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