Coda: the call of the reconciling Jesus (Luke 5:27-32)

The Luke 5:1-11 account of the calling of the first disciples includes a significant coda. The initial calling by the beach (Lk. 5:1-11) is extended to include calling Levi, accompanied by a large and diverse gathering at his house for a banquet (Lk. 5:27-32). Here is the restoring Jesus already sharing meals between debtors and debt collectors. It is easy to miss the social and economic scandal where debtors and debt collectors are brought together around the meal table in Luke’s account. What might Luke’s calling account reveal if interpreters were curious about the words which might have been spoken around Levi’s banquet table? Accusations or threats? It is certain that harsh words were spoken, but is it possible that mutual understanding also emerged through restorative conversations? In the presence of the restoring Jesus, what happened when debtors and debt collectors actually met each other face to face? McClendon places the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation at the heart of the Christian community’s life, not just between individuals, because:

Without forgiveness, the social power of a closed circle will crush its members, ruin itself, and sour its social world. Examples of such soured communitarianism soil the pages of every honest church history. But with forgiveness controlling everything, the closed circle is opened, the forgiven forgivers’ practice of community is redeemed and becomes positively redemptive; in this way this powerful practice renders obedience to the law of the Lord Jesus.23

The story began with Peter’s failure and denial. His failure causes him to abandon his calling as a disciple. The narrative ends with the disciple Peter reinstated, his calling renewed, because the restoring Jesus has revealed, re-membered, interrogated, and forgiven his failure. The John 21 narrative offers the third Christological framework for pastoral supervision: restorative conversation. The final part of this chapter identifies the theological and practical significance of restorative conversation as a framework for the next chapter.

Restorative conversation: the third Christological framework for pastoral supervision24

The genesis for restorative conversations emerged in restorative justice conferencing and the use of a script which revolved around a series of questions that focussed attention on the impact of wrongdoing on various stakeholders including victims, wrongdoers, and their wider circle of family and friends. The questions for victims and others impacted by the wrongdoing include: what did you think when you realised what had happened? What impact has the incident had on you and others; what has been the hardest thing for you; and what do you think needs to happen to make things right? If greater clarity is needed, then an additional question is put to family and supporters: what do you think are the main issues? The questions for wrongdoers were designed to determine what happened, what the offender

The restoring Jesus: Scripture 109 was thinking about at the time of the offence, what they have thought about since offending, who had been affected by what the offender did, and what the wrongdoer needed to do in order to make things right. According to the training instruction for facilitators, the script is essentially the scaffolding that enables the conference to reach a formal outcome with a written agree-ment.2> The wider application of restorative conversations is ‘for mundane day-to-day issues in families, communities, workplaces, schools, and a variety of other settings’, according to pioneering restorative justice facilitator Terry O’Connell.26 He now encourages practitioners to make use of the questions across a wide spectrum of restorative conversations.27 O’Connell views these questions as belonging to a Socratic style embedded in a process aiming to strengthen relationships through structured dialogue, inviting all participants to embark on a restorative journey.28

In my view, the shame-affect theories offered a partial explanation for what makes a restorative conversation. But this is not the only explanation, nor even the best one. For example, Neville Symington has explored the many ways that honest and open conversation can be deeply restorative while remaining cautious about the traditional explanations provided by psychiatry and psychoanalysis. He concludes that although ‘the whole of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy is based upon the assumption that it is possible for one person to resolve a problem through talking to another . .. I am, however, in dark ignorance of why this should be so’.29

I have witnessed these characteristics of a restorative conversation when conducted formally at a restorative justice conference. These alternate theoretical underpinnings are just as rigorous and just as important as those offered by restorative justice theorists. By shifting the focus to imagination, meaning, and the spirit within a group (instead of affects and shame), the practice attains a more genuinely Socratic and relational approach.’0

A theological framework of restorative conversation for pastoral supervision is less concerned with the empathetic experience (having one’s feelings shared and understood by others) and more concerned with the awakening of imagination and wonder. In brief, a clinical approach, where supervisees are seen through a therapeutic lens, is transcended by a theological framework grounded in the resurrection of the restoring Christ.31

Restorative conversations enable supervisees to name their failures. A restorative conversation invites the supervisee to name, not to blame, remembering rightly by not evading their responsibilities. The admission of failure and wrongdoing is called confession in theological language. It has three main components. The first is confession to another person. For those living together in community at Bonhoeffer’s alternative seminaries, publicly confessing to one another was the only really valid kind of confession.32 Pastoral supervision provides the brave, safe space for such confession and is carefully distinguished from rituals of public shaming. In confession, the supervisee takes the initiative by accepting responsibility for the wrongdoing. As a speech act, confession is essentially commissive: that is, I commitmyself to something by making my confession. The second aspect considers sins of omission (such as failing to choose right or proper actions or ignoring injustice or suffering) as well as sins of commission. Confession that includes failures to do the right thing is more true about the impact of the supervisee’s failures on the unseen others. For example, when a supervisee’s failure involves speaking poorly to a colleague (or member congregation), the sin of commission might be described as using wrong tone—speaking in a manner that was rude, demanding, or demeaning. For the unseen other, spoken to in this way, the sin of commission only captures one dimension of the harm and hurt. The sin of omission is more truthful because it includes what failed to occur: the supervisee failed to treat the colleague (or member of the congregation) with dignity and respect.

The third aspect of the restorative conversation that is essential for pastoral supervision is confessing failures as sin. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer includes a general confession for Morning Prayer on a daily basis. For more than 350 years, liturgy was conducted according to this rite. Such devotion incorporates these three defining aspects of confession:

A general Confession to be said of the whole Congregation after the Minister, all kneeling.

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

Crucially, the prayer acknowledges God’s mercy and desire for those who have failed with the rather confronting description as ‘miserable offenders’). The revealing Jesus does not spare us the truth about ourselves, but the restoring Jesus offers us salvation from our faults and failures (to be ‘spared’) and renewed (to be ‘restored’). Restorative conversations offer healing and transformation.

What kind of supervision relationship enables restorative conversations that include confession of failure? What kind of supervisor allows restorative conversations to include these difficult matters? The mutual confession advocated by Bonhoeffer or the public confession of the Anglican liturgy suggest a supervision relationship committed to transparency. Contemporary ethicists describe the sunlight test for moral decision-making. Before an action is taken, the person is asked to imagine its full exposure before

The restoring Jesus: Scripture 111 family, friends, and colleagues—the unseen others in the supervision room. Only actions that would still be taken with this kind of intense scrutiny pass the sunlight test. This metaphor indicates the kind of transparency required for the restorative conversations within supervision about past failure. Institutional forms of Christianity such as the church have regularly failed to be transparent about failure and wrongdoing in their midst, as noted in Chapter 2 on the Australian context.

Another dimension of restorative conversations is asking good questions. This is highly controversial. Why? Because the supervisee will seek to hide their failure, becoming increasingly deceptive and cautious in the supervision session. Only the right kind of questions make the conversation restorative.

The persistent gaze of a trusted supervisor can unmask the evasions and excuses of the supervisee, in the company of the restoring Jesus who also forgives and renews. In the restorative conversation, the supervisee is interrogated about their actions with a style of questioning that owes more to the tradition of Socratic inquiry than the investigative techniques of the U.S. Secret Service. The restorative function of supervision can mistakenly cause supervisors to lean towards leniency when aware of their supervisee’s failures.

The questions in the aftermath of pastoral failure can evolve through several stages. The first stage involves the questions customarily asked by police officers or the courts in order to establish guilt. The ministry worker is rarely probed about other matters such as motivation (why did you do it?), impact (who is affected?), and restitution (what do you need to do to make things right?). It may be appropriate in the second stage, where more searching questions are posed, for the ‘unseen other’ to be imaginatively present and to pose their own questions directly to the supervisee. Facing these kinds of questions can be very difficult as the supervisee has nowhere to hide. They must imaginatively and bravely face the suffering and anger of the unseen other and explain themselves and their actions. The third stage is where the deepest questions expose fundamental convictions (see further in the next chapter on ‘convicting’). These questions reflect the pastoral supervision practice of examen from the previous chapter that can now lift the veil on previously hidden assumptions, convictions, habits, and life patterns. As a spiritual exercise, the questions (and what they reveal) deliberately and consciously lead to repentance.

In the garden and from the cross, Jesus demonstrates faith in God as Judge. His words included prayers such as ‘not my will but yours’, ‘forgive them, Father’, and ‘into your hands I commit my spirit’. Jesus also names the power (of darkness) that crucifies him and by submitting to the power exposes its pretension, self-interest, and tyranny (Lk. 22:53). I find it striking and highly significant that Luke concluded his account of Jesus’ death with a group of women and friends who stand in silence. Since they could not make any sense of this event, it was the most fitting response and perhaps the only one. A short while later, they would give their testimony to Jesus’ death andhis subsequent resurrection appearances, but even then, the Twelve would find their testimony incredible, almost unbelievable. God’s judgement on wrongdoing is announced in Jesus’ death and resurrection. God’s judgement in Jesus Christ is a verdict of‘yes’ that cancels the ‘no’ of failure. Theologically, testimony transcends storytelling because God judges failure.

The restoring Jesus, with his rigorous question of the apostle in John 21:4-19, deepens and extends the kind of restorative conversations for pastoral supervision: calling, convicting, and contending. With McClendon’s Christology of the risen Christ, I outline these practices in the next chapter.

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