After a disturbing event in a church I was serving a while back, the elders were discussing how to respond. One elder – a distinguished older man – said this:
Let’s just pretend like it didn’t happen.
Some people naturally avoid conflict and some use conflict as a tool for relational growth. I am curious about the people whose ordinarily active social media accounts have been silent about what happened on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon.
Congregations would be healthier, families would be healthier, and work places would be healthier if we addressed conflict directly. Directly addressing conflict doesn’t mean we duke it out until one side is left standing. It means connecting to understand each other.
Yes, it will be uncomfortable and most of us like comfortable.
I’ve tried to reach out to people I love who voted for Trump in hopes of understanding where they are coming from. I want to understand what I see as a gaping disconnect between what they say they believe as People of Faith and/or People Who Love Their Country and what the current administration is about. Most are not interested in grappling together and I chalk that up to conflict avoidance. But it’s more complicated than that.
Part of Christian spirituality involves engaging in practices that move us closer to being the people God created us to be. This is why we confess our sins and try to change our ways. This is why we ask neighbors to forgive us so that relationships can be repaired. This is why we study scripture to understand what God is calling us to do. This is why we meet in spiritual groups to challenge each other and admonish each other.
When we refuse to grapple with conflict, we are missing the opportunity to understand ourselves and each other better. Read the stories of Jesus through the lens of identifying conflict and we quickly see that Jesus always – always – stepped into it rather than walk away.
- He could have ignored the Woman at the Well rather than engage in a conversation with her.
- He could have walked past Zaccheus sitting up in the sycamore tree to avoid connecting with a tax collector and all the subsequent fallout he’d bring upon himself.
- He could have avoided lepers, bleeding people, and mentally anguished people in order to avoid the criticism of the Pharisees.
But he didn’t.
It occurs to me that much of our conflict avoidance is also about our privilege.
Me: I feel sick inside watching the Confederate flag being paraded in the halls of Congress.
Conflict Avoider: We don’t know all the details.
Me: Do you care that my (brown) daughter-in-law is having to carry her passport to work to avoid being pulled aside by someone who accuses her of being “an illegal”?
CA: (no comment)
Me: What can we do about the fact that police officers are more brutal to peaceful BLM protesters than they were to MAGA protesters wielding flag poles and breaking windows in Statuary Hall?
CA: I’d rather think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable.” Let’s think positively!
If we forget what we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears and not address what made that happen on Wednesday, I believe we are displeasing the God who came to earth to show us a different way. Jesus addressed hypocrisy and injustice every day. And I believe he expects this of us too.
To ignore the suffering and inequities we see makes us just like the priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan (when we tell ourselves we’re the Good Samaritan.)
If we already have amnesia or if we simply want to pretend like something ugly or uncomfortable never happened on Wednesday in Washington, DC, I believe we are enraging God who literally died to show us how to serve the least of these.
“Don’t be an agitator,” someone told me recently. And the Holy Spirit helped me blurt, “But Jesus was an agitator.“
Those of us who are privileged and can pretend that white supremacy, abject poverty, rampant homelessness, and financial injustice aren’t real because they don’t impact us personally might call it conflict avoidance. (It’s not impacting me personally, so I’ll just put it out of our minds and go play golf.) But it’s also an affront to the God who created us to be in relationship with each other and especially with the vulnerable.
Please don’t quickly “move on” from what happened Wednesday. Yes, I put a pleasant photo on Instagram Wednesday night myself because I need restorative beauty too. And we need restorative beauty in order to have the energy to address the world’s conflict and the interpersonal conflicts around us.
What I know is that Jesus never said, “Let’s pretend that didn’t happen.“
Thank you, Jan! Thank you for challenging me with these words. I will try to do better, with God’s help.
Thank you Christianne. I need to do better as well.
I’m in recovery mode right now, playing with my Pinterest pictures. It’s the best I can do for the moment.
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Love this. Meticulously on point.
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Thank you, Jan. Conflict avoidance is a gift of privilege, and it is SO much easier to avoid than confront. As a Jesus follower I am learning more each day how to turn into the wind, dialog and respond, and not miss the opportunity to understand myself and each other better.