Tag Archives: conflict

Undo triangulation in the church: Practice Matthew 18

Everyone in the church wants to be in a healthy church. And the promise of Jesus is His church will be full of healthy relationships filled with love – the kind of love He showed us on the cross and continues to give us through the Holy Spirit. We all want love.

But the church is filled with you and me, so we have to admit that we are on the way to love; we have not mastered it. We have to work at it. It is easy to look at the church and see places where our love is not all that might be expected from Jesus followers. What’s more, in a church like Circle of Hope, which is committed to embracing whoever wants our attention, we have all sorts of unbelievers, unfinished and downright wicked people who might be part of the mix at any given moment. So we contain lots of people who know very little about the Lord’s love. As a result, relationships in the church are not going to work out right all the time; we’ll have to keep making them. Otherwise, we might look like this church building:

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It would be better to look like Matthew 18:

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. — Matthew 18:15-22

The passage is a little working doc for how to act out forgiveness and maintain reconciliation in the church. I want to highlight one part of it today: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.” That teaching is a fundamental antidote to the disappointing lack of love in the church.

When I was at the Watermark Church meeting last Sunday, the speaker told us we should have a 24 hour rule – if you need to work something out with someone, don’t let it go for more than 24 hours and don’t spend those 24 hours talking to a bunch of people about your bad feelings. As the passage says, including others in the process comes after you have failed to work things out person to person, individually. Likewise, if you are hearing some gossip or ill will about someone, you should ask the person who feels hurt if they have talked to whoever has sinned against them or just offended them. Plus, you should remind them that you will not be keeping their gossip or slander secret.

That’s all great in typical situations. But let’s be clear. As one of my readers pointed out, there are people in relationships from which they need to be rescued. Where there is  violence or abusive domination, a person cannot be left on their own to take steps they cannot take. This post is not about that sin. I always err on the side of helping such a victim escape before we even consider getting into what this piece is talking about — perpetrators and victims have even lived in my house!  Even then, I know there is more discernment to receive about what God is doing and my power versus the perpetrator’s power is not how the world is saved. And, ultimately, the abused and the abuser stand before God, just like me, and any judgment I have about their situation is provisional.

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Triangulation

A 24-hour rule would be very useful to combat what social psychologists call “triangulation” in relationships. There are well-worked theories about this common experience, since it is one of the aspects of the workplace that undermines morale and creates a lack of safety. Triangles are even more dangerous in church, where relationships are often more intimate, or at least people think they should be.

The spiritual and emotional health of a church and its effectiveness in mission is directly dependent on how often triangulation occurs and whether or not it is tolerated by leaders. Triangulation names an experience with which we are all likely acquainted. It occurs when two people don’t speak directly to each other. Jesus tells us to let our “yes” be “yes” – to speak honestly and forthrightly – no subterfuge, no fear. When we are not following Jesus, two people may try to mediate their concerns through a third party. Cell Leaders and pastors are tempted to be that third party all the time. When triangulation is tolerated, it produces gossip, rumors, inefficient practices, factions, misunderstanding and victimization. It creates an unsafe culture and an ineffective process.

It is easy to imagine why Jesus had to teach his disciple crew about how to stay reconciled. The disciples undoubtedly had habits that did not produce open, honest, fearless love relationships, just like the rest of us. They probably experienced stereotypic situations just like Stephen Karpman pictured when he defined his famous “Drama Triangle” in the 1970’s. Karpman’s three roles are easy to spot in an unhealthy triangle:

Victim–Victims blame and fault others (or situations), but not themselves; they don’t typically take responsibility for their own lives. They show up as angry or pathetic, in response to perceived injustice. They send out a vibe that says, “Help me. Rescue me. Need me. Be with me. Love me.  Organize me,” to all rescuers within range. They may exaggerate the level of harm they’ve experienced to gain pity or sympathy from a rescuer. The victim’s guilt or blame is the fuel that keeps the drama-triangle cycle spinning like a flywheel.

Stereotyping does not help much, so remember that Matthew 18 is centered in prayer and is about discernment, not objectivity or judgment. A victim may also be the challenger every system needs. And helping someone who feels injured work out their issues is exactly our speciality. That doesn’t mean we let them lead the whole cell or congregation before they have some consciousness about their process.

Persecutor–In order for there to be a victim, there must be a persecutor. The persecutor can be a person, circumstance, event, or thing. Persecutors become the target of the victims’ need to blame something outside themselves for their problems.

Again, this is a label to help define a common situation. There may be actual oppression going on, not just projection of inner turmoil by a “victim.”  Conversely, “persecutors” often feel like they are victims of an accuser’s ire or criticism. They are tempted not to listen, as Matthew 18 prescribes, because they feel some injustice and use their privilege or power to silence the victim.

Rescuer–The rescuer thinks of themselves as the hero of the drama-triangle story. Rescuers see it as their role to help the helpless, and feel their motivation is pure. Quite often these people are extremely helpful in difficulty. They are friends. But often  they are tempted to swallow the sin happening between people like they are Jesus protecting the church from a grenade. They often don’t view victims as capable, so they act in their stead, often without realizing the full consequences of intervening.  Sometimes they rush to protect others’ vulnerabilities because they’re reluctant to face their own.

We are definitely called to rescue the perishing. We are definitely wrapped up in what others are doing in the body of Christ, of which we are all an intrinsic part. There should be no implication that we shouldn’t get involved. It is how we get involved that makes a difference.

How the Drama Triangle Works

Here’s how the system of triangulation starts: a victim approaches a rescuer with information about what a persecutor has done. The rescuer might be their friend, their mate, and in the church it would not be surprising if they looked for a person in power to rescue them, like a cell leader, team leader, or pastor.

If the rescuer is a pastor, their compassion and sense of justice may be stirred. So they may try to use their  power to protect the victim. They may take the problem to a meeting. They may have a one-on-one with the persecutor to confront them or try to elicit a confession. They may try to sabotage or exact revenge on the persecutor, who by this time may be getting “tried” by semi-public opinion. A lot of time can be eaten up in this kind of drama.

A rescuer often enjoys the rush of being important in the middle of it all. They feel like they are building community and healing sinners. That might be true. But it may also be true that their need to be useful, or valued is what they are really all about. They may relish the power or precedence that rescuing affords them. They may just enjoy hearing and even spreading rumors or being in on secrets. Or they may like presiding as a judges effecting justice while appearing holy and above the fray.

Is it any surprise that triangulation can bring organizations and their productivity to a standstill?

3 Ways for Leaders to Reduce Triangulation

Make Matthew 18 the way the church functions. The leaders need to make it plain that we follow Jesus, not the difficult and often unconscious ways we relate. Violaters will not be prosecuted, unless they are committed to sin. But they will hear a lot about Matthew 18!

Help victims participate in reconciliation. Whenever a  victim approaches you, start by asking if they have already spoken to the persecutor. If not, instruct the victim to do so and report back on the conversation. Reporting back is important because otherwise the conversation between victim and perpetrator likely won’t happen. If the victim persists in trying to get you involved, and they might be persistent or even manipulative, here is what you might say:

  • I value our relationship and the one I have with who you are talking about. I do not think it is right for me to be in the middle, so please stop now.
  • What you’re sharing with me has little or nothing to do with me, and I feel uncomfortable. Please take this where it belongs.
  • This type of conversation is unproductive, and I would like you to take the Matthew 18 way to handle it.

Offer to facilitate some mediation. If the victim feels uncomfortable having the conversation directly with the persecutor, you could, on rare occasions, offer to sit in on the meeting to help support better communication in the future. When you attend this meeting, be sure to act as a facilitator, not a rescuer. If you pass judgment or take sides, the other two parties won’t be as inclined to own and resolve their issues. The drama triangle will continue or a new one will emerge.

4 suggestions for “step two”

People do not know how to reconcile and live in peace, that is evident. So it should not surprise us if we get involved in the second step of the Lord’s process. A “rescuer” is often one of the “first responders” when there are relational problems in the church. So they may be called in to make the process work. There are many things to learn about making and keeping peace, so I would never presume to sum it up in a blog post! But here are a few things that might help a conversation about conflict end up in community.

Name the conflict. If you’re facilitating a meeting between members of a drama triangle, ask each party to name the conflict. You could even write it down so they can both face it rather than just face each other. This might create enough detachment to get away from personal criticism. However, this is a mature way to talk and some people might be incapable of it. Be patient but frank.

Help the parties listen with curiosity. It is hard to be curious and angry at the same time. Help the victim first, then the persecutor develop an interpretation of the presenting event from the others’ perspective. What were they thinking? What did they feel? What would you have done in the same circumstance? The victim’s and persecutor’s curiosity might defuse their anger long enough to see the conflict from another perspective. They can then direct their curiosity toward how to resolve the conflict.

Ask for a commitment. Victims and persecutors get some sense of power from criticism, even though that criticism can cause cancer in the body of Christ. There is a positive way to see it, however. Criticism could be seen as a commitment put in negative terms. Rather than “You are a liar” try “I value the truth.” Some people say that if we want to know what we really care about, check out what we criticize and convert it to a commitment. When we are listening to someone else rant, tell them to what value it sounds like they are committed. That might reduce the toxins in the atmosphere.

Insist on requests. If an injured party can’t own what they think and feel and ask for what they want, anything they say probably makes the relationship worse.

Staying out is better than getting out of the Triangle

It will always be tempting to play the part of victim, persecutor, and rescuer in the next relationship drama. We may get triangled at times. We’ll live. Jesus has provided a way out and he will be with us all along the way. The Lord is deeply invested in his love casting out fear and creating the alternative community for which he gave his life and in which he lives.

Leaders, in particular need to help everyone stay out of triangles by encouraging direct address and refusing to play any of these roles, as tempting as they may be. Any of us may be asked to play the role of rescuer every day! It may feed our frayed egos to say yes. But every day we remember not to play we help save the church from the divisiveness that ruins the wonderful heart of love everyone wants and needs. Reducing triangulation leads to an increase in accountability and an increase in the healthy responsibility people need to develop for their own behavior, thoughts and feelings as well as their responsibility to nurture the love in Jesus in the church.

Thanks to CO2 for the business angle and general outline for this post.

Reconciliation begins with forgiveness – primarily of you.

Conflict burns. Like that welt on your hand that takes weeks to heal after you hit the side of the oven, the reminder and pain of conflict remains long after a disagreement ends. Some of us would rather not cook up a relationship at all for fear of being scorched again! Whether we address conflict head-on or mostly absorb offenses, handling the emotional aftermath is hard. If we aren’t careful, resentment can bubble up into a new flame and consume us. Are you keeping a fire going somewhere in your relationship circle right now? In your marriage or family, maybe?Related image

It is good to have a strategy ready for conflict. And it is important to deepen our consciousness for what to do with the emotions that follow it, and often make us sore. Having a healthy conflict and working through the aftermath both require a basis of forgiveness to end in healing and not further heartache.

In Matthew 18, right after Jesus’ instruction on moving from conflict to reconciliation, Peter asks a probing question. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

The religious leaders of Peter’s day had already put a numerical cap on forgiveness. They taught to forgive three times, and you’ve earned the patience badge on your spiritual Fitbit meter. But then after your three strikes you’re out (and in the U.S. possibly in prison forever). Peter,  as passionate as ever, threw in four more just to be sure.

Jesus’ response must have been a bit aggravating: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Then he tells a story to explain his daunting answer. A servant is brought before his master to settle an account. We’re let in on a secret in verse 25. This servant who promised to pay back everything can’t pay. Yet his master doesn’t hold him to his empty promise, but personally absorbs the debt.

That reminds me of someone.

Shortly after, this forgiven servant pursues a fellow servant who owes him far less than he had owed his master. He seizes him and begins to choke him: “Pay what you owe.” The fellow servant’s reply sounds familiar: “Have patience with me, and I will pay you’’ (Matt. 18:29).

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My pain instead of yours

Is this fellow servant also making a promise he cannot keep? MaybeIt’s infuriating when we’re on the receiving end of empty promises, isn’t it? Picturing such experiences in his story, Jesus gives us a taste of what forgiveness really feels like. God does not forgive worthy sinners, but guilty ones. That’s what makes forgiveness so wonderful but so hard. When we radicals actually apply the Bible and pursue the steps outlined in Matthew 18:15-20 we are doing it as forgiven people, looking for forgiveness to bind us all in grace.

Andrée Seu Peterson writes: I asked a few people if they’d ever forgiven anyone and what it felt like. They gave me answers so pious I knew they’d never done it. . . . Forgiveness is a brutal mathematical transaction done with fully engaged faculties. It’s my pain instead of yours. I eat the debt. I absorb the misery I wanted to dish out on you, and you go scot-free.

Most of us don’t want any of that when we address conflict, if we dare to address it at all! No, we want a fellow sinner to satisfy our righteous demands—for their own soul’s sake, of course. But that seventy-times-seven thing calls our bluff.

Perhaps you theoretically think you can muster up enough forgiveness to meet the criteria. At least you don’t want prisoners to rot without rehabilitation or ex-offenders to lose their voting privilege! But have a fight with someone in the cell and they could get cut off. If your mate loves porn or other men, you might never get over it. If someone besmirches yours or the church’s reputation, they’re out. Our church has gone through long seasons when personal codes of justice trump forgiveness every week, somehow, and it would be legit to question whether we pay attention to Jesus at all.

Later in the Lord’s parable, the Master punishes the servant he forgave, calling him wicked because he couldn’t forebear with another’s empty promise: “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matt. 18:32–33)

Our gratitude for what God gives us is revealed in how merciful we are toward those who owe usOur horizontal relationship with one another reveals the nature of our vertical one with God.

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Forgiveness is an antidote to resentment

Walking through conflict can be tricky. As we progress through telling brothers or sisters their fault, acquiring witnesses and perhaps eventually telling it to the church, our self-righteousness can flare up and engulf our insides even as we seek to maintain a pious shell. When our adversary doesn’t seem to know the script—to repent in dust and ashes—it’s easy to be a Peter, sigh, and ask, “How many times, Lord, must I go through this with this person?”

When we dwell on the person’s behavior and not the finished work of Jesus, we can get stuck in resentment. Outside communion in Christ, the Jesus way to conflict resolution, even when sincerely followed, will probably leave us empty and disillusioned. 

So what do we do when bitterness invades our souls, especially if the offense cuts deep?

  1. Admit: I can’t shake the bitterness. Pray something like this: “God, I need your help to stop feeling rage. I’m not sure I even want to let this go. Lord, please take this away.”
  2. Revisit: God promises us life. When we think of the promises of God, we often think of his unconditional love—the stuff Pinterest memes and coffee mugs are made of. But there are sobering promises, too: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19). Listen to God’s implicit question in the Lord’s parable: “Will you trust me with these hurts, these regrets, and these unpaid debts?”
  3. Reset: Go back to square 1. We are forgiven. It is where we are born again. It is the doorway to our eternity. The very offense that causes us to go to another sinner, looking for their redemption, is a similar offense to whatever drove Jesus to the cross on our behalf.
  4. Recalibrate: Look toward square infinity. Some people have wrecked Matthew 18’s practical road toward harmony by making it a means to purify the church from whatever might cause them to forgive. But the Lord loves the people who sin against us, even hate us – and we just might meet them in the age to come. Their tiny faith might not be enough to satisfy us, but it might be plenty to assure them of eternity. God’s goal is redemption, first of all, not merely justice. Jesus is our justice, any other justice we experience in this world is right and desirable, but it is not the hope on which we stand. Any person we saddle with the requirement to make things right with us could easily wither under the weight of our demand.

As we labor under the burns that take so long to heal and flinch with the fear of being burned again, try these additional actions:

  • Stop re-reading that hurtful email or text message.
  • Stop meeting with the friend who seems to enjoy hearing all about what was perpetrated by that terrible person you can’t forgive.
  • Stop going to those places with all those memories.
  • Stop savoring a cycle of painful or vengeful thoughts but shift your mind to dwell on what is good. When you are tempted to seek revenge—if only in your mind— think on your Master who saw you trying to make things right on your own, making promises you could not keep, and forgave you anyway.

Forgiveness is the foundation of the life of Christ visibly alive in the church. It doesn’t begin with other people getting with it, repenting and being forgivable. It begins with each of us.

Triggered in church: On the road to secure attachment

Aching loneliness, feeling detached, a broken sense of belonging or being able to connect — all these feelings are flourishing in the church right now. The Times is talking about it and so are we. The experience is not new or foreign to any of us. But we need to be reminded. We can forget that we all have a sense of aloneness we don’t like; it’s not just them and it’s not just me.

Let’s be careful

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“love” by Ukrainian sculptor Alexander Milov , at Burning Man 2015

We should be careful with each other!

Maybe you should stop what you are thinking most of the time and picture an adorable baby in front of you instead of a threatening or threatened loved one.  Stuff is happening inside!

Maybe you should let the first thing someone says go right by — that thing that hurt you or disturbed you. Let it go by and let the person have another chance.  They might not be clear on why they say what they say: why make it worse by holding them to their first try?

Under it all they might feel detached and trying not to feel that, or they want to be attached and they are really trying to feel that. We are complex. And the church is an ideal, God-given setting to sort things out. But quite often it is the place where things get messed up. [Bonnie Poon Zahl on Christians and attachment theory].

Things can get hurtful

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This is hypothetical, but it will probably sound familiar. Let’s say you are a worship leader and you overhear someone telling one of your friends that she feels you have an annoying singing voice. You feel so hurt you go find your husband and make him take you home immediately. You feel so defensive you tell your husband the whole story and that you want to quit singing. You start listing why the person who talked about you is terrible, even worse than you.

When your husband tries to talk you out of it, you are furious that he is not on your side. He tries to get the other person, who he knows, off the hook. That makes you feel like he is leaving you alone in your distress. You even say, “Just like my father never took my side and then he deserted me.” You refuse to talk about it anymore and just look mad and sulk the rest of the day.

The next day you go and talk to your women’s group about it. They are upset and they tell you to call the pastor. So far you have not talked to the person you overheard or your friend to whom they were talking. But at least fifteen people are having your attachment issues. Their own loneliness, detachment, broken senses of belonging and connection are triggered. Vicariously, they are all mad at your father for abandoning you. You can’t stand to feel that aloneness from way back, so you pile the feeling on everyone else and blame them, from your father to the person who talked about you.  Now your listeners are invited to do the same.

Some dangerous-feeling relationships are also places to heal

A woman recently told me about feeling things like this in church and asked me why she went to meetings! Who knows what could happen? It has been hard for her and she expects people to keep hurting her!  She always sits in the back, when she goes to the meeting, so she can slip out easily, without risking the connection she wants for fear of the hurt she dreads.

I felt for her. Her past is full of the worst kind of hurts. So I suggested her strategy might be OK for the time being, as God eased her way into love. The church is great for easing into love, if we let people move into it at their own pace, and help them keep moving. I also suggested that, in the long run, God is going to keep after us until we are securely attached to Love, until our security breeds security and alleviates conflict rather than creating or perpetuating it.

Someone you know, or maybe you, are emotionally unable to tolerate being part of the church where their attachment issues were triggered and repair was not made. I know you can’t just “let the feelings go by.” But whatever it was that triggered your exit might not be as bad as you think it is. After all, the woman who who was hurt in my example had not even talked to the woman who hurt her or the friend who was listening to the criticism she overheard. God is with you if you want to try to get back into the community and do the repair work that not only wins a friend back, but provides an opportunity for your wounds to be healed. God touches our aloneness and is present in it to sustain and even help us be born again.

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[{I think a draft of this may have gone to subscribers by mistake. It was almost done, so no great harm. But sorry.]

In Honor of White Corpuscles

A few weeks ago a thoughtful friend told me about a revelation he had. He had unwittingly translated certain cultural instincts from his childhood into the church, and he was getting some wit about that. (Gimme a church wit’ wit). Whenever there was a person who was doing something “wrong,” his first instinct was to “shun” them. He avoided them. He certainly did not talk to them about what they were doing wrong! He kept them on the outside of his life. They became somewhat invisible.

Turning away does not work for good

This did not work for much good, of course, since he still felt bad/mad/sad about the problem and the person he shunned did not get whatever benefit he might bring to their struggle. This was his revelation: Jesus is God getting right into the middle of the human mess and dying for people while they were still sinners. It dawned on him: This passive-aggressive thing we do where we never say anything directly and surround offending people (essentially everyone) with unspoken (constant) disapproval is not particularly Christian. It is not.

white corpuscle

The way the body of Christ works is exactly the opposite of avoidance (some people call it “tolerance” or “live and let live”). The body of Christ works like a human body. When there is an infection the white corpuscles in the blood stream multiply and rush to the area of disease or wound. They don’t shun it. You can see their spent residue in the white ooze that surrounds the boo boo on your finger. In the church, people who become aware of some sin, or disaster of judgment, or lack of reconciliation, or of anything that might weaken or, if left unattended, kill the body, turn toward the person and the infection and surround it with love, truth and attention until it gets better. Shunning the infectious person or relationship only makes them more powerfully infectious and might be as good as telling them to go to hell. The church is in the healing business.

White corpuscles

In the physical blood stream there are a lot more red blood cells than white corpuscles. The life delivered by the red cells far outweighs the need for infection control by the white. This reality is exactly replicated in the Body of Christ. The life of Christ in the Body, spiritually surging through us like blood in our spiritual bloodstream of Christ is the best antidote to the death that threatens it every day.

Just like our physical bodies, we have built-in defense systems that leap into action when disaster strikes. Like white corpuscles in the blood, the infection fighters in the body of Christ increase in the day of trouble. On a normal day, there are relatively fewer people with the awareness of what could kill us moving through our body. They are gifted with discernment. They keep watch over us. If they are wise, they only worry us with their worries when it is necessary. Most of the time, they trust the life of Christ to overcome its opponents. Pray for them. They are an important minority. Watch them instinctively go about their business. When you see them caring, join them. They lead us to turn toward the trouble and heal.

It is a life and death matter

I’ve been watching this life-giving process happen in healthy bodies over the years and watching it not happen in dying bodies. It isn’t that easy to kill a church, but it can be done. When a simple cut is left to gangrene, poison can take over one’s whole body. The same kind of thing can happen in a church. It is rare, but it happens if you are arrogant enough to think you are impervious.

More often, like a physical body, the church works to naturally cleanse itself. I have warned people from time to time that they should stop being infectious, since the body will eventually, without even thinking about it too much, treat them like a sliver until they pop out. As a pastor, I feel responsible to be among the white corpuscles.  But my goal is rarely just to pop someone out. Jesus redeems “slivers” all the time. I usually feel even more responsible to those who are unwittingly in danger of losing the connections they cherish or missing the experience of growth they long for because they have become an infection. It often pains me to bring it up, since I have some avoidance mechanisms that encourage me to shun people…but then I remember Jesus turning toward me.

I think my friend was learning one of the most important lessons of love. He could of learned it from observing his body recover from a wound. He learned it from seeing his relationships not recover from their wounds. By extension he learned how the love of God is the great antidote to what ails us all — a love that turns into trouble rather than away. Seems simple until one tries it. Then it seems like getting a new life.

12 basics for covenant keeping in conflict

This piece is for everyone who wants to work out a covenant. The covenant relationships most common to us are the ones we keep in our marriages and the one we have with each other as the people of God gathered face to face as the church. [Listen to the pastors’ latest video].

A covenant is not the same as the more-familiar contract. A contract is an agreement the partners maintain as long as expectations are met and justice is done. A covenant like God makes is an expression of character – a character devoted to realizing self-giving love and mutuality — true love is more about the character of the lover than the characteristics of the beloved. A covenant is made by partners who promise to give love and commitment without an end in mind for themselves – their goal is keeping a reconciling, growing relationship alive and, if they follow Jesus, breeding love.

Warlocks having conflict over their covenant
Not exactly what I have in mind — but warlocks have an idea about covenant and Hollywood will exploit anything.

A covenant is refined and comes to fullness when it endures conflict. It needs conflict like certain pine forests need fire to rejuvenate. Just like God’s covenant with us in Jesus goes through death to life, our covenants of love with God and others also endure that kind of suffering to become what they can be. So conflict between covenant partners is part of the love. Having healthy conflict is part of the covenant.

  • Conflict is normal: it is a natural, inevitable reality – especially because the world is subject to sin and death.
  • Conflict is nightmarish: it is scary and often mismanaged in painful, abusive and/or destructive ways.
  • Conflict is necessary: it is what God goes through with us; it is needed for producing growth.

12 basics for covenant keeping when there is conflict (as there will be!)

These basic statements are not for judging whether a covenant partner is living up to their part of the relationship. I list them for self-reflection by people who want to master self-giving love by enduring conflict with the goal of enjoying and providing the blessings of covenant in Christ. They are a list of ideals – some we may be good at expressing already and some may show up our deficiencies. If we can learn them, we will be well on the way to showing up for the benefit of our partners, like God shows up for us in Jesus.

So, here’s what you do when you are in covenant (like in marriage or the church) and there is conflict…

  1. Prepare the setting, if possible, and plan for constructive confrontation.

Avoid distractions, interruptions, or non-private discussions; being overly tired/stressed; or being emotionally reactive (Proverbs 16:1-3).

2. Take responsibility and take initiative to directly address the issue.

Avoid running from the problem, using the “silent treatment,” waiting for the other person to make the first move, or allowing problems to accumulate (Matthew 5:23-4)

  1. Attack the problem, not the person, and propose viable options or solutions.

Avoid judging or criticizing the other person and/or their personality, appearance, family of origin, etc., name-calling, power messages or manipulative actions, or attempting to change or “fix” them (Proverbs 15:1-2)

  1. Stay on the subject; focus specifically and concretely on the facts, actions, feelings and events.

Avoid sweeping generalizations, using the “everything and the kitchen sink” attack, bringing up the past, comparisons with others, or irrelevant issues (Proverbs 17:14)

  1. Take responsibility for your part of the conflict and humbly admit when you are wrong.

Avoid being proud, stubborn and arrogant by blaming the other person for your feelings or actions, or denying your humanness and blind spots (Philippians 2:3-5)

  1. Practice active listening and effective communication skills; use self-disclosing “I” language.

Avoid accusatory “you” statements, exaggeration, and extreme language (e.g.: “never, always, all, everyone” etc) or interrupting (Ephesians 4:29).

  1. Be calmly assertive; state your needs, wants, hurts, disappointments and feelings clearly.

Avoid pouting, nagging and complaining: putting words in others person’s mouths, or expecting them to read your mind (Matthew 12:34-37)

  1. Show honor, consider how you speak, be truthful, and practice courtesy

Avoid lying to protect yourself or someone else. Put all of the following on your “forbidden” list: name-calling and sarcasm, belittling or degrading the other person, and abusive, intimidating, forceful or violent behavior of any kind (Proverbs 15:4).

  1. Be considerate; appreciate and understand the other’s needs, feelings, interests and differences.

Avoid the idea that you need to think or feel the same way as the other person. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you have to deny differences in taste, upbringing, viewpoint, customs or coping mechanisms in order to resolve your conflict (Romans 14:19-15:4).

  1. Be willing to forgive an offense in order to cultivate the other’s growth, healing and well being.

Forgive can be functionally defined as “giving up our ‘right’ to hurt back.” Avoid becoming resentful, bitter, punitive, alienated and controlled by vengeful fantasies and actions (Ephesians 4:31-5:2).

  1. Strive for mutual understanding and a “win-win” outcome; develop an “us-we-ours” view of the situation.

Avoid trying to change the other person. Let go of the need to get your own way or to “win” the argument. Stay away from a self-centered “me-my-mine” attitude (Romans 15:7).

  1. Agree to agree. For the moment, you may need to agree to disagree — if there are unresolved issues, arrange to discuss them later. If necessary, get outside help from an unbiased, neutral, objective mediator or arbitrator. But keep the covenant goal in mind.

Avoid the temptation to withdraw from the situation and let the conflict go unresolved, as far as it is up to you. At the same time, don’t pull in biased family members or friends to support you. When arguments escalate or become too intense, suggest calling a brief time-out to allow flaring tempers to cool (Proverbs 15:22, Matthew 18:15-17).

This is primarily taken from a seminar by Jared Pingleton which he has published elsewhere. It is not reproduced, in total, or quoted for profit.

Relationship pain for the Jesus-follower — new birth through conflict

Since the 1980’s there has been even more fighting in the church than ever! As postmodern thinking takes over the philosophical playing field and becomes more and more codified into law, conflict about the old, modern way of doing things happens all the time. The other day I was in a dialogue about what Circle of Hope is all about and someone kind of accosted me because they assumed I would be a proponent of some old-school church idea. A woman who was listening in to this impending conflict said, “Rod’s pretty much postmodern, if anyone is. I don’t think you’ll have to worry.” I did not think it showed.

The truth is (and you’ll have to decide, I’m afraid, what that means) is that I am not postmodern or modern. I am a Jesus follower.

  • I could easily be postmodern, since my life is “made” every day in relationship with the resurrected Jesus; grace is new every morning to experience and I experience it in a community based on that common experience.
  • But I could easily be modern too, since the source of my life is transhistorical and my call to live it is built right into my essence as a human being; before I was, Jesus is.
I am not going to let oppressive, totalitarian, anti-Christian forces in this country diminish and denigrate the holiday and the celebration. I am not going to let it happen. I'm gonna use all the power that I have on radio and television to bring horror into the world of people who are trying to do that. -- Bill O'Reilly
I am not going to let oppressive, totalitarian, anti-Christian forces in this country diminish and denigrate the holiday and the celebration. I am not going to let it happen. I’m gonna use all the power that I have on radio and television to bring horror into the world of people who are trying to do that. — Bill O’Reilly

Saying things like that about the truth can get one into a conflict almost every day. That is, you can have a fight if you hang out with people who have not just shut down in the face of the barrage of input beaming at them and attempting to reform them according to the latest new-improved paradigm. For instance, I included the term “postmodern” in my speech at Broad and Dauphin a few weeks ago and was schooled in both meetings about what I meant. I did not shut down; but I did think “Boy! If you are a leader you are asking for trouble.” Since Christians generally hate conflict — it feels so unloving and probably unholy, they certainly would not want to get into trouble! Our cell leaders face the pain of real or prospective conflict all the time and wonder how they ever got into the mess they are in!

But Jesus is not afraid to cause conflict. To read the scripture it would appear that his main mission was a conflict. Likewise, the Apostle Paul exemplifies how a Jesus-follower inevitably fights. He teaches about it so much that I could hardly summarize it in a blog post. But I do want to reflect on four of his teachings for the sake of people who have not shut down, but are still speaking the truth in love. There are new things being born in this era; there is no sense trying to keep the baby from being born, even if it hurts. Here are four paraphrases of significant examples of Paul having conflict and the basic things he hangs on to when he is in a fight.

Trust God to be at work

Philippians 3:14-16 – Let’s walk by the same rule and mind the same thing: our call to follow Jesus with our all into His all. If you have another mindset, God will be revealing that to you.

We get all ramped up when we don’t agree. We are tempted to cut people off as a result, or to flee to like-minded people and create a faction. Paul is confident that God is at work. People pursuing maturity in Christ will figure things out with God’s help. Our anxiety (and judgment) about how immature they are or how right they aren’t won’t help. Hang on to trust.

Accept one another

Romans 15:1-7 – We should be like-minded toward one another with the mindset of Christ. He has received us in love through great suffering in all our weakness. With one mind and mouth, let’s praise God.

Even if I think my loved one or acquaintance is flat-out wrong, or even being wicked, my discernment about how to respond is based on my ultimate goal that we should be one in Christ. I don’t write them off, even if they seem unholy or dangerous. I don’t write them off by relativizing them, either. “Freedom” for postmoderns is being left alone to get what I deserve according to what I can achieve. “Acceptance” has become keeping an appropriate distance, not spiritual intimacy or even agreement. I don’t let me or mine get reduced to that. Hang on to longsuffering.

Resist oppression

Galatians 5:7-15 – There are always law-keepers and law-givers who tempt us to re-enslave ourselves. They don’t walk in the Spirit and their goal is not love like Christ’s, demonstrated on the cross. It is our liberty in Christ that allows us to serve. We don’t demonstrate our love by following rules that don’t come from Jesus.

Paul is so frustrated by interlopers who are trying to make the Galatians follow Jewish laws, especially circumcision, that he wishes they would emasculate themselves in the same way they are trying to cut people off from the Spirit. The aggressive new laws associated with social construction philosophy, such as campus “hate speech” codes, find their way into the church and cause conflict similar to Paul’s these days. Any number of people will think they are not accepted and loved (like Christians are supposed to do!) if their “laws” are not followed. I think the “laws” have some good intentions behind them (as did the Judaizers in Galatia!), but they need to come from God to be in everyone’s best interests – somewhere from which postmodern laws consciously have not come. Hang on to the Holy Spirit.

Humbly receive

1 Corinthians 4:1-7 – We have what we have received. If we don’t think this, our comparisons make us judges when only God is the judge. Any light we bring was generated by God. Any hidden thing revealed will find its final meaning in Christ.

The conviction that “we only have what God gives us” makes Jesus-followers prone to conflicted situations, which makes a lot of them want to stay hidden. The new regime marching under the colors of postmodern thought says things like: “Irrespective of what one might assume, in the sciences, problems do not arise by themselves. It is, precisely, because all problems are posed that they embody the scientific spirit. If there were no question, there would be no scientific knowledge. Nothing proceeds from itself. Nothing is given. All is constructed.” — Gaston Blanchard. There is truth in what he says if God is not with us, but he’s basically opposed to what Christians know.

Our faith leads us to know that goodness can be experienced; grace is imminent. Our questions do not call reality into being; and our lack of questions do not protect us from our built-in yearning to connect with our Creator. The fact that humans still make meaning of life still implies that there is meaning. Jesus is the truth of God. The Holy Spirit keeps affirming that. We’re going to have conflict. Hang on to your receptivity.

girlsgateConflict is not intrinsically bad. But it is likely to be painful – just like Jesus experienced. The world keeps trying to make laws against the violence being engendered by requiring people to endlessly compete for their rights in the social landscape. The most marginalized are supposedly protected enough to fight as hard as the dominators who protect them. Jesus-followers have another way.

But we will be in a fight too, just like Paul demonstrates. Some of us will opt out and just try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Some of us will not control our tongues too well and be conspicuous in a bad way. But let’s try to stay with Jesus and one another and meet the new era with joy, not just with dread about the next conflict. God is at work. We have been accepted by Jesus. No one can enslave us anymore. We have received wonderful things. There is a mystery that is unfolding to each person about their relationship with God.

A doula told me the other day that no matter how many mothers she accompanies, each birth she attends is like a brand-new miracle. Each rebirth is similarly amazing. If, as in the birth of a baby, there is suffering, why should we not attend the birth of faith in Jesus with the same understanding? People are fighting for their lives. Hang on to your amazement.

Other thoughts on conflict:

The intrinsic affront built into believing
http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/why-people-might-not-care-to-be-radical-christians-part-2/

Conflict with the world: Disentangling from addiction
http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/disentagling-from-addiction/

Why is being part of Circle of Hope so demanding?
http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/08/why-is-being-part-of-circle-of-hope-so-demanding/

Why people might not care to be radical Christians: Part 2

Who are radical Christians? They may not look as wild as you might expect, or be famous for being “out there.” But, like I said last week, they will have some basic characteristics. For instance:

  • They are devoted to being at the heart of the kingdom and to having the kingdom at the heart of them.
  • God is not trying to get them to do things with moderate success; they are trying to get God to do things.
  • Following Jesus is not a side job, it is their vocation.
  • The church is not one of many options; it is their tribal identity.
  • Mission is not a leisure time activity; they will use their money-making work to make it happen.
  • Believing is not exhausting for them; it is exhilarating

My whole Christian life has been devoted to being a regular guy who is a radical Christian. When I became a Christian, I never thought it was about joining a club or being on the right team. I just picked up on what the Bible was saying and went with it. And I did not miss that the Bible was written by regular, flawed people who were saved, not superpeople, or people who even thought they could get it right. It seems to me that the Bible is written “in the face” of people who think they are great or who think they need to be great to make God look good. Regular people who are filled with the Holy Spirit living heart to heart with God: that’s radical. What they do may never get into the news cycle, but that’s not the point for them. The are at the heart and they do from the heart like good trees bearing good fruit, their roots sinking down into eternity.

But there are reasons people might not want to be radicals these days. Here are four more, that are a bit more personal:

5) They probably don’t have a taste for community

So many churches in the past fifty years were just political fronts for the Republican party or the new age movement — they weren’t communities gathered around Jesus. One time I had to demand that my deacon not put local Republican voting guides on the church’s info site – that in a supposedly Anabaptist-tradition congregation! More often I have had to defend why Jesus is the loving center of what we are all about and not just a figure of intolerance — and that to people in covenant with me! It is no wonder that people feel liberated when they get out from under the thumb of the church’s dialogue-stifling system– if that is Christian community, count me out, too! But as people get free of the nonsense, they often end up inoculated against true Christian community by the faux community they have experienced.

Even more, in general, “churched” or not, the population seems to be losing their capacity to connect (could this be true?). People have grown up in detached families. They are immigrants who have left their culture. They have moved to the city to get away from community and be themselves. They live virtually. The hand held computer has taken all their attention. The church comes around and wants consistent relating and it seems like it might be from another planet. But they are going to be gone for the next three months on a job anyway, so the temptation to care about that is fleeting.

church scene of the crime6) The church was the scene of a crime.

This might be the most under-reported reason why people lose their faith. Something bad happened to them while they were part of a church and they did not have the resources to get over it without leaving the church – or the church did not have the resources or opportunity (see the first point) to help them.

  • They got a divorce and only one of them got custody of the church.
  • They had a messy break-up with someone and couldn’t face sitting in a meeting with them.
  • They had a conflict and never faced it or forgave it.
  • They unwittingly got connected with a mentally ill person and didn’t want to handle it.
  • Their children did not get along with other children.
  • The leader said something that didn’t sit right and they were too afraid of him (generally) to talk about it.

If you have a relationship difficulty, it is tempting to not grow through it but to just move on. Most conflicts require confronting something in oneself, but the habit for many is to blame and cut off. People tend to be “slash and burn” relaters. We’ve all become samplers. So it does not take much to scatter us. Once we get scattered from the church, it is easy to see it as the scene of the crime we are trying to escape.

7) Perfect love does not cast out their fear.

Being a radical Christian is not a sociological phenomenon. If the society is open to Jesus or not, following Jesus is still going to be a matter of having a living relationship with God. One will have to lose their life to save it. Jesus will have to be accepted as Lord. It is a scary proposition.

  • If one lives by the detailed laws of science and relies on a few significant relationships for comfort, then the demands of Jesus are very big. Not only does Jesus insist he is the law and the most significant relationship we have, he insists from an eternal perspective.
  • If one is convinced that being an individual is the height of self-realization, if one is acclimated to the rewards of the economy, and if one believes love is all you need, then Jesus might seem like he is way too abnormal.
  • If one is mostly reacting rather than thinking and feeling things through, Jesus is way deeper than what seems possible.

Faith can be overwhelming for some people. They don’t have the heart for it. They are even defensive that I said that and then talked about saying it.

Christ’s love is the key to being other than what I just listed. Otherwise, being a Jesus follower from one’s heart is too huge to try.

8) Church people will not do evangelism.

Given all the problems enumerated above, and last week, Christians are loathe to make disciples. Just the thought of “making a disciple” seems like it must be against the law, or certainly some relic of a colonial past. They won’t even tell their story of faith, since it is up against the big alternative narratives that have taken over the airwaves. They wonder if everything that is important to them is just socially constructed anyway, so why would they infringe upon what someone else has constructed for themselves from all the bits and pieces of spirituality readily available? They won’t even give people a chance to discover the Gospel and change.

I think the main reason people might not want to be radical Christians is that they don’t really  know one. They may never have a dialogue in which the Holy Spirit gets to play an intimate part. All those spiritual experiences they are having may be left to be organized by their own imagination rather than the risen Lord. They will still be interesting, mysterious and moving experiences, but they won’t be radically Christian.

I think all Christians should speak up about what brings them life — especially the radical ones guarding the integrity of the faith for the next generation.

Thanks for all the dialogue last week about these ideas. The process of thinking together makes being a new people in Christ possible.