What Does Reconciliation Look Like?

aerial-aerial-view-airphoto-681381 (1)

A dictionary definition of reconciliation goes something like this: “the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.”  Sounds impossible when there is so much polarization, doesn’t it?


If we believe that we cannot be reconciled to one another, it is more likely that we won’t be. Are we only relying on ourselves to make that happen? Have we left the Lord at work within us out of the equation or do we believe it means reaching a place where we all agree on everything (or even most things)?  Our tendency toward “all or nothing” thinking might bring us to that spot.


All who desire discord and division (both human and spiritual) want us to be in that exact spot because it keeps us stuck.

accept difference quotes


Listen to a different and better definition of reconciliation:


“Simply stated, reconciliation means a restoration of harmony. Musical harmony is a great metaphor to describe reconciliation because it captures the essential idea of weaving together different notes into a pleasing, cohesive whole. Being in harmony with other people – especially people who are different from us – doesn’t mean we have to give up or compromise our values, our history, or our perspective. It simply means we find ways to blend our distinctive qualities into a unified vision, purpose, or remedy.”  Trey Gowdy


I love that metaphor of harmony since it is evident in any beautiful, grand, powerful piece of music there will be unique harmonies that add to the dimension of the music. It exceeds the beauty of musical notes sung or played in unison.


What sort of orchestra is it if it is only made up of violins or even only strings? How disappointing not to hear the brass and wind instruments accented by the percussion.


In an orchestra those who are playing understand from the outset that each instrument stephencovey1adds to the value of the whole. Sometimes strings might be the focal point of a part of the music, but other times it may be the French horn, a flute, the tympani, or a harp. I have never heard members of an orchestra lamenting that one instrument or section may be featured one time and yet another section at another time.


No matter what group or groups we are a part of, I think this metaphor has merit for serious consideration. The orchestra presents a complete sound because of the way each instrument relates to all the others in harmony.


There is the key theme I have been writing about in recent posts…relationships.


Somehow it seems we have gotten lost “along the yellow brick road” and have distorted how we view relationships.


As I was reading in Unified by Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy, I was struck over and over again about this theme. They sit as members of the U.S. Congress where contention and discord has never been so great, but they are the best of friends and have discovered the way out of the chaos we find ourselves in if we dare follow their lead or wisdom:


“We believe the firmest foundation for positive change is found with individuals in relationship with one another. Laws are external. Relationships are internal. Policies make you have to. Relationships make you want to. Relationships contain the power necessary to change the course of history, and the delicate, personal touch needed to change the trajectory of a single life.”


If you have been reading my posts regularly, you have heard me share about the gift my parents gave me from the outset of my life of teaching and training me to look at the individual versus the category or group. That caused me to want to know the story of the person and learn from that story.


Because of that even before adulthood, I started to develop a portfolio of experience that would serve me throughout adulthood. It gave me a different framework when I looked 999a80662fd889b3bc63103528e272d0at my class of junior high special education students. It also helped me look beyond the diagnosis or the symptoms of the person I was working with as a clinical counselor and to focus instead on the story that person had to tell. It allowed me to grow over a lifetime of varied church connections with different styles of worship and service formats.


It also resulted in developing a growing sense of awe at how good and beyond comprehension God is in his creation and design. It helped me to recognize his genius in designing a tapestry that forces all of us to rely on Him to see, sense, and long for the harmony of reconciliation.


My life is richer as a result.


My last position before retirement was on our church staff. I was in the minority and aware all the others had many potential reasons to be unsure of how I would fit in the mix. My background, culture, ethnicity, and experiences were all different than theirs. It was so good for me to see each one of them as an individual and get to know his or her story. I didn’t want to know the story because it was different or because I was curious, but rather because I was interested in the person and how the Lord had moved in whatever they had faced in life.


One of those persons was a woman near my age. She was an introvert while I was an extrovert. She had lived her entire in the city while I had lived in the country. She had lived with prejudice only because too many people first looked at her as being a part of a group while I did not know that kind of prejudice and yet knew what it felt like to be different. Her educational experience was different than mine and she had often not been acknowledged for her capabilities while I was respected for mine because I had credentials, whether or not I had the knowledge they represented.


We did, however, become the closest of friends until death came far too early and separated us in 2006. She and I had more in common than things that were ff72b3f8d09d0817b0fede57c31da988--language-albus-dumbledoredifferent…more things than I can list. We enjoyed the deepest communion in our times of prayer together and sharing our journal entries beyond any friend in my lifetime. We grappled honestly and transparently about our battles with a sense of inadequacy. We shared stories of our childhood, disappointments, things we missed and had wanted to do.


She had played the violin and I had played the piano and sax. She loved music, but had never had the opportunity to go to hear an orchestra in concert until I surprised her with that gift for a birthday. I will never forget what she told me as she got in my car to go to the concert, “Thank you for such a great time and the chance to experience such beautiful music just in case I ever forget to tell you.”


Few people understood the bond we shared. Some were jealous of it, but she and I knew the richness and depth of it. It was one of those covenantal relationships that weather storms and tests along the way. On one of her difficult days, I tore a dollar bill in half and gave it to her to remind her that so long as I was alive she could always count on me. She carried one half in her wallet till she died and I still have the other half.


On a special birthday she gave me a figurine that captured the spirit of our relationship. The photo at the bottom is of that figurine.


How much I would have missed if I had only seen her as part of a group.


Every person’s story has value.


It’s an individual story no matter how many groups or categories he or she may be a part of.











Getting To Know You



When my parents were teaching me the value of getting to know an individual for who he or she was, they also opened the door to something that seems to have gotten lost in these days of instant communication – writing letters.


Writing letters became a pleasure and adventure for me. Two persons became significant to me as a result of letter writing. One was a great aunt who lived over a thousand miles away from me by the time my letter writing was becoming a habit. Without the blessing of a living grandmother, getting to know this great aunt through our letters was a treasured gift to me. It wasn’t until after she died just before I graduated from high school that I learned from her daughter how much of a gift it had been to my great aunt.


I knew one other individual through letter writing as a “pen pal”. Her home was in the Philippine Islands and she was near my age. We had a grand time of sharing about our experiences of growing up in two very different cultures throughout childhood and into our teen years. The big surprise for me was when she came to the United States to go to college and made a trip to our area to finally meet me in person.


Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more have replaced letter writing as a means of connection now.  I confess I use these as well, but they really don’t compare to writing a letter or a series of letters. Letters allow you to consider and share more information at potentially a deeper level. They also allow you to reread and enjoy them many times over.


How touched so many of us were to hear the words written in letters between President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush in recent days following Mrs. Bush’s death.


IMG_1546 (1)Many of us could learn the value of thinking about what we want to say and share as we write versus a quick (and sometimes thoughtless) smattering of words that allow for only a glimpse of all we might think or feel that can open a world of potential misunderstanding.


How can we develop rapport and come to appreciate what connects us when a short burst of words expressing a passionate opinion gets quickly posted with no thought about how it will be read or understood, whether it will offend or bless, and whether it will divide or connect?


Those short bursts of words can reveal more about what thoughts are guiding us and what emotions are ruling our hearts than we even take a moment to consider. Too often they seem to divide.


I love Paul’s words to address these issues in Philippians 4:8 (ESV):


“Brothers and sisters, continue to think about what is good and worthy of praise. Think about what is true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected.”


 We all have opinions. Those opinions are also subject to change and do not seem to fit the category Paul suggests in this verse. For those reasons, I am challenged to consider what opinions I share in instant communication and whether they will divide or connect.


In the new book, Unified, Tim Scott observed an important truth for us all to remember:


“It’s common in our society to classify people by perceived categories – liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, believer or nonbeliever, Northerner or Southerner – and to categorize those groups according to a short list of presumed characteristics that make it easy for us to minimize, attack, or altogether dismiss the group as a whole. But a group is never monolithic; it is always an amalgam of individuals and individual relationships. People don’t listen, speak, or respond as a group; they respond as individuals. We may see the crowd, but a crowd is simply a collection of individuals gathered in the same place. Likewise, we don’t have relationships with groups; we have relationships with individuals.”


 Sure…individuals are often in groups that have some central qualities, interests, or values, but to assign all of those things in type and degree to each individual in the group opens the door to many misconceptions and leads to building the walls that we seem to be too intent on building.


We all get caught in the trap of viewing others or even an individual through the prism of past relationships. When we do that we can start to attribute a great many things to the group or person that can be faulty. Nonetheless, we easily cling to these things as if they were objective facts and truth. This sets the foundation for prejudices and biases in all forms.


Jesus came so that we could be reconciled to God when we accepted Him. He also wants IMG_3897us to be reconciled to one another. His words address that on more than one occasion. Listen to how He speaks in John 13:34-35 (NIV):


“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”


Living this out means thinking the best of each other and giving each other the benefit of the doubt. It means laying aside our tendency to judge and often judge “a book by its cover.”


If we shrug off that truth, we participate in widening the division that is tearing at the fabric of our churches, communities, and nations. We also can come perilously close to identifying with those in Israel at the end of the book of Judges in the Old Testament:


“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  Judges 21:25 (ESV)


 Reconciliation requires relationship, and relationship requires fairness and self-awareness. “  Tim Scott




Credibility…A Power Source


African violet, TN


Because of what I was taught growing up, the truths sown into my heart about seeing the individual first began to grow and get tested in junior high and high school. One of the byproducts was an expanding desire to learn more about each person with whom I had contact in order to understand his or her story.


I became a part of the YWCA Y-Teen program while I was in high school as a way to broaden connections. Since I rode a bus from the country into the city, no one I met in school lived in my neighborhood and it left me feeling “on the outside” most of the time.


During the time I was in Y-Teens, I began to get acquainted with a girl who offered me the gift of sharing and listening. We both became involved with trying to create a service project for the group and in the end, an idea I had suggested was chosen. It was called the “Big Sis” project where Y-Teens were paired with special education students in the grade schools to offer encouragement through reading to and with them, playing games with them, and a variety of other things.


My friend was enthusiastic about the project and I asked for her help to make it a 1000-ideas-about-sisters-in-christ-on-pinterest-dear-sister-53362success. She had often listened to my stories of what it was like growing up with a special needs sibling. She heard all of my perspectives including those that were not very positive and accepted me without judging my feelings. She grew to care about these children as well as for the hearts of their siblings.


To say that this friend had a lot of credibility with me may be an understatement. She epitomized how Tim Scott writes about this topic in Unified:


“Sometimes in a friendship, we build credibility and trust not by what we say, but by what we’re willing to share. A friend can help shoulder the burden without dissecting it. Sometimes the gift of presence is worth more than a thousand words.”


That is the gift I received from this friend whom I started calling “Sis” after we started the Y-Teen project. I had no biological sisters and she seemed like the sort of sister I would have chosen if I had the chance.


The truth was that we were very different from one another, but we shared some Quotes About Unity And Friendship Henri Nouwen Friendship Quotes | Quotehdcommon values. Both of us came into the relationship without preconceived notions and expectations.


“Sis” visited me in the country whenever she could get transportation and I visited her in the inner city when I was able to include that in my time in the city. Our homes and families were different, but common values like respect, hard work, care for others, love of country and family, and more, connected our hearts. It was an unlikely friendship in days before civil rights.


“Sis” honored me when she invited me to sing at her wedding. My parents and I and one other family of a groomsman were the only guests whose ethnicity stood out from the rest of the guests in the church on that warm June day. Others likely noticed that obvious difference, but for “Sis” and me we gave little thought to the difference because we knew each other’s hearts.


I had received a special trip to honor the “Big Sis” service project. My friend and I had both worked on the project that had been a germ of an idea I had. She was excited for me. She and I had been friends for three years by then and had gained so much in the process. We understood what Trey Gowdy wrote in Unified:


“We can build real trust with others by stepping into their story, by committing our time and attention to what matters to them. When we walk the path together with a trusted friend, when his or her success is as important to us as our own, then we’re really on to something special.”


173570_20150415_043906_50497_original-1That only could have happened when “Sis” and I listened to each other’s stories and came to understand each other’s framework for how we lived our lives.


Unified has a powerful statement that each of us should consider in this 24/7 news cycle that focuses on differences and divisions:


“You could put any two people of good conscience together, and regardless of whatever differences they might have, you would find that they agree on most things in life.”


It might be tempting to argue with that statement, but before you do remember the parameter of “good conscience.  It all starts with what is happening inside of us. How do we do it?  Listen to Tim Scott’s recommendation in Unified:


“If we want to build friendships with people across lines of division, we must focus on what we have in common and not become distracted by what separates us. We do this naturally – and often without even thinking about it – when we feel a connection with someone. If we want to reach out to people who are different from us, the process is really the same – though we may need to be more intentional about it. We must start by establishing rapport, based on common interests, and build a foundation of trust and goodwill, before we gravitate toward conversations about problems and the issues that divide us. If we start by talking about things we can all agree on — such as gratitude for our men and women in uniform, our love for our children and grandchildren … — eventually we will pave the way to more challenging and difficult conversations.”


Following high school, I went off to college and “Sis” traveled to various places around the world with her new husband who was a part of the U.S. Air Force. We stayed in touch from time to time, as we each became mothers and our lives expanded. Our lives went in different directions, but our hearts were knit together.


I think our lives will always reflect what we discovered in this unlikely friendship that spanned a lifetime.







When We Focus on the Wrong Thing



Sometimes we start life with a set of lenses that look at differences first of all. The challenge that can occur as a result is whether or not we are wise enough to discern what we hold as the standard of comparison.


Too often whether we acknowledge it or not, we are holding who we are, where we came from, what we believe, what we look like, and more, as the benchmark. It’s easy from there to slip into categorizing people into groups rather than seeing them as individuals.


Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy’s recent book, Unified, includes a statement that we all need to keep in mind:


“When you begin to look at people as individuals, when you listen to what they say and seek to understand where they’re coming from, you begin to realize we’re all different from the rest.”


When any of us fails to do that, we fall prey to creating stereotypes and biases that become tools of the enemy to divide us into classes, hierarchies, and subtypes. From there it is easy to begin erecting walls to both protect us and keep others out.


That adds to the problem since we don’t really know the person or persons on the other side of the wall so we both fear them and attribute things to them that are often not true.


IMG_3407As I was growing up on a small farm in northeastern Ohio, it would have been easy to see the world using that regional lens. There was one significant reason why I don’t think that happened. Almost four years after I was born, my brother was born. Even though my parents were unsure of what made it so, he appeared to be different from the outset long before a diagnosis was given.


He reached all those benchmarks of when you roll over, sit up, or start to talk a bit later than the norm. Because two other baby boys at our church had been born around the same time, it was easy for anyone and everyone to compare the “three boy blues” as they were called. It was easy to feel “less than” as a result of the awkwardness that filled up the space when everyone was talking about these little boys and my brother who didn’t line up with the two others.


It would be several years before the diagnosis of cerebral palsy and development delay (then called mental retardation) would become a part of our understanding.


For all that was challenging about this and how differently it evolved in the late 1940’s compared to now, God used it to cause my parents to teach me to first see the person, to discover who he or she was, to look at things I could learn and enjoy about them, and not to focus on how they “didn’t fit” into my experience, my life, or my perspective. I didn’t realize it was not a lesson other parents taught their children until much later in life.


The lessons were far-reaching and extended beyond how I viewed disabilities of all types to how I viewed persons from different cultures and ethnicities and persons from different educational or socio-economic levels. Yes, I was aware of the differences, but I was challenged to not make that my main focus. If I did, I would never risk getting to know the person.


Beyond how seldom our family had other families with whom we fellowshipped, I noticed not long after I started school that other little girls had dresses of materials and design quite unlike mine. My mother had always been a skilled seamstress and made all of my clothes from the very beginning, but often in earlier childhood the dress I was wearing would be made from a print feedsack that my dad had brought home from when our grain was harvested. No one else at school had a dress like mine. Subtle responses to what I was wearing began to erode my view of myself as comparisons crept in.


In the 1950’s there were no persons whose skin color was different than mine living or worshipping with my family or me. My mother chose to invite a missionary from Africa to stay with us while she was ministering at our church in order to open our hearts to the truth of how hearts can connect even when ethnic and cultural backgrounds and countries from half a world away were involved.


Learning to celebrate others was also a lesson my parents taught. Learning to care about others made it possible to be (as Trey Gowdy writes) “happy when something good accomplishment-ceremony-college-267885happens to someone you care about as you would be if that something had happened to you.”


My awareness of differences grew more when I was transported by bus to a junior high and then high school in the city nearest us. I was in the minority living on a small farm and there were more than one or two students who were not like me in other ways as well, but those early precepts my parents had taught and modeled caused me to see the person first rather than what made us dissimilar.


I think lyricist Richard Rogers was right when he wrote the words to “You’ve Got to Be Taught” for the musical South Pacific:


“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

 You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade

You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught”


We learn those crucial lessons early in life. Some are consciously and deliberately taught. Children listening and watching their parents and the other adults also catch what those adults believe, feel, and value.


If we are going to grow beyond the true differences that have become the dominant theme of lenses we use and hear from any and all news sources, I think we need to first see the person and intentionally get to know the person before we attribute certain things to him or her.


After all, we could be wrong…very wrong…and miss out on someone very special God desires us to know as a result of discovering his or her heart first. Of course, that means we need to listen carefully without filters.


It also means we move beyond lip service to the Christian principles we espouse and become more like the One whose name we bear. Then we can have hope to bridge the divide that is quickly becoming so large that it seems uncrossable.


“Love is always stronger than hate, and God’s love is stronger than anything. If we want to move forward, we must anchor ourselves in the powerful, transformative, and genuine love of God.”  Tim Scott, in Unified.


black-group-hands-943630 (1)















What Would You Choose?




One of my favorite activities growing up was coloring in a coloring book. I was always a lousy artist, but this was my substitute back in the days before iPods, iPads, and an assortment of electronics that captivate children today. There are several adults in our family who still enjoy coloring in those wonderful new intricately designed books that are popular now. Sometimes I join them.


The one disappointment for me in childhood was never having the bigbox that gave me every shade I might want to consider as I colored in my pages. In most areas of my life I enjoy a lot of variety. It shows up with that desire for more different crayons and in the wide variety of music that I enjoy as well.


It doesn’t stop there.


I love getting to know different people, learning about their stories, hearing about the paths where the Lord has led them, finding out what excites them and fuels their art-art-materials-color-261687passions, and how the harder times in their lives were used by the Lord. Yes, I am an extrovert, but I really most prefer sitting with one person while we share a great latte or cup of tea for an unrushed time of relating.


Taking time to listen, share stories, and getting to know someone beyond the quick greeting on a shopping trip or even at church is an investment well worth the time. That kind of relating not only allows us to know someone else better, we also see glimpses of the Lord and often learn something about ourselves in the process if we are listening well.


Most of us would say we are “busy”, but busy and urgent should never take the place of better and important.


I love and so much agree with this quote by Barbara Bush:


“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”


 Sometimes we get in the way of opportunities relationally because of our own perspective about others or ourselves. We may believe we have nothing to offer the other person. We may believe that we have nothing in common.


And we may be wrong.


As I finished reading Unified by Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy, I was reminded of the blessings that can come from unlikely friendships where we set aside our misperceptions. Listen to one of the things Trey writes in the book:


 “I don’t care how great things appear to be going in someone else’s life; we all need somebody we can trust, that we can be fully candid with, and who will give us the best advice for us and not just for them.”


A few paragraphs later he adds:


“Relationships where people put the other person first and remain committed to giving their best counsel for the benefit of the other person are few and far between……Once you know someone will keep a confidence, give you sound counsel, and genuinely have your best interest at heart, there is no limit to what you can share, and there is no limit to what can be gained.”


One of the things that stands out to me is how often Jesus took time to relate to people. Yes, He spoke and taught huge crowds at various points, but the gospels give us many glimpses of how He noticed someone that others bypassed. He took time for art-art-materials-artistic-256484conversations with some that his earthly heritage and religious teaching would have told Him to avoid.


Jesus never compromised who He was in the process of valuing someone else enough to take time to listen and engage with him or her.


Polarization and divisiveness is so commonplace today that we can be tempted to think our differences are too great to have any common ground. But what would happen if we had a real desire to get to know someone beyond the differences? What if we utilized that knowledge and those different perspectives to make each other better?  What if we were to look for common ground at a heart level first of all?


I think we learn far less if we stick with only those who look like us, think like us, come from our side of town, or have the same educational background.


Consider the unlikely friendship between David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel of the Old Testament. David was a shepherd boy who knew how to sing and initially brought peace to the troubled heart of Jonathan’s father, King Saul. Jonathan was of royal blood and privilege. These two would not have typically developed a friendship much less one of a covenantal depth. They would have been from opposite sides of town in those days, but spending time together allowed them to know each other’s hearts until they were knit in an exceptional bond of friendship that caused Jonathan to risk his father’s rejection rather than betray David.


When we look for a solution to our divided culture, our search seems to be in the wrong place. It won’t come from a program or any number of other forums. I think Tim Scott describes a better way in Unified:


 “Politics is not going to change the nation. We will change the nation only by changing the condition of the human heart. And that can only happen through love. True friendship is born out of acceptance and unconditional love – a love that is consistent and intentional.”


The Lord’s challenge to us is always about love. Our challenge is to remember He is the source of love within us and we need to model love as He did.


The love of Jesus was and is always consistent and intentional.


That is where we start.

Blackberry Farm
Blackberry Farm