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In Search of Peace? Take the Google Reconciliation Test

October 13, 2009

There has been a good debate going on for a while about how well the language of “reconciliation” serves us in approaching a broken world.  I did a workshop at a conference once called “Why I’m Skeptical About Reconciliation” (listen here).  I argued that as the language of reconciliation has become more and more popular, “reconciliation” has become a trendy yet hopelessly vague, and therefore increasingly unhelpful concept.

But some thorough, up-to-date research on the topic was long overdue.  So tonight I imagined myself to be a seeker in search of hope, and I googled “reconciliation” (after all, this is how my children mostly do school papers these days).

Our friend is first met by the most-consulted source of reconciliation wisdom: Wikipedia.  What is the hope offered?  The healing options  (along with lukewarm definitions like “compromise” and “settlement”) include “bank reconciliation” and an “anti-anxiety medication for dogs” called “Reconcile.”  If the best hope dogs have for reconciling their daily troubles is a drug of that name, they have surely settled for too little.

Our friend opens the next most popular source of reconciliation insight:  the U.S. House of Representatives web site for the “Budget Reconciliation Process.”

budget reconciliationMy friend Michael Stern is a Washington lawyer.  His recent blog post describes the hope this procedure offers to a broken world.  “In brief,” writes Michael, “reconciliation is a process that allows budgetary legislation to be considered in Congress on an expedited basis and, most importantly, to pass without being subject to a Senate filibuster.”  He continues:

“My friend Chris Rice has a blog called Reconcilers, which is about bringing God’s peace to a broken world (he could explain it better than I can).  Here in DC, though, where we are more in the world-breaking business, ‘reconciliation’ is definitely not about bringing people closer to God or to each other.  As Ezra Klein observes, ‘it’s hard to imagine another town in which the most divisive thing you could do would be called ‘reconciliation.’

So our friend in search of hope has now learned that reconciliation is as interesting as working on bank statements; is, shall we say, for the dogs; and is one of the most divisive practices available to U.S. lawmakers.  And at #2 in the Google list it appears that lots and lots of folks are consulting that version of reconciliation for advice.

I am happy to report that the Duke Center for Reconciliation, where I serve, appears third on the Google list.  Yet any enthusiasm must be brief, for unfortunately the Center beat out “Confession – Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation – Penance.”  With 1.13 billion Catholics in the world there appears to be far too little penance going on and far too much Washington “world-breaking” business.

As my authoritative “Google Test” indeed proves, there are many ways the term is unhelpful.  This begs for a deeper search engine.  Let us hope our seeker friend has the patience to find deeper answers, like the easily-overlooked link on the Wikipedia page to a sculpture called “Reconciliation” at Coventry Cathedral in England.  If we’ve learned anything about authentic reconciliation, it is this:  it takes patience and time to see, to learn, to embrace in a broken world.

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