Listen To Article
Several members of my congregation are in the midst of a three day training, learning to become facilitators of restorative practices and cultivators of a restorative culture in our church. We are being taught by licensed trainers from the International Institute for Restorative Practices. Anne Martin, Ph.D., and Mark Vander Vennen, MA, M.Ed., R.S.W., have woven together restorative practice (which originated as an alternative trajectory within the criminal justice system) with the truths of Scripture and the systems of the church to form FaithCARE. FaithCARE helps churches work through conflicts, but also trains churches to become places where these convictions are foundational:
- Every person has God-given worth
- No one is disposable
- Conflict and harm are most effectively addressed by attending to the needs of everyone affected.
There are many values, tools, and skillsets that make up a restorative congregation, but one of the key components of restorative work is a list of questions that can be used in a variety of contexts to move situations and people toward learning and healing. These are called the Restorative Questions. There are a few different versions, but the questions you could ask when someone has been hurt are these:
What did you think when you realized what had happened?
What impact has this incident had on you and others?
What has been the hardest thing for you?
What do you think needs to happen to make things right?
These questions have a way of unlocking me when I find myself pacing in circles, stuck in a room of complex hurt. Though they are not ‘easy’ questions to answer, when asked in a context where I feel safe to speak, the questions have a way of simplifying, parsing out, and transforming pain.
The Restorative Questions remind me of other unlocking rubrics. When wrestling with Scripture each week, I am unlocked by Paul Scott Wilson’s Four Pages of the Sermon: trouble in the text, trouble in the world; grace in the text, grace in the world. When thinking about any complexity of created reality, I am unlocked by Herman Dooyeweerd’s suite of modal aspects. When untangling a cultural phenomenon, I am unlocked by the biblical narrative, asking myself, what of this is created? What is fallen? What is being redeemed?
But, back to the Restorative Questions. They are exactly right for situations of harm and hurt on a large scale, but they’re also brilliant on the smaller scales of school playground skirmishes and supper table squabbles. They’re great questions to open up a Scripture text (What is happening in this text? What kind of impact do Jesus’ words have on you or others? What’s the hardest part about this passage? What actions do these verses lead you into?). And questions like these just might help us to process the news cycle in a fresh way.
I suppose what I find particularly unlocking about these questions is that they move a community, when the time is right, past the past, through the present, and into the possibility of what’s next.
That same unlocking feeling rushed through me when I read chapter ten of C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian to my middle daughter last night. Lucy is just at the point of realizing that she could have followed Aslan all on her own, even without the support of her siblings and her Dear Little Friend, Trumpkin, the dwarf:
“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right–somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”
“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”
“Oh dear,” said Lucy.
“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me–what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”
Will you come and follow me
if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know
and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown
in you and you in me?
John Bell and Graham Maule