Reconciliation is a gift and a task, a process and a destination, an experience and a hope. Already there is the sense that this is something big. In Northern Ireland we face the challenge of reconciliation in a society where the old divisions still threaten and where other divisions surface and take form in anger, dispute and disenchantment. As a process we have begun, some say well and others say not, but there is still far to go – the lack of any structured and coherent shared future debate or strategy is evidence of this at the highest levels.
Reconciliation is being experienced by real people involved in their raw real lives, there is no doubt about that. But for Christians the reconciliation gift and goal sits even more deeply in the psyche and soul for it is Jesus, the Son of God, gifted to us and for us and the one to whom we live and for whom we still wait. He is among us reconciling us to God but He is before us for that greater day of reconciliation. If we are to be His followers there is no choice but to be caught up in an experience of reconciliation which ignites us to be the reconcilers that Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 5:17-18.
Over the last number of months there has been a new reconciliation debate afoot. It came to light over the Easter Rising commemorations when senior Republicans began to talk to their own community about things like saying sorry. Healing became part of the agenda and we heard phrases like ‘heavy lifting’. So what is this heavy lifting that is left for us to face and what does it mean in terms of reconciliation?
I believe the required agenda into the future has two aspects to it. One is to do with relationships and one is to do with political reconciliation. For some there are problems with the notion. They want to leave things alone, let things change quietly as they have been doing and build on what has already been achieved through the agreements that have been made. What this fails to address is the fracturing of relationships and the failure of politics to take us over the obstacle of some very hard issues. These models do not take seriously the becalmed feeling that one gets around politics on the hard issues and the horror that is felt at the horse-trade approach to decision making. Nor do they take seriously increasing confidence among dissidents or the growing question, “What did the peace give to me?’ For some the peace dividend is still awaited and they are waiting too long. Granted the economic situation feeds into that, but that is an explanation which won’t make it go away and won’t quell the feeling that someone else did well out of the peace, but I and my community didn’t.
Political reconciliation is going to require something much more radical and structured. In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus addresses individual or internal community disputes but a model can be drawn from these verses which is appropriate to political reconciliation and how that can happen.* The answers to the how of political reconciliation lie within living the model. Unfortunately the answers are not available ahead of the engagement. The model is four-fold:
- Move towards the other, the identified enemy.
- Move towards the other in the hope of a new relationship.
- Allow enemies to move towards one another in a way that is witnessed by the wider community for their healing, hope and change.
- If there is no new hope from moving towards the enemy then they are to be treated as ‘pagans or tax collectors’. In the Biblical sense it can be argued that what Jesus did with pagans and tax-collectors was to have dinner with them, he did not utterly exclude them.
This model offers a way of moving forward rather than answers, relationships – never easy nor comfortable – but always with hope. So after all reconciliation is a journey, a task, but also a gift for the betterment of society and a better future.
*John Paul Lederach, The Journey Toward Reconciliation, Herald Press, Ontario 1999.
Rev Dr Lesley Carroll is a Presbyterian Minister and blogs at revlesley.wordpress.com