you, Brad.

  4. Excellent, Brad–in the fullest sense of “excellence.” Good for and on you, on this good day. (Tracy said it even better, though.)

  5. I struggle against the grain of truly Christlike behavior in my dealings with my fellow (wo)men on more occasions than I am willing to admit here. Like Mr. Darcy I have always proudly proclaimed that my good opinion once lost was lost forever. Also like Mr. Darcy I have had occasion to eat those words in both bitter and satisfying moments like those you describe above. Yom Kippur is a humbling time for me. It is a time for introspection and awareness that sometimes feels like bleeding from every pore. This post is healing. Not only to those whom it directly concerns, but to all of God’s children. We can all be humbled by our shared humanity even when differences of race, ideology, religion, politics, economic background, education, etc… will continue to rear their heads. I am especially humbled and grateful.

  6. Love this post.

    Thanks

  7. Even though you are writing about yours and others’ experiences, it is healing to me, and gives me hope. Amazing how that happens. Thank you.

  8. James.Faulconer@byu.edu says:

    Brad, well done. Thank you for this.

  9. Very good Brad, and the same to your two friends.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Outstanding.

  11. Thank you, Brad. You now have written two holiday-centered posts that I know I will never forget.

    Truly, we are part of God’s kingdom of nobodies.

  12. Brad,
    This is outstanding. It reminds me of my reconciliation with my father at age 33. There has not been an experience in my life that matches that one. As we hugged I felt myself levitating (he wasn’t lifting me off the ground) and a huge weight (of hate) literally left my shoulders. A marvellous experience we can all have practising what you experienced. Kudos to your new friends.

  13. wreddyornot says:

    :) Atonement (: What I like most is what your actions (all of yours) imitate.

  14. It’s true, Scott B is and always has been a monstrous scoundrel. He did have some hair in his youth though, so there’s that…

  15. Fer swoon.

  16. If I were Scoot, I might venture to defend myself. But maybe not. (Grin)

  17. I blame the internet

  18. I’m glad that you were able to be reconciled with your enemies. I pray often for the strength to do the same.

  19. Maxine Hanks says:

    Brad, thank you for expressing so beautifully my own thoughts and feelings I drove home Saturday, reflecting on how SMPT had informed, inspired, or moved me . . . and how much the latter mattered most.

    “Blake spoke movingly about the love of God and its power to forge communion…I found myself holding back tears as we spoke.” I found myself shedding tears as he spoke. The light and love inhabiting his words fed my spirit. Blake is a brother, through all phases, flaws, differences, and times of life.

    “the swing from the hostility and alienation to the sudden surprise of genuine fellowship… finding reconciliation with God after lifetimes of waywardness…It is the depth of our estrangement that makes the promise and realization of reconciliation with God (and with one another) so potent.” Thank you for expressing what my heart has tried to say, so many times, unsuccessfully.

    “I celebrate the possibilities of healing and reconciliation…not only some of the best of what Mormon intellectual life has to offer but, more personally, the best of what Mormonism, and religion generally, is capable of.” O, that we could know what Joseph attested–that god invites us in. Amid our glimpses, shards, fragments of self posed against each other, the truest communion is spiritual.

  20. Excellent, Brad.

  21. Late to this, but it was worth the wait. Thanks, Brad.

  22. John Mansfield says:

    Purim sounds more like a blogger’s holiday with the masks and noisy hammers.

  23. The post is fine and everything, but did anyone notice that the logos shaking hands above ARE BUTT NAKED? I am offended! (But also ambiguously aroused for some reason.)

  24. John Mansfield says:

    And they’re shaking with left hands, so the boy scouting connection is somewhere at the heart of this.

  25. European Saint says:

    I loved this, Brad. Thank you.

  26. Excellent post, Brad. I’ve often pondered different relationships in my life. I’ve always found it striking that the relationships that never suffered any hardships, that were always easy, are also the ones that fade away the quickest. On the other hand, those relationships that included pain/suffering/hardship (which could mean we either struggled to get along with each other or we underwent some pain or hardship together) have been more lasting.

    I’ve noticed that with those lasting relationships there’s this shared experience of pain that unites us in a way that ease cannot. There’s nothing really to share when things are easy. Whenever I see those people with whom I share pain, there’s always this initial look of, “There’s something about me that no one other than you really understands, because you lived it with me.”

    This realization has altered quite significantly how I approach relationships. I used to try and facilitate relationships with those I got along with really well, but found that despite my efforts, they still faded away very quickly. Those that arose out of necessity because of some pain or hardship, however, are still strong today. Thus, I now just let relationships happen, as they inevitably will, and wait for those times of pain and hardship, which will inevitably come, to forge stronger relationships with those that happen to share the experience with me.

  27. Brad: Thank you for your kind words and your tender willingness to accept my apology. A great weight has been lifted from me and my heart rejoices. Reconciliation is a sweet balm.

    I love this from Joseph Smith which expresses well how I feel and my request to all on this blog: “I have sometimes spoken too harshly from the impulse of the moment, and inasmuch as I have wounded your feelings, brethren [and sisters], I ask your forgiveness, for I love you and will hold you up with all my heart in all righteousness, before the Lord, and before all men [and women]; for be assured, brethren [and sisters], I am willing to stem the torrent of all opposition, in storms and in tempests, in thunders and in lightnings, by sea and by land, in the wilderness or among false brethren [and false sistren], or mobs, or wherever God in His providence may call us. And I am determined that neither heights nor depths, principalities nor powers, things present or things to come, or any other creature, shall separate me from you.” History of the Church, 2:374; from the minutes of a council meeting of the First Presidency and the Twelve held on Jan. 16, 1836, in Kirtland, Ohio; reported by Warren Parrish.

  28. This is excellent Brad.

  29. Beautiful post, Brad.

  30. Neal Kramer says:

    I simply express my love for Brad. It’s sweet to watch him grow and learn from him along the way.
    Diminishing anyone diminisihes me.

  31. Good on all y’all.

    Man hugs all around!!

  32. Congrats for this, Brad. I had similar experiences that weekend with both Ralph and DCP. I hope to have a similar experience with you someday soon. I hoped to come say “Hi,” but didn’t make it over in time.

    God bless.

  33. Reason #1,093 that I am sorry for missing SMPT this year!

  34. Latter-day Guy says:

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing something so personal.

  35. This story makes me happy. Wonderful post, Brad.

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