Creating and living in a culture that engages conflict well reminds us that living is not about being free from tension, anxiety, complexity and conflict but about being free to live life fully and to engage deeply in it. The mysterious God is at work in the betweenness of our deep engagements, relationships and connections. Thou meets us in this space and invites us to this holy other way—a soulful way of variety, complexity and multiplicity, not just unity and harmony.
Conflict transformation is something more than conflict management or conflict resolution. The goal of conflict transformation, as Ron Kraybill explains, “is not only to end or prevent something bad but also to begin something new and good. Transformation asserts the belief that conflict can be a catalyst for deep-rooted, enduring, positive change in individuals, relationships, and the structures of the human community.”
The work of conflict transformation is not the work of putting Band-Aids on the wounds of conflict, or responding to conflict like a fire fighter. This work is about a way of life and the transformation of our culture to a culture of justpeace.
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To be a resilient congregation, community or person means to be able to turn whatever we experience into something meaningful and useful. It means being present with what is happening, to absorb, to reflect and grow through and from our experience, even the negative experiences that feel as if they can destroy or take the best in us away, and to harvest and digest the food into ourselves and the community’s soul or DNA for the better.
Being alive in human form is a constant opportunity and invitation to be in an I-Thou way of the heart, acting and being compassionate and creative. Every day, every minute, we’re presented with situations good and bad, easy and difficult, mundane and exceptional. In those situations, we have a choice of how we will be toward another.
Whatever we do on the surface, what people react, resist or respond to is who we are being in our hearts and souls when we do it. The deeper place of the heart/soul is the soil from which authentic presence, integrity and influence blossom and are cultivated, nurtured and grown. The way of our hearts/souls determines influence.
Transformation is about the deeper, second level change. It is deeper than management, deeper than resolution. This is the change that takes place in the soul of people and congregations/organizations.
How do we ask good, high-level, honest questions and listen for the emerging wisdom and Spirit? My experience is, power resides in good questions more than answers. Do you have any questions? Listen, listen deeply to that inner voice as if your life depends on it, for it does. What question is it asking? What question wants to emerge? What question are you living? ….Well?
When my relationship to the world is an “I-It,” I see others, if at all, more as objects than people. I see them as less than I am — less relevant, less important, of less worth. Their reality is less important than is my own. As a result, the possibility for ministry of any kind is slight. Ministry must first begin out of the heart and soul, this deeper way of being with self, God and others.
To love the enemy, to resist evil, to welcome the stranger, to first deal with the log in our own eye before the spec in the neighbor’s eye, connect spiritual and emotional phenomenon and practices. Thus, when working with groups, I am listening for the outward manifestations, but also the parallel processes happening within both them and me. What we discover over here, might be the missing peace to the ominous puzzle over or out there and vice versa. Then, a new picture emerges, a new narrative develops, a new story is told and perception and perspectives change. Consequently, the lamb and lion can lie down together.
When Blood and Bones Cry Out contains one of the best explanations of why the circle process has become so important in conflict transformation. The circle is a container for ritual, covenant and conversation. The talking piece allows for all the voices to be heard as it passes around the circle. The stories begin to connect, and natural frequencies are found that have resonance and sonic echo. What if churches, through their rituals and conversations, could develop such resonance and sonic echo? The Lederachs have given us a metaphoric gift that might have profound implications for churches’ role as places of social healing in our communities.
The principles of restorative justice are indeed prophetic ones as they provide a framework for doing the work that God has called us to do with both victims and offenders.