Characteristics of a Reconciler
I would like to suggest that some of the characteristics of reconcilers are implied in these titles: artisans of reconciliation, visionary activists, serious empathics, courageous prophets, patient mediators, and compassionate advocates.
Our faith expresses itself through reconciliation with God, ourselves, and others. Given this understanding, the image of an artisan of reconciliation is a compelling one. An artisan is an individual who becomes exceptionally accomplished at a skill by committing his or her life to developing a craft. Artisans of reconciliation devote their lives to becoming more skilled at the art of relational bridge building. We delight at the opportunity to sharpen our diplomatic skills in the drama of human social intercourse. We are faithful in developing our God-given reconciling gifts within the context of separation and alienation.
In order to utilize our reconciling gifts, reconcilers need to be visionary activists. As visionaries, we learn to recognize separation and how injustice produces long-term oppression. Most importantly, we are able to envision what creates a reconciled society. Robert Kennedy’s often-repeated paraphrase of the words of George Bernard Shaw summarizes the quality of the visionary, “Some (people) see things as they are, and say why; I dream of things that never were, and say why not?” Visions of reconciliation spring forth from a faith that “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Reconcilers embrace the role of the activist by devising and executing processes for moving away from the way things are and toward the way they should be.
In addition to being visionary activists, reconcilers also are serious empathics. If you have watched the television show or the movie “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” then you are familiar with the character Counselor Troi, the counselor on the Starship Enterprise. What makes her particularly adept at this challenging assignment is that she comes from a planet that has highly-developed extrasensory abilities. This empathic ability not only allows her to perceive the psychological state of co-workers, she can also sense the emotions of potential adversaries. Counselor Troi is able to experience, viscerally, the feelings of others. In much the same way, reconcilers must perceive the splits in society and feel deeply the pain caused by such division. Sexism, classism and racism are experienced as events. Where we do not have first-hand experience, we can enter into these occurrences through the stories told by the victims of prejudice. We learn to feel the torment of desperation and alienation. By lamenting these relational ruptures and empathizing with such depth of feeling reconcilers respond with great seriousness. Reconcilers are earnest about healing brokenness because we experience the agony of unreconciled relationships.
Since the reconciler takes seriously the chasm in society, he or she feels compelled to publicly announce that there is division. Bigotry cannot remain hidden. Courageous prophets risk a negative response to their announcements. Efforts to promote unity are considered a direct threat by the guardians of unjust systems. Whatever the inherent risk, the knowledge that God reached out and loved us when we felt alienated propels us to seek peace and wholeness for our world.
Notwithstanding the potential for persecution, the reconciler patiently stands in the middle of chaos proclaiming the message of peace. It is only when we are in the midst of division that we can jumpstart the process of reconciliation. Our witness loses its credibility if we attempt to build bridges from afar. By positioning ourselves at the center of situations of separation, we are better able to watch for catalytic moments that might propel reconciliation. Sometimes the slightest shift in posture will allow us to facilitate a coming together. We cannot see these opportunities for concord from a distance. The patient mediator believes that reconciliation is always possible at some level.
Although the role of mediator implies intercession without taking sides, there are limits to our patience. When reconciliation efforts are at a standstill and people are being victimized, we must step in and advocate for their liberation. We take action against systems of injustice and the perpetrators of oppression. This may also mean working in ministries of compassion as direct service providers. Repairing the wrong of injustice through merciful action moves us toward reconciliation. As compassionate advocates, we may work for reconciliation by serving at homeless shelters or building houses in impoverished areas. We cannot stand idly by as the cleavage widens between the powerful and powerless in society. Also we are still called to work for reconciliation even when faced with apparent irreconcilable differences. For when the mending of broken relationships does not take place, pain festers. In the absence of unity, we can show compassion through acts of healing.