conflict

Expect Peace After Only Eight Years

Benedicta Ward translates this story:

A hermit who was anxious went to Theodore of Pherme and told him all about it. He said to him, ‘Humble yourself, put yourself in subjection, go and live with others.’ So he went to a mountain, and there lived with a community. Later he returned to Theodore and said, ‘Not even when I lived with other men did I find rest.’ He said to him, ‘If you’re not at rest as a hermit, nor when you’re in a community, why did you want to be a monk? Wasn’t it in order to suffer? Tell me, how many years have you been a monk?’ He said, ‘Eight.’ Theodore said, ‘Believe me, I’ve been a monk for seventy years, and I’ve not been able to get a single day’s peace. Do you expect to have peace after only eight years?’

We have an anxious church that is seeking peace. It is a church that asks how long must we wait for the peace we say we all desire. If a single monk, Theodore, did not have peace after seventy years, then what makes a denomination of 3 million think that we can have peace after just fifty years?

We can split the denomination, I understand it has happened before. I understand that growing by dividing is possible. I understand there is harm being done. However, what makes us think that the split that the UMC is facing will be THE split that brings us to the peace we long for? What makes us think that any denomination or church could ever be at peace?

Maybe the peace we say we long for is just the excuse we cling to in order to divorce ourselves from one another.

How long must we wait for the peace we desire? Longer than we have tried - if we have ever started. A split will not bring us the peace we think we will get. Fights will continue, just read the Bible. Do we think that this is the generation that will arrive at the peace the church says it desires?

Let Us Eat the Phlegm

in her book, The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks, Benedicta Ward translates the following story of our Christian desert teachers:

At a meeting of the brothers in Scetis, they were eating dates. One of them, who was ill from excessive fasting, brought up some phlegm in a fit of coughing, and unintentionally it fell on another of the brothers. The brother was tempted by an evil thought and felt driven to say, ‘Be quiet, and do not spit on me.’ So to tame himself and restrain his own angry thought he picked up what had been spat and put it in his mouth and swallowed it. Then he began to say to himself. ‘If you say to your brother what will sadden him, you will have to eat what nauseates you.’

In case you missed it, one brother coughed up phlegm onto a different brother who grew angry from being spat on. The spat upon brother chose to fight the internal battle of anger rather than say anything to the sick brother and possibly hurt him.

So he eat the phlegm.

My beloved denomination is sick. Many of us are spewing up all sorts of phlegm onto one another. We are become angry that someone would say something repulsive; that someone might act against the “code of conduct” and even the Book of Discipline - that someone might spread their “disgusting” theology. Too many of us become angry and choose to correct, embarrass or even reprimand another (always in the name of love).

I desire the heart (and stomach) to eat phlegm. I desire to address my inner conflict and anger knowing that is where the enemies last stand will be. Or in the spirit of another desert saying:

If anyone speaks to you on a controversial matter, do not argue with him. If he speaks well, say, “Yes.” If he speaks ill, say, “I don’t know anything about that.” Don’t argue with what he has said, and then your mind will be at peace.’

The world will be at peace not when we stop fighting, but when humanity is at peace with ourselves. For that internal peace will guide our actions toward one another. We do not have a denomination in conflict so much as the people that make up the Church are not at peace with our own selves. How do we overcome the internal anger and conflict within? Eat the phlegm.

Christianity marked by not in how we agree

Reverend Ryan Kiblinger is a doctoral candidate for a PhD in the area of Christian catechism. He and I have known one another for a while now and we have come to engage in a handful of intellectual spats over the years. It is clear that am very much out of my intellectual league when I am in his presence. It is also clear that he and I do not agree on a number of what many might consider to be "critical aspects of what it means to be Christian". And, to be clear, every time I see him, I rejoice in our interactions and friendship. 

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After a heated bit of conversation at a meeting of laity and clergy around the area I live (this meeting is called "Annual Conference"), Ryan gave me a hug.

He and I spoke with one another and I thanked him for his kind words of support. Then Ryan said what I am not smart enough to come up with on my own and was the best part of my whole three day experience. To paraphrase Ryan:

Christianity marked by not in how we agree but how we disagree.

The best part of my annual conference experience was being affirmed by someone who I disagree with and being reminded once again that they will know we are Christians by our love.

Thank you Ryan

Choosing Conflict Over War

War is often thought of as the ultimate conflict. Of course there is great loss of life and civilization in any war, there is great devastation and destruction in war. As it has been said, war is hell.

However, according to Peter Rolins, war is not the ultimate conflict but the absence of conflict. Meaning that we would rather see the eradication and elimination of the other person(s) than be in conflict with them. As such, war is what happens when groups/people refuse to have conflict and wish the destruction of the other.

Photo by  Jordy Meow  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jordy Meow on Unsplash

The United Methodist Church has been in conflict for a long time. For some it is exhausting and no longer worth the fight. Some believe that we have irreconcilable differences. Some feel that we cannot be united as long as the Book of Discipline is not changed or if it is not being followed. Some believe that we are better off apart than together. 

Put another way, there are many who would rather not have see or interact or be in conflict with others in the denomination. There are some who choose war because it gives a false comfort. We believe that no conflict means comfort. No conflict means war. Even the building of peace has conflict. The difference in peace and war is that peace puts conflict in its proper place and war banishes conflict all together. 

I choose conflict over war. 

I choose to be in conflict with those I disagree with. Those who I feel are being total jerks and those who think that I am a jerk. I choose to be in conflict with those who break the Book of Discipline and those who desire it to remain unchanged. I choose to be in conflict with those who think I am a heretic and those who think I am saint. I choose to be in conflict because I choose relationships (even conflictual ones) over war.

The Uniting Methodists are people who understand that conflict is nothing to fear. In fact, conflict means we all are alive! If there is no conflict then the "others" have been eradicated. If there is no conflict then there is only war. I pray the UMC will come to see that the long conflicts of our denomination are signs of health and engagement. Let us not fall victim to the false comfort that comes from the sirens calling us to war.