A Message from Ellen
September 20, 2022
September 14, 2022
The last newsletter I wrote (8/16), I promised a series of newsletters about how to be both Christian and in conflict. And even though I can think of a dozen other things that I want to tell you in this newsletter, I am going to share with you two more conflict insights that come from Denise W. Goodman’s book, Congregational Fitness: Healthy Practices for Layfolk.
- Healthy conflicts can energize congregations. They can draw out the best thinking of parishioners . . . . Learning to agree to disagree, to hold a position without denigrating someone with an opposing one, and to be open to changing one’s views after listening to new information – these are important skills to develop.
- A fundamental problem in most church conflicts is viewing or framing problems in terms of sides when the issues often are far more complex. When we insist that a congregational conflict be framed solely in terms of sides, winning becomes more important than searching for a healthy resolution.
When I talk with couples in preparing them for marriage, I ask them what they do when they hear a strange and troubling noise from their car engine. Do they ignore it? Do they douse the engine with oil and hope it goes away? Or do they take their car to the garage to diagnose and to fix the problem – if there is a problem? We all know the right answer. But when it comes to the noise that a conflict makes, many of us are content to ignore the sound or douse it with oil and keep driving. This is not healthy or sustainable. Conflict is a moral neutral! How we deal with conflict makes it either an opportunity for growth or a life-threatening cancer.
To Goodman’s second point, I find that our lives are set up to allow us only to hear from people we agree with. That is deadly. We must go out of our way to listen to stories of folks with whom we are unfamiliar and with whom we disagree – notice I said to listen. If we are frustrated with the homeless population in Columbia, instead of functioning as an armchair quarterback and making pronouncements about what “those people” need to do, talk to people who work with the homeless – or better – get to know someone who is poor. If we are sure of what we believe about racism in our nation, have we listened to a person of a different race and asked them about their experience? One of the reasons that I continue to spend time creating and editing the Abraham’s Table podcast is that it is my offering to allow others to hear the stories that Rabbi Jonathan Case and Imam Omar Shaheed tell. Their life experience is very different from mine. [find the link on our website under News and Events] So, if I am to see as God sees, I cannot afford to confuse my opinion with God’s. I quoted Anne Lamott a few weeks ago in a sermon (someone help me find the specific source for this!) “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
See you in worship!
Ellen F. Skidmore