Defending our human-ness

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I wrote this as a message for the congregation of my church, but it really is simply about being in community, being part of the human race. It seems appropriate to share in this season of so much that challenges my belief that peace and justice will prevail and in the inherent goodness of those making this journey with me.

To help those readers whose background or inclinations are to other faiths or none at all, just a few substitutions of terms may help you hear with your heart. For “church” or “Christian”, substitute community.  For “prayer”, substitute reflection. For “Satan” or “sin”, substitute that which is not conducive to life, peace and happiness. For “God”, substitute that which creates,  sustains and elevates life and harmony.

Christians in Conflict — Message for Morning Prayer 9.7.14

Being a Christian sure is a messy business. Oh, it’s all peaches and cream between me and God. Jesus said so. We start off knowing that we are imperfect, sinners, and the Law of Moses won’t change that, even if we follow it to the letter. Then Jesus comes and saves us. Only near as I can tell he doesn’t save us from our sin here in the world. There are most definitely consequences for sin in this life. We are saved from our sin through Christ when we are reunited with Him in eternity. He asks only that we follow him while we are here.  Ah, there’s the rub.

This whole “being in the world” and “living in community” thing. Have you noticed? People be crazy!  And I be one of those people!   Seriously, conflict is part of the human experience – not only because we are imperfect in the world, because we sin, we make mistakes. Conflict also comes because we are flesh and do not see and understand perfectly. Even if we are living saints we perceive the same situations, the same behaviors, even the same view out our window differently from our fellow humans. And then there is evil. As the scripture says, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities in the heavenly realms.” We don’t talk about Satan much in this church but the Bible does warn us that there are forces in the world at work to destroy the Body of Christ by setting its members against each other. And we might actually be at greater risk because we know we are children of the living God.  Now that doesn’t mean the person who is sowing seeds of discord is Satan! Satan works on a person’s weakness and acts through that weakness just as God works through the angels of our nature.

What unions does God love most? His church and His families. And it is here that conflict is felt most, hurts most and most undermines the best in  society. So what can we do to foil Satan’s plot to drive us apart?  Conflict takes on a whole different flavor when we think of it that way, doesn’t it? I may be annoyed with you, but if I think of that separation of my spirit from your spirit as being a wedge driven in there to purposely to make us sin, to keep you from me, to destroy our relationship with our spouse or our child, our brother or sister in Christ or our neighbor, and ultimately us from our Savior, well, I’m not likely to take that lying down.

What can we as Christians do to make it harder for that wedge to come between us? What can we do, when there is a conflict, when we feel discomfort, annoyance, fear, or anger and we identify someone else’s behavior as the trigger for that feeling?   I am going to stop here and reiterate what I said before about me being one of those people. I wrote this homily based on research and prayer because I need it as much as the next person.  So here are some things I found in my reading that I found helpful and thought you might too. BTW Proverbs is awesome!

1)     Don’t gossip.  A friend who shares the negative comments of a third party about you, to you, is not being a good friend to you. Teens, especially teen girls, listen up. If someone comes to you and warns you that someone else is upset with you or doesn’t like you because of this or that, they are unnecessarily putting you down, just by “sharing” that. A friend would have thrown water on that flame at its source, not brought the hot coals in a bucket to set your clothes on fire! A perverse man sows strife, And a whisperer separates the best of friends.  (Proverbs 16:28-30 NKJV)

2)    Go to God in prayer to get some perspective on the problem. If you are feeling anger, annoyance, disappointment or that bane of church folk everywhere – self-righteous indignation, think of Satan as a telemarketer who insists, “You must call this number within the next 15 minutes while operators are still standing by”. Hurrying, losing your cool are great ways to keep you from the one thing you need to do first. Figure out whose problem this really is. Is this a problem that God would want you to worry about? Or is it your problem – or even someone else’s problem?  How do you tell if it’s a God-worthy problem? Well, the Ten Commandments are pretty clear. Jesus was pretty clear about what made him angry. Not loving God and our neighbor, taking what’s not ours, not helping those in need, not honoring our parents, making people jump through hoops to belong to the fellowship of believers, putting barriers between people and God, letting money or fame get to be more important than God, the destruction of God’s creation, especially the life of one of his children. Does your problem rise to that level? Most of my problems don’t. And those that do – God is vastly better equipped to handle them than I.

3)    Keep your distance from people who tend to get easily offended or riled up about things. {29} A violent man entices his neighbor, And leads him in a way that is not good. {30} He winks his eye to devise perverse things; He purses his lips and brings about evil. (Proverbs 11:12-13 NKJV) He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, But a man of understanding holds his peace.  

4)    Timing is everything. Remember that the purpose of bringing your concern to another is not to hurt them, but to solve the problem. If you could solve the problem just by naming it, well there wouldn’t still be a problem, would there. You NEED the other person to help you. Angrily dumping your assessment of the situation on the unsuspecting is going to delay any possible resolution at least until the person recovers from the shock. That means don’t unload on your spouse when he or she is getting ready to leave for work or go to bed. Don’t snatch the iPad away to lecture about grades. Don’t berate the pastor for something going on in the parish hall 5 minutes before the service.  

5)    Ask questions rather than make accusations. This goes back to that “we are human and see in part and imperfectly” thing. We THINK we know, but we don’t know. Have the humility to acknowledge during that time you are going to God with the problem, that maybe you haven’t seen it from all angles and the only way you are going to get a better perspective to have someone else show it to you. That person is usually the person you are resisting. 

6)    Choose your words carefully. Again, you need the other person, whether it is your child, your boss or a church committee member, to join you in this process or the problem will continue. Be clear, direct, brief, and stick to the present. Be honest about your feelings but do Avoid statements that build walls – “you always”, you never, we always, we never. About being brief. I mean brief. If you keep talking either the other person will start to tune out because just listening is becoming unpleasant. Plus if we go on too long we are bound to start repeating ourselves which sends a message to your listener that they are not getting it. Not a good way to enlist a partner in problem solving.  

7)    Do not offer solutions right away. Give the other person time to process the problem you have been stewing about for who knows how long. Ask for their ideas first, then add yours.  If an agreement about how to proceed that is acceptable to both of you is not forthcoming, then it may be helpful to ask others for their input, not before.

8)    If you see or feel a conflict starting and feel you need help to resolve it, only rely on humble people of integrity and faithfulness to help you in the peacemaking process. You do not need a judge of who is right and who is wrong. Remember, it is the disagreement itself that needs healing. You need a peacemaker. Your closest friend may be a wonderfully kind person, but leave them out of it. They will probably find it very hard to be objective.

9)    It takes a village to raise a village. Be ready to give in kindness and open to receive small corrections in action or thinking or to be invited to approach things in a different way, not as a rebuke, but as way of growing in our relationship with each other and with God. If we trust that our family, our closest friends, and even each other here at church, who are also on the journey, then we do not need to be afraid of disagreement. We can be assured that if someone is behaving in a way that is injurious to the whole community or to us, one of its members, they too will be asked to examine their behavior and its effect. If we embrace these small corrections as part of our life together then issues don’t simmer and fester until they tear the family, the friendship or the church apart.

To trust in God’s forgiveness is one of the first and most important aspects of our faith. It seems to me that forgiving and trusting that we will be forgiven should be a cornerstone of our life together as well.  So let us fight – fight the influences that drive us apart, drive out discord, drive out the sense that there is only enough right for a select few, dispel mistrust, and conquer fear of those around us. Let us grow compassion, engender trust, sow seeds of trust, engender openness and acceptance, nurture love and respect the dignity of every person. May we acknowledge with grace the opportunity to grow in our journey.

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About wisdomseason

Embracing both the hard scrabble self sufficiency and resilience of my ancestors and the burgeoning Information Age to help make family experience richer, healthier and happier. Maturity does not mean I cannot approach every day with the same excitement I felt as I swung my skinny legs over my bike on a summer morning, bag lunch in my basket, for a day of riding and hiking the woods and fields around my home in upstate New York or went blackberry picking in the heavy cicada song drenched afternoons at my grandmother's in Kentucky. Let's explore!
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One Response to Defending our human-ness

  1. garyarthuryoung says:

    We really do have to actively resist being fractured and torn apart at the seams, don’t we.

    Liked by 1 person

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