The Reconciler

Junior wouldn’t claim title to being a reconciler. In fact, he might give you a blank stare, a look of incomprehension, if you suggested to him that he was. I’m not even sure he was conscious of what he was doing. It seemed to come natural to him. He did it because it needed to be done. He did it because it was the right thing to do. He did it because he loved people. He did it because he was a peacemaker.

The word reconcile has at least three meanings: it can refer to Christian theology, court approved arbitration, or a function of financial bookkeeping. Reconciliation, as used in the Christian Bible, shares some of the same characteristics as an arbitrator. Like reconciliation, arbitration settles differences, but unlike reconciliation it doesn’t bring concord. In the 1990’s some courts attempted to use what they called “reconcilers.” This person went beyond arbitration to not only settle disputes, but also work with the parties at variance to see how they could cooperate with one another for the benefit of both. That’s what reconciliation means.

As I reflect upon the life of our protagonist, Junior had the characteristics that every reconciler must have.

He cared about people. One evening I called him about a problem involving a family that I feared I had offended. His profound advice, “You have to love people.” It was one of his principle philosophies of life. When Junior was involved, both sides of the adversarial situation knew he cared for them. He would call them by name, and name their children and grandchildren, too. He knew where they worked and what hobbies they enjoyed. Very likely, he had been a guest in their homes or broke bread with them somewhere. Neither party of a dispute in which he was involved doubted he cared.

It is said that the four critical components of a reconciler are truth, justice, mercy, and peace (John Paul Lederach). Junior demonstrated these. People had confidence in him. He was reliable. He did not favor one party over the other, not even a son. One of his daughters-in-law told me that she loved him because he often took her side in a disagreement. He was a man of character.

Although he did not fear calling out right and wrong, most often he stayed neutral and allowed people to discover the right thing to do for themselves. The old proverb, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still,” is appropriate here. Junior did not force decisions on others, but laid hold of a latent desire deep within the feuding parties that wanted to forgive and be forgiven. He knew reconciliation could not be forced, it had to be welcomed.

He was not a warrior; he was a peacemaker. That doesn’t mean he was afraid. I’ve watched him wade in where angels feared to trod. I don’t know if it was his booming voice of authority, the justice of his cause, or because he was a big man with large features, strong arms, and big hands, but he always came out unscathed. In 1978, I remember the newspaper headlines blazing, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” after President Jimmy Carter helped Egypt and Israel come to a lasting agreement known as the Camp David Accords. Such was Junior. No, his face did not grace grand marquees and he wasn’t wildly celebrated. Quietly, he sifted through the hurt and pain to recover peace where hot or cold wars once waged.

Today, the political atmosphere in Washington D.C. is one of winners and losers. The art of compromise appears dead; destruction reigns. Truth is lost in rhetoric. “I want it my way,” tantrums replace reason. As a reconciler, Junior sought the win/win. His goal was for rivals to become partners. Enemies become friends. Enmity become fellowship. For attitudes of intransience to become cooperation. Fragmentation become harmony. I know of people that Junior helped to resolve differences who are now fishing buddies, vacation partners, and regular house guests.

In Christian theology the word reconciliation is mostly used in regard to God and humankind. Jesus came and died to bridge the gulf between the justly offended LORD GOD and the justly condemned, willfully offending sinner. With confession comes instant forgiveness and reconciliation. The relationship between God and humanity is changed forever. When the Christian Bible refers to reconciliation, this is its meaning.

However, there are two or three references that use the term for individuals. There are, of course, multiple passages about forgiving and living at peace with one another that allude to reconciliation. In The Cost of Forgiveness and Reconciliation, I wrote, “In Christian teaching, God both forgives and reconciles us to Himself at the same time when we seek Him. But, with we mortal and finite humans this is sometimes a two-step process.” Junior gently and wisely helped people make this second step.

I don’t know where he got his abilities. He was not an educated man, barely finishing the 8th grade. To my knowledge he never received any formal training in the ministry of reconciliation. Perhaps it was instinct. His childhood was difficult, conflict was common. As a child he vowed to be a different kind of man than the father who raised him. Could it have been a gift from God? If it was, he exercised his gift to help others, never for self-aggrandizement. Junior was a man of wisdom who knew how to lead people. I’ve heard stories about him planting ideas in people’s minds that came to fruition later. When it did they owned the project as if it were their idea all along. I don’t know how he did it. Unfortunately, I never learned to be a reconciler like him.

291858_2366417846546_5943061_nHe was known as Junior in his youth. His birth name was James Junior Shuck. Most people called him “Jim.” I called him “Dad.”

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Letters from Jail #2*

Began on 05/23/2013

I have made the local TV news for two days now. The paper reported that I was doing very good against the two police officers before being tasered. Those two whipper-snappers should have thought twice before picking on an old, fat man. Honestly, I remember very little. (I had a dissociative episode and didn’t know what I had done until the police told me.) I guess all that fighting I have done in my sleep all these years finally paid off. Laugh or cry, you have to laugh or cry.

Reportedly, my reputation is known. The chaplain knows me as the well-educated minister. The guards know me as the guy who took on two policemen. My cell-mates know me as the naïve rookie. I just pray that Jay is not lost and the Jay in Christ overcomes all the other reputations.

I’ve been thinking about my jail experience. The conclusion I’ve come to is, jail experiences can be placed into three categories: noble, accidental, and nefarious. People who go to jail for a cause – persecution, political, or civil disobedience – can be called noble. That is true regardless if we agree with their cause or not. Accidental is obvious – the innocent, misidentified, etc. The criminal element, like me, would be the nefarious.

It’s hard for me to think of myself as criminal or to take responsibility for my actions alone. What I did was wrong, but there were so many mitigating circumstances that few, if any, could not imagine themselves responding in the same or a similar way. Am I making excuses? Am I avoiding responsibility?

If I could’ve proven my side, I could’ve walked away a free man. But, they had all the evidence on their side and my “victims” looked more pitiable. I took the deal, not because I was guilty of all they accused me, but because I had no defense. (I asked my lawyer to plead me “not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect,” but he told me it was almost impossible to prove in Kentucky.)

Rather than being in jail for a crime, I’ll think of it as “forced rest.” This will be the Years of Jubilee I have missed. After 39 years of ministry, I needed a sabbatical. Also, I could think of jail as “Club Madisonville.” My very own weight loss program. Exercise, proportional meals, no snacks . . . that ought to equal 50 lbs. of weight loss over a year

I have prayed for forgiveness. Forgiveness for not being strong enough to walk away. For attempting to direct my treatment when others could see clearer than I. For holding the material possessions of this world dear enough to fight over. (I don’t know how to pray about the fight, because I have almost no memory of it.) For not respecting God-ordained civil authority. _____

I had a real battle with pride yesterday. During Wednesday night Bible study, I couldn’t decide whether to use my knowledge or stay mostly mute. Finally, I decided to embrace who God has made me in Christ Jesus and use my talents for Him. It was a palpable moment for me, but I think I made the right choice.

Sunday is coming. I love the Lord’s Day – celebration, worship, festival, and holiday all in one. The services here have not been professional or well done. It appears a lot who go are looking for “friends” or to just get out of the cell for a while. Wednesday Bible study was chaotic and shallow.

Church today was the same as last week right down to the sermon. The man seems to care, though, and is upbeat. _____

I received a termination letter today from the agency where I worked. As firing letters go, it was the best I’ve ever received . . . It’s the only one I’ve ever received. They were nice and caring.

I received two cards today. One was from my brother and the other from my former boss. He said he was praying for me and offered to help in any way he could. _____

A couple of nights ago it got real quiet in the dorm, just in time for me to start talking in my sleep. “We’re not talking about it anymore,” I said. Everyone laughed and the quiet did not return for some time. One guy told me I better never do anything serious because I talk too much in my sleep.

Pray with me that I will learn the jail culture without losing myself. I need a conscience for this road I’ve never traveled. One guy is “mentoring” me. He said I was very naïve.

My day at a glance:

12-12:30 AM      Blood pressure checks. We all march down to the nurse. Like the rest of me, my BP has been near perfect. (A small attempt at humor.)

4-4:15 AM           Morning meds. I think the Risperidone I’m on is really helping to stabilize my mood.

5-6:00 AM           Breakfast . . . pancakes, oatmeal, or biscuits and gravy with fruit and juice.

6-7:00 AM           Devotions. Right now I’m in Mark and Psalms of a morning and Proverbs at night.

7-8:00 AM           Clean-up. Shower, brush teeth. We don’t change clothes but once a week. Although I change my skivvies more often. (TMI)

8-12:00 PM         I rest, read, and write. I’m rereading The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancy.

12-1:00 PM         Lunch

1-4:00 PM           Rest, read, and write. On MWF we are allowed one hour of recreation in the “yard.” Oh, the feel of the sun.

4-4:15 PM           Evening meds.

4:15-6:00 PM     Rest, read, and write.

6-7:00 PM           Clean-up. Sweep, clean restroom, mop.

7-8:00 PM           Supper

8-12:00 AM        Rest, read, and write. Reading from Proverbs.

Sunday is church and visitations.   Monday and Friday is court if you have a date before the judge.   Wednesday, I receive a visit from a local pastor. Bible study. Library night.   Wednesday and Saturday is wash day for whites.   Thursday and Monday is wash day for uniforms. We all sit around in our boxers until the uniforms are cleaned and returned. Uncomfortable!   Mail and concessions come in the morning, M-F. _____

Sometimes, I can’t help but think that much of my life has been a mistake in light of the way things have turned out. But, I must trust in the LORD. Some of it has been my failure. Some, the failure of others. Some, a combination of the two.

Jay

*I have edited and arranged the material from my letters for readability.

 

Quotes on Restoration

Restoration to fellowship is the fallen Christian’s immediate need . . . The whole purpose of restoration is to get the person back to where s/he was . . . Eventually a fallen Christian who clearly repents (placed under a loving, spiritual mentor for accountability and growth) and reforms should be restored completely . . .

From the sermon: Restoring Fallen Christians and the Ministry of Reconciliation, by Jim Miller on August 20, 2002.

Quotes on Restoration

Image result for galatians 6:1“Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also.”

Galatians 6:1 Amplified Bible

Quotes on Restoration

Image result for God fixes the broken

“God is able to fix that which is broken so that what stands repaired is immeasurably greater than that which stood before it needed repair. Therefore, the most staggering brokenness conceivable is in reality the greatest opportunity imaginable.”
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Quotes on Restoration

Image result for restore the fallen“You demonstrate biblical love when you take steps to restore a fellow-believer overtaken in sin. This not only encourages a fallen believer to return to his first love of Jesus Christ, but it also gives others involved in the restoration process on-going opportunities to examine the depth of their love to the Lord.”

– John C. Broger

 

Letters from Jail: #1

The following is excerpts from letters I wrote while serving a 360-day sentence in county lock-up. I edited and arranged the material for readability.

Began on 05/18/2013

Image result for letters from jailIt is my first opportunity to write; I had no paper until now. It is in pencil because that is all we’re allowed – they are those little golf pencils that are too small for big hands.

My first few days have been uneventful. The dorm holds ten men and has one restroom and one shower. I can change my clothes and bed sheets once a week. With that, I’m not sure what the point of a shower is, but I guess some semblance of civilization must prevail.

There are eight other guys in here. One is a reader, cites and writes poetry, and appears very intelligent. Another controls the T.V. remote, changing the channels frequently. The rest sleep much of the day. If I could record the variety of snores coming from this room of men, perhaps I could produce one of those Jingle Bells recordings – you know, like the dogs barking. I can’t lay in the bunk all day, reading and writing have become my refuge.

The tedium is suffocating – three meals, morning and evening medication calls, and a midnight walk down the hall to get my blood pressure checked. The only break in the monotony of the day is when the guards come through the dorm on their hourly bed check. I hope to get involved in work, church, and/or Bible study.

After midnight blood pressure check, the dorm comes to life with activity. Showers, T.V., visiting with each other, card games, and reading. This goes on until 1:30 or 2:00 AM or until the guard in central control turns off the T.V.

One of the men gave me a Bible until the chaplain sent me one I could have for myself. It’s an NIV (New International Version), which was what I was reading at home. Reading is tough amidst the constant noise of the T.V.  Prayer is even tougher. Sometimes God seems close, but most of the time He feels far away. I’m trying to read a Psalm and a chapter from Proverbs each day. I’m also reading from Mark.

I’ve been writing a list of events and happenings over the past 35 years for which to repent of, ask forgiveness for, and to forgive others for. The act of writing them all down gives me an opportunity to pray about each one and to release any anger that I may have about them. I need forgiveness, a sense of release from my guilt, and peace in my heart, mind, and soul. Pray with me that “no root of bitterness” will spring up in me. I don’t want to hate or despise anyone.

My mood yesterday was depressed. It seems I overcome one battle of forgiveness only to face another. Two more things came up in court. I didn’t contest either one, although I thought parts of the first were unfair; and all I can say about the second is, “Good luck!” (More was disclosed here than I feel free to share for the sake of others.) You see my struggle to forgive when hurt keeps coming, but forgive I must. Yesterday morning I felt free, today I am attempting to break free of these chains.

Why can’t it be easier, but then again, if forgiveness was easy God would not have required the blood of Jesus. Battle must be part of the victory. In battle you discover both your weaknesses and strengths. What can I say? I must march forward. I dare not go back or stay stagnate. I’m reminded of what Jesus told Peter, 70 times seven. Seventy times seven, Jay.

I don’t know how I got here. I was too weak, too emotionally drained, too mentally spent, too sick to walk away. I broke one of my fundamental principles – don’t fight over material things. Too tightly did I hang onto the loaves and fishes and missed the message of Jesus as He passed by. It begs the question; do we own our possessions or do our possessions own us? Help me pray.

It is the Lord’s Day and I just got back from church. There is no singing, but one man gave a really good testimony. I’m not sure where the chaplain got his training, but he leaves a lot to be desired. Today, he had The Lord’s Prayer at the end of Matthew and Pentecost on Thursday. I feel sorry for the men in here if that’s all the spiritual instruction they get. Whatever his faults, though, he appears to have a good rapport with them.

My brother came to see me today. If we’d had a gavel it could have been a real business meeting. There are so many things to do. So many decisions to make.

Goodbye for now. Pray for hearts to be softened towards me and that I would forgive and be forgiven.

Sincerely,

Jay

The Price of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Image result for reconciliation“My dad was an angry and volatile man,” the young man exploded the information across my desk. “You never knew whether he’d respond to news with anger, resolve, defeat, or acceptance. If I did something wrong or didn’t do what he asked, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get yelled at or gently counseled. My godly mother took the brunt of much of his anger. It appeared she could do nothing right for him. After she told him to leave, she disclosed to me that she feared for her life.” He paused, appearing to be searching for clues to a mystery, and then continued. “He professed to be a Christian man and he was a minister. You couldn’t help but admire his intellect and his preaching and teaching abilities. In public he was a composed, unflappable man. You could tell that, although quiet and reserved, he was clearly in charge. Few things rattled him. When everyone else was in a panic, he remained calm. But, at home he was an unpredictable, angry beast.” He bowed his head and quietly said, “I know he struggled with mental illness. Maybe that explains it. He asked me to forgive him and reconcile with him. I don’t know what to do,” his voice trailed off in resignation.

Many of us can identify with this man’s dilemma, actually, two dilemmas – forgiveness AND reconciliation. I must admit, within the past few days the distinction between the two has become much clearer. Forgiveness and reconciliation are separate issues. You can give forgiveness without reconciliation. In fact, it is sometimes necessary and preferred. However, in some cases forgiveness also requires reconciliation.

In Christian teaching, God both forgives and reconciles us to Himself at the same time when we seek Him. But, with we mortal and finite humans this is sometimes a two step process.

Forgiveness always comes first and is required. Biblically, we are to seek forgiveness from those we have harmed and we are to extend forgiveness to those who ask it of us. I will forgive because it is the right thing to do. Peter learned in Matthew 18 that forgiveness for others comes as a result of our gratefulness to God for forgiving us. Not only is it a mandate from God – it is also good for our emotional well-being. Mental health literature is replete with the benefits of forgiving. It releases the searing pain that torments our memories. It rids us of the burdensome obligation to seek personal revenge. And, the festering anger that threatens to destroy our relationships can be discharged. I have found that forgiving frees me and gives me peace.

Not forgiving is often a survival mechanism from being betrayed, wronged, injured, or humiliated. We know that among the risks of not forgiving are eternal victimization, continual emotional upheaval, smug self-righteousness, and the inevitable loss of compassion for others.

It is only human for us to build defenses against hurt and pain, both physically and emotionally. That is why we seek shelter during a storm and lock our doors at night. It is why we fortify and guard our hearts and minds against hurtful people and unhealthy situations. We are particular about who we let in to our inner sanctums. To use a home analogy, some people get no nearer than the sidewalk or street, others are allowed into the yard, a few are invited onto the porch, a smaller number are allowed inside to the formal living room, but those who are invited into the kitchen with refrigerator privileges are numbered often on a single hand.

Reconciliation is another step. Sometimes it is not possible or ill advised. We cannot reconcile with those who are deceased, beyond our reach, or rebuff our efforts. We do not and should not expect people who have been physically or sexually assaulted or some other violence perpetrated upon their person to reconcile, especially if the offender is a stranger. However, there are times when we need to reconcile.

I know of a couple of neighbors in a small southern Indiana town who hated each other. Both of them had planted “keep out” signs on their property line. And, the two signs faced each other. Clearly, there was not only some forgiveness that needed to go on, but also some reconciliation. If not for their own sake, at least for neighborhood peace and an end to the negative example being portrayed in front of their young children.

I have come to the conclusion that a greater price is paid by both the seeker and giver for reconciliation than that of forgiveness. It requires trust and vulnerability. Once trust has been broken it necessitates a heroic effort to reclaim. Trust has faith. Trust believes. Trust has confidence. Can I trust that his remorse is genuine? Can I trust that she has made genuine changes and is fortifying her gains and continues to grow? Am I able to see him for what he is now and not for what he was?

Trust extends toward another while vulnerability is about me. The less we trust the more fences we build for protection; the more we trust the fewer fences we have and the more vulnerable we become. If we do not trust we insulate ourselves. Now, insulation has a two-fold purpose – it keeps the cold in and the heat out in summer and it keeps the heat in and the cold out in winter. When we make ourselves vulnerable we remove the insulation and expose ourselves to the elements. To be vulnerable means we risk getting burned by the searing heat of anger and resentment. To be vulnerable means we risk exposure to the bitter and frosty bite of indifference. Relationships require an element of vulnerability, without it we have no relationships.

The young man in my office could readily forgive his father, but he was not yet ready to reconcile with him. He did not trust his father in spite of evidence he had changed. Nor would he allow himself to be vulnerable enough to take the risk. That is where the situation remains as of this writing.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not for the weak. Only those with strength coupled with empathy and love can make this journey.

THE IRREDEEMABLE

Image result for closed door unwelcomeSeveral years ago I heard a man tell his story about leaving the ministry. He said his decision was made one night while he was the on-call chaplain at his local hospital. A man came through the ER carrying an unconscious, bloodied toddler. Doctors and nurses rushed the child to a room working furiously trying to save his life. The chaplain sat with the man as he held his head in his hands and cried, “O God, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to do it.” From time to time the chaplain checked on the condition of the boy and would return to his father with any news of progress. Again the man would repeat, “O God, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to do it.” This scenario repeated itself three or four times until the father was informed his son did not survive. That night the clergyman quit the ministry and turned his back on God saying, I knew God would forgive that wicked man and I did not want to serve a God who would forgive a man such as this.

The minister had it right in one aspect: God forgives. This is abundantly clear in both the Old Testament and New Testament. God forgave some people who committed some hideous sins. Consider King David who used his authority to seduce and impregnate another man’s wife. Then he arranged for her husband to be killed so he could marry her. When confronted with his evil conniving, he repented (Psalm 51) and was known by all as “a man after God’s own heart.” (I Samuel 13:14) And then there was King Manasseh who closed the Temple, dismissed the priests, set up idols on the high places for Judah to worship and to sacrifice, and surrendered his son to the fires of Molech, an Amorite god.  After being taken captive to Babylon, he repented of his sins and God restored him to his throne in Judah. (II Kings 21:1-18 & II Chronicles 33:1-9)

In the New Testament, Jesus chooses Matthew – a tax collector for the hated Roman occupiers who determined his own salary by collecting more money than what was owed – as one of the twelve Apostles. (Matthew 10:2-3) Likewise, there was Simon the Zealot, numbered with the Twelve, who was likely an assassin. (Luke 6:15) The Zealots were a group of Judean patriots who killed any Jew that collaborated with the Roman government. One of their preferred methods was to kneel beside a collaborator during a festival or feast and drive a dagger deep into his back. Finally, there was Paul – a blasphemer, persecutor of Christians, and an insolent man – who called himself the chief of sinners. (I Timothy 1:13-15) By the grace of God he was transformed to be an Apostle and the writer of 13 of the 27 books that comprise the New Testament.

Recalling these men of old demonstrates how far the grace of God extends into sin riddled lives to save and redeem them. But, that was a long time ago and their gross offenses do not affect us. What about today? Do you believe the notorious serial killer, Jeffery Dahmer, who killed at least 17 men and boys and cannibalized some of them, could be redeemed? According to the prison chaplain’s office and several other clergy who visited him, he was a new man in Christ before he was killed in a prison bathroom. I have witnessed individual Christians and churches rejoice over the conversion of people like Dahmer. However, he did not kill one of their relatives. The former minister in my opening paragraph had an irredeemable list. I fear when someone touches our lives, our community, and our church we, too, have a more narrow definition of the redeemable than what God has.

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the world was confronted with a little known and feared epidemic, AIDS. In one of my seminary classes we had quite a lively discussion about people so afflicted and whether they could attend church or not. There were those, fearing the possible transmission of this disease, advocating for a ban on church attendance. Apparently, many churches had adopted this position as policy. Others in the class campaigned for ministry and inclusion. This era was not a particularly bright spot in church history as many churches chose to say that the AIDS patient was redeemable, but just not at my church.

I am acquainted with a man who was released from prison after serving a 40 year sentence for murder. His first Sunday home he went to the church where his parents attended when they were alive. The congregation knew him well. Still, he received a fairly cool response. The next Sunday he went to another church where he was known. That church was downright hostile, telling him he was not welcome to attend their church. For his third try, he chose another church where he knew several members. They welcomed and embraced him and chose to treat him as redeemable. The first two churches said in essence, “We do not want murderers attending our church.” For them, this man, whom some had known since his childhood, was irredeemable.

What of the child abuser or molester, the woman abuser or rapist, the severely alcoholic or addicted, the adulterous spouse or the compulsive gambler? It appears it is harder to believe that a person is redeemable the closer they are to you and the more harm they have inflicted upon you.

A few weeks back I wrote this line: “Perhaps they fail to see me as redeemable, and therefore are blind to the redemptive work that continues to make me a better man.” Although I understand and own the pain I have caused, it is difficult for me to accept the view of me that some in my family still harbor. It is hard for me to acknowledge that I am numbered with the irredeemable in their eyes. It hurts.

O God, forgive us when we harbor an irredeemable list in our hearts. Help us view humanity as You do. May we embrace the truth that the greater the sin the greater is Your grace and that no one is irredeemable in Your eyes.