During seminary, Fr. Emmanuel Katongole, taught a course on the role of Christianity during the 1994 Rwanda genocide. We studied the history of the conflict, the influence of colonial missionaries, and the establishment of Hutu and Tutsi “people groups.” He led us in an interesting discussion about the nature of “reality.”
The natural initial assumption with regard to a conflict between two groups is that the nature of that conflict must be identified and dealt with—there must be some acknowledgement of “reality.” So if there is a conflict between Hutu and Tutsi people, we ignore that there must be some real differences to work out. And yet in this case, the classification of these people groups was a construct of Belgian colonialists, who differentiated the people based on things like measurements of their nose. Is there a real difference between the two groups? What if we broaden the scope to other cultural and nationalistic differences—are any of those “real?” Or is Paul correct in asserting that in Christ there are no more distinctions between man or woman, slave or free, Jew or Gentile etc. (Galatians 3: 28)
I am reminded of this every time I am tempted to approach ministry and life while remaining grounded in “reality.” If we ask ourselves what is realistically possible, then we cannot be quick to assume what realistic means. We gather as a community that celebrates victory over death through resurrection. Death is no longer our reality. We tell the stories of Jesus breaking a few loaves and fish to feed thousands. Scarcity is no longer a reality. Jesus ended the storm by telling it to calm down; better than a wound up child, the storm listened and ceased. In this reality, power and authority are not lacking.
For this reason I am slow to accept pessimistic measures of the future of Christianity, given our present cultural “realities”. I don’t give into those who offer pessimistic views of the degree to which people’s lives can "really" be transformed. After all, what is real? How does Christ change reality for you in your life and in your ministry?