Reconciliation – let’s get real, not abstract

 I came in this afternoon from an event on Duncairn Gardens and thought to myself – get real, not abstract. I have a tendency to get abstract but always with the intention of getting real. So maybe now, for a moment at least, I will. I realised too how different things are. Twenty years ago I remember coming out the same doors to the same church halls and looking anxiously around to see 

  1. if there were any bricks flying overhead
  2. to see if there were any tense small groups of people on either side of the fence, and
  3. to see if any damage had been done to my car or to anyone else’s car. 

Today I came out of those same doors to the noise of sizzling burgers, the gusts of wind into bouncy castles and the music of fun and laughter as people from across the divide gathered to meet, to eat, to chat, to laugh and to learn that they could be in the same place at the same time and the world wouldn’t end. It was great!

It was great not to have to escort children through the mayhem, not to have to worry that tonight the stones and bricks could be tracer or sniper bullets. It was fantastic to feel that something had been gained, not that something had been lost, by people sharing space. Small steps in the eyes of some maybe but radical transformation due to hard work, risk taking, willingness to step out and readiness to make friends. I was reminded, and it was a timely reminder, that the work of reconciliation is one that requires everyone to get real. Some people have and sometimes they have paid a price for what they have done but their work has paid off and is continuing to pay off.

We have to get real because often the work is long and slow and the rewards can take years to appear. But today is evidence of the fact that the rewards do come and no one has to lose anything in the process. In fact, unless one prefers a warlike curfew to the freedom of the streets, unless one prefers the buzz of making it across the divide alive rather the rush of joy that comes with hearing people laugh and and chat, there is only gain.

Reconciliation is a real process with real challenges.


Reconciliation is – a process of the heart. 

Reconciliation is a process of the heart because it is one through which everyone wants to be treated humanely and well. In seeking reconciliation there is a heartfelt cry to move away from language like scum, rat, exploiter, colluder, tout, bigot, dog. There is a longing of the heart to hear others say – ‘I know where you’re coming from’ (even if there is no real agreement about that). There is a desire in us all to be treated better by others, to be made more human by compassion and understanding and that heartfelt cry is there in the search for reconciliation. And more deeply than that there is a daring to hope that one day there will be forgiveness. Confession and sorrow yes, but further down the road, perhaps, and maybe when much water has flowed under the bridge, forgiveness and a new reconciliation borne out of walking the long, hard and sometimes rough road that comes from opening hearts up to new possibilities and new relationships. 


Reconciliation is – a process of the head

The road to reconciliation is not travelled without some skills accumulated, learned and shared along the way. So in the local and community processes there has to be some thought given to how to go about it. That is true at the wider political level too. Thought has to be given to how to go about walking the road of reconciliation and some thought has to be given to the potential fall out, to the potential gains and losses and to how the losses can be mitigated. Some thought has to be given to how those already damaged can be protected and brought through if they themselves are too vulnerable to face into a new process of relationship building and some are. But reconciliation is a process of the head because of the commitment and understanding that will have to be set out before others and renewed again and again as the practice trips and falls. A process of reconciliation has to make sense and leaders locally and nationally are duty bound to help citizens make good sense of it.


Reconciliation is – a process for local communities. 

Interfaces are easy, at least I find that they are. The divisions are clear, the local sites of separation can be picked out, the identity markers are there and the local communities are among the most proactive and engaged that you will find. Some people seem to think the problem is at the interfaces. I tend to think that if others would try to do what the local interface communities try to do in terms of reconciliation then there might be more progress made. Reconciliation is something that every community needs to get real about and some ‘out of town, middle class’ communities discovered that over the Jubilee celebrations when what they call bunting was construed by others to be sectarian identity marking. Local communities need leadership up and down the land and there are natural leadership locations in schools and churches. We might add to those natural centres for leadership GP surgeries, social security offices, town halls etc. Local communities can make a difference. Some are trying. Others still have to get real.


Reconciliation is – a process at the political level. 

Reconciliation can be viewed in different ways and there is a clear political dimension to it. Political reconciliation sticks in the throat of many because of the compromises that are made in order to move things forward. We have faced into so many now that it has almost become second nature to us here in Northern Ireland, the North, the North of Ireland, Ulster. We have become used to the murk and mess of what is known as political reconciliation and the truth is that the murk and mess will continue if political reconciliation doesn’t press on, on the one hand, and if, on the other hand, there aren’t other processes in progress too to build the relationships that will lift society from what has become acceptable in so many ways and move society towards what is truly desired in terms of a community that provides space and grace for human flourishing. Political processes are not yet complete and there is leadership to be given. Often these political processes are despised and often too they are disowned. But they have their own integrity and purpose and should be valued for what they have helped this society achieve. Now is not the time for them to stall but for them to construct out of experience a way through the big issues that remain and rub against the move towards a more shared and reconciled society.


Reconciliation is – a process for individuals. 

This is a really difficult one and I will say nothing much about it because all of us are different and we all have had different experiences. But there is space for many of us to move into and it will take courage and grace. A human touch from others will make it easier and in the process at this level safe spaces are all important. There are some individuals whose courage has inspired and there are other individuals who need to set down the guilt about how they feel when they hear about reconciliation. Everyone is different and healing comes in different ways. But some of us individually need to act and to protect the broken from carrying yet more of the burden. But I might also say that some of the most challenging and society-changing relationships are found among those most personally broken by the conflict. Your courage and inspiration should not be allowed to pass without note.


Heart, head, local, political, individual.

Courage, inspiration.

Relationships, new possibilities, broken, healing.

Nothing lost, something gained.

Things are better than they used to be.

Process, process, process.

Reconciliation – let’s get real, not abstract!


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