I hate conflict.
In my early years, I avoided it at all costs.
Too many memories of things I would rather forget from childhood. Too little (or too much) confidence in my own rightness. Too many people who saw me as a soft target for their own ego-boosting arrows. Too easily the loss of all power of speech when under pressure from stronger folk.
And then there is the wonderful Jesus stuff. The turning of the other cheek, despite the humiliation that this might involve. The call to seek peace, rather than to celebrate petty victories.
But as I have become older, conflict has been harder to avoid. In my work it is guaranteed – I have to make decisions that might directly contradict the expressed wishes of people, and then justify them- even in court. I manage staff, and sometimes need to tackle difficult issues with them. Sometimes people complain- either because I have got it wrong, or because it was never possible to ‘get it right’- because of unreasonable behaviour on the part of others.
But in all these things, I have a professional distance to hide behind. Mostly the real me is safe behind role and title. That is not to say it is not difficult, but I have found ways to deal with it- sometimes even very well.
But the personal stuff- this is harder.
Living in a small town, conflicts with others tend to be hard to escape. Once a relationship is broken, or bad words have been spoken- you tend to relive the situations in the supermarket queue. And there is so much of this here – sometimes it seems as if the whole place is stratified and splintered by years of conflict- enemies made and allegiances enlisted in the coming cold war.
And even though I try so hard to avoid adding to the toxic subsoil – there are areas of pollution that now are mine.
Then there is the conflict that occurs in small groups- the sort that emerges almost like a badge of true community. The inevitable consequence of being close enough to one another to rub away at the veneer we all like to display to the outside world.
It is possible to avoid conflict of this kind in only one way – by avoiding community. By keeping all relationships at arms length – or further. I know many people who live like this. Either because (like me) life has damaged them, and the scars are too sensitive for harsh daylight, or perhaps because life has become stuffed full of other smaller achievements and tasks.
The sort of conflict that is mostly unacknowledged and undisclosed but at the same time nurtured and fed, until it erupts into our gathering like an arc from an opened artery.
What I have learned- or I should say what I am learning– is that this kind of conflict can be holy.
It can be surgical. Like the breaking of bent bones in order to allow them to be set a little straighter.
Like all such procedures- the pain can lie you out all flat and immobile. But should you do what I always want to do- to drag myself off into a dark corner to pick over the scabs- then the chances are that infections will set in. And the bones will twist and curl again.
Broken bones, once set, are stronger.
Or at least, I hope so.
Of course, there remain some healing embrocations that are required. Those wonderful medicinal disciplines that grow on us like fruit propagated by the Spirit-
If these things are not tangible, visible and visceral- then we will all need crutches.
And you will all have a limp- like mine.