Trust, mercy, justice & peace = reconciliation.

Years ago now I heard John Paul Lederach speak at Corrymeela about the four dynamics of reconciliation. Each of them plays their part in building peace and bringing about the longed for reconciliation. Those four dynamics move in and out of the front of stage, they work together and interweave, they correct and temper each other until something begins to take shape and that something is a process of reconciliation. The four are: Trust Mercy Justice Peace The difficulty is that for these four to begin to play their part and for a process of reconciliation to begin to take shape there has to first of all be relationship. For Lederach that relationship begins in the context of apology and forgiveness and the new relationship that emerges because of apology and forgiveness. Perhaps one of the difficulties with talk about reconciliation is the tendency to mix up the different levels at which reconciliation can happen and sometimes we talk past each other by meaning different things. So for some people the personal and individual matters most of all. That would be true for some of the victims and survivors. For them their personal experience of hurt and the devastation of their lives always comes to the top and when they talk about reconciliation or when they resist reconciliation they are doing so out of their personal experience. For other people reconciliation sparks off thoughts about the experience of their community locally. That could be at one of Northern Ireland’s interfaces or so-called peace walls or it could be along some border areas where there is a strong feeling that a Republican campaign was waged. For still others it is about remembering a time when their community was moved on, bombed or burnt out or when their community felt the weight of being at the bottom of the pile when it came to jobs or prospects or access to power. When reconciliation processes are spoken of in a post-conflict context what is ideally meant is some kind of process which takes account of personal and local stories but which is essentially society wide and is political in the sense that it will enable the construction of new leadership relationships and new community relationships. It will have to be palatable to enough people to make it work but it doesn’t have to be accepted by everyone or even totally accepted by the majority. What does have to be agreed that it is needed and the bitter pill has to be of a size that most people can swallow even if it isn’t honey to their tastebuds! In an earlier post I wondered about the role of truth, justice and dealing with the past in the process of reconciliation. That too is an interweaving process because different people make different emphases in line with their needs. For those who seek truth more than anything else there are some who want detailed forensic truth and there are those who want the acknowledgement that the truth they think they have is broadly true e.g. that there was collusion rather than all the details of what collusion took place. For those who want justice there are different levels of justice sought. So some are content to let the judicial system run its course and if there is never enough evidence to convict then let it be so because they will not compromise justice as they understand it even for some lesser kind of justice, lesser in their minds. But for others some other kind of justice is enough – a justice procedure which allows acknowledgment and/or apology rather than courts and evidence and convictions. It is already possible to see that some would prefer not to deal with the past unless it can be dealt with by traditional means while there are others who want to deal with the past and are willing to construct something different for the purposes of that and in recognition of the fact that we lived through abnormal times and so abnormal means may be needed to put those times behind us as a society. Interweaving, interplaying, constructing for the time – all this suggests to some a lowering of the bar which is to give in to those who terrorized in the past. I prefer to think of it as an opening of the doors so that something new and more hopeful can emerge and out of which something more moral, more inspiringly upright can be born. In this way reconciliation: … brings people together, enabling them to grow beyond the past to re-establish a normalized, peaceful, and trusting relationship in the present. ( For me coming to this from the perspective of the Christian faith it is good to be reminded not only of apology and forgiveness which are words in usage every day of the Christian life lived in the sight and presence of a perfect God, but also of mercy. Apology and forgiveness mean nothing if it were not for the mercy of God and that is a lesson as we walk out through our doors – a lesson and a challenge and a humbling reminder. Reconciliation clearly takes times. It is hard to trust a good friend who lets you down and so much harder to trust one who once trained their gun sights on you or your loved ones. It is sometimes well nigh impossible to offer anything even remotely like mercy to people who insulted you or tarnished your name never mind someone who typified you as a monster without eyes for the weak or for your humanity. Justice is a good thing – most of us wouldn’t argue with that. But sometimes the justice that we seek slips over into a desire for retribution. Allowing the reconstruction of justice is an awesome challenge. Peace is hard to accept when hurt continues to run deep and refuses to heal. Hurt takes its own time and sometimes it never heals so to let things ‘be at peace’ can be an almost intolerable request. Reconciliation cannot happen over night but equally it cannot happen unless people are prepared to risk relationships with each other. Uncomfortable, prickly, judgmental, suspicious relationships they may be, but without that basic commitment there is no hope. In his book The Journey Toward Reconciliation Lederach returns to the story of jacob and Esau – two brothers who were thrown into disarray and conflict and who walked away from each other. For a long time they lived apart and for a long time they wondered each about the other and then steps were taken for them to meet again. There was preparation to be done. The separation had been for a very long time. All of this is to point to the fact that reconciliation cannot be rushed and there are some things about which people simply cannot meet. So Lederach writes: … we must be cautious about quick formulas of “forgiveness’ and being “nice” to each other. Well-intentioned people may advise estranged parties to quickly forgive and forget. Yet those parties may need a long time and geographical separation for healing to occur. (p133) For Jacob and Esau the separation lasted for decades. In the process of reconciliation mercy, trust, justice and peace matter and must work together in the relationships being woven through experiences of apology and forgiveness. None of it is linear, not even the beginning in apology and forgiveness. Sometimes the trust of friendship despite backgrounds comes first. But always in the process thought must be given to the spaces people need to part, to separate, to wonder among ones own or on ones own about what is going on and to wander away from the process for a time and then to find the way back. That is natural in human experience and human experience cannot be written out of the reconciliation process and the hope it brings.


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