Conflict…

It has been a difficult period for Michaela and me. Life has thrown a few challenges our way over the last few months.

Recently we seem to have found ourselves in the middle of more conflict. Both of us are having a hard time at work, and there has been one or two other issues that have arisen closer to home.

I continue to find conflict so difficult. It disables me. I am caught between wanting to rise up and smite the ‘enemy’ with my club, and the strong conviction that we are called to a way of loving and peace making. Yes there is a time to stand up and be counted, but in my experience, conflict rarely brings the best out of anyone, and the ground we defend easily becomes poisoned- even when are relatively innocent parties.

Conflict also tends to reduce us to the core of who we are- the masks come off, and we are suddenly 15 years old again.

I have found no easy answers- and recognise my own dysfunction whilst hoping for better things.

Because conflict will come to all of us in some form, even if we attempt to live an insulated life- but all the more so if we follow the way of Jesus and set ourselves towards living more openly and deeply.

So I do what I often do in the face of the challenge of life, and start to write…

Conflict

It squeezes me stiff and sore

Making my brain beat slowly

Taking me down

Bending me like a creaking tree

In an angry wind

I wish I were stronger

Firmer of each conviction

More able to articulate-

Striped in black and white

Not a million shades

Of grey

But aged 43

The man I am

Always I will be

Soft and fragile

Skin thin and stretched

Too easily pricked

And too anxiously defended

Turn me Lord to tenderness

Teach me to forgive

In this sharp and ragged place

Point my way to peace

Because when I am right, I’m also wrong

This castle

Is built on sinking ground

Conflict…

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-

Love

Joy

Peace

Patience

Kindness

Goodness

Faithfulness

Self control…

If these things are not tangible, visible and visceral- then we will all need crutches.

And you will all have a limp- like mine.

Loving the enemy…

Been thinking again about love…

I was ‘bounced’ today by a particularly aggressive and difficult colleague. She had an issue with something I had done, which she perceived as somehow disrespectful towards her, and she very assertively diced and sliced me- with eloquent arrogance and sneering silences.

As usual, I did not cope well with the direct assault, and so bumbled my way to an apology (which I did not really mean, as I still do not know what I am supposed to have done wrong) and then threw in a few disjointed defensive positions of my own.

She put her sunglasses on and went on her icy way, leaving me grinding my teeth over what I should have said.

I had a lovely drive to Bute, listening to Test Match Special, but even hearing about Flintoff destroying the Australian’s did not drive away the cloud that hovered above the aerial of my car. A cloud of controlled ritualised aggression out there in the ether, just out of reach.

flintoff

Ah… such is my condition. Despite my small and hopefully developing ability to be assertive, some situations still turn me to jelly. I wish I was tougher- a relisher of conflict as a resolver of problems and a way of defeating my enemies. A fast bowler pounding up a cloud on a flat wicket and humbling the emphemeral batsman before me…

Or sometimes I do.

Because no matter how my frailties weigh on me- no matter how unjust the day dawns. At the end of it all-

There is love.

But, Lord help me, I am not yet at that end…

A time to heal…

how-to-heal-a-black-eye

There is a time for all things under heaven…

Battle done
Heart still pounding
Hurt
Wounded
Damage felt
And also dealt

Some of the layers that make up who I am
Have been scraped back
Revealing the subcutaneous flesh
Naked and raw
And I am unclothed like a baby
Dignity destroyed
Decaying into depression
Like a spreading bruise
Punching into my stomach
Rotting into my brain

Lord Jesus
Find for me a small place
And let it be to me
Your hospital

Find me a dark place
Because at least for now
I can bear no light
Not even yours

There will come a time to come out again
To stand once more in the gap
Between hope
And possibility
Fighting my own demons
And those of others

But now
Is the time
To heal.

Conflict and the nursing of wounds in small communities…

dscf3386

I live in a small town. One of the first things that you learn when you move into town is that everyone has history, and the history is known to others. In fact it might even be what passes for entertainment in such places- the stratification of fellow residents according to all sorts of criteria-

  • family background
  • Place of origin
  • Interesting snippets of gossip
  • Achievements and failures.
  • Association with other people who are known
  • Jobs- particularly high profile ones, and so an opinion is necessary as to how the well the role is performed
  • Membership of local groups and churches

These things are true in any community- but they are accentuated in small towns. The thing is, that this concentration of examination can mean that conflict in particular is corrosive and damaging, and potentially long lasting. There is little to divert or dilute, and it is likely that contact will still continue at some level within the communal spaces of the town.

Some conflicts are legendary- played out in the local courts, and the local paper. Once the solicitors get involved things rarely go well.

There seems to be a particular personality type that is associated with such things- someone who sees complex issues as black and white, and is motivated to seek first vindication and then perhaps, revenge.

There is always more to an issue than meets the eye;

iceberg-of-conflict2

By way of a case study- about three or four years ago, I was involved in a disciplinary hearing of a member of staff who worked for a local voluntary organisation. To cut a long story short, he was later dismissed in relation to another matter (in which I had some involvement in as well.) This process was long and protracted, and the man concerned showed no willingness or ability to understand or engage with any perspective but his own. It was clear that he saw himself as a victim of a malicious campaign led by myself.

At one point of this process, a window was smashed on a car on our drive, and then on two occasions, wheels mysteriously worked loose on the car- at considerable risk to myself and my family. There is of course, no evidence whatsoever to suggest who was responsible.

The man later appealed to an industrial tribunal, and defended himself successfully, in the sense that the organisation was found to have failed in it’s handling of the matter- mainly because a former chairperson admitted to the tribunal that he lied- having claimed not to have been in possession of information which it later transpired that he had, but had not acted upon.

It was a messy, difficult business, with the future of a vital local resource, employing a number of staff at stake. Hopefully over and done with…

Except it is not.

The man concerned has now engaged a solicitor to pursue his vindication. They have made formal complaints to the director of social work about me, and suggested that my lack of integrity means that I should be disciplined. This has been rejected, so I await his next moves…

What should be my response? He is unlikely after all this time to change his perspective. Too much depends on this view of himself persisting.

I could get lawyered up myself and prepare to do battle- it might yet come to this.

I could simply punch him on the nose. But although I am twice his size, I simply would not know how to start.

He has thrown my faith at me on several occasions- you know the way of it- ‘Bible basher!’, ‘Call yourself a Christian?…’

Well yes- I do. I follow Jesus, who had much worse accusations leveled at him. So I am going to do nothing at present. I hope that the man will find his way out of the destructive cycle that he is caught within. I will try my hardest to relax in grace, knowing that difficult people are usually people in difficulties.

And when we meet in supermarkets, I will look him in the eyes and offer what reconcilliation I can, lest we become another story of embattled and embittered small town life.