Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Musings on Mary's Visit With Elizabeth in Luke

What was the very first thing Mary did after being visited by the Angel Gabriel? She went to see Elizabeth and stayed there for three months. The slide show below examines some of what may be learned from their encounter. For best results, view full screen. Most art is from Wikimedia commons.

Advent Lessons From the Visitation of Mary With Elizabeth

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Peace of Mind

What is peace?  Is peace a thought that the affairs of the world are ordered and in place, as they ought to be?  Consider this excerpt from Pippa’s Song, published by Robert Browning in 1841.  The last two lines graced a linen wall hanging embroidered by my great grandmother:


Pisarro Hay Harvest wikimedia commons
Pissarro “Hay Harvest”  (Wikimedia commons)
“The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven -
All's right with the world!”


To my way of thinking, part of having “peace” is to know that things are set up, as much as possible, so that our small world – our small sphere of influence where we live – is in the best order we can make of it.  This blog post is about making things “right with the world.”   What can we do that brings us more peace in our personal lives?  

For one thing, we need to be proactive about doing things to make this happen.  Mother Theresa said, “Do your work as if everything depends on it, then leave the rest to God.” 

This post is about doing your work as if everything depends on it.  Namely, do you know what will happen to your property, and to your affairs, if something were to happen to you today?  

I want to urge you to create and maintain the legal documents you need to make things “right with the world” as far as your legal affairs are concerned.   

2010 10 08 chicago 105

People immediately think of their  will.  Do you have one? 

Under Title 62 of the S.C. Probate Code (which may or may not be similar to the probate code where you live),  what happens to your estate depends on who survives you.  Do you have a spouse, children, or parents?  The law allocates a division of assets based on who your survivors are. (For instance, if you leave a spouse or children, your parents receive nothing even if they were dependent upon you for support. If you leave children, they receive half even if you'd prefer for your spouse to receive the entire amount.)

Generally speaking, it's best if you state what you want by leaving a will.  This just eliminates doubts about what you might have wanted.  If there's something in particular that you want a person to have, that also needs to be designated specifically, but with flexibility and bearing in mind that the asset may be gone by the time you pass away. If there's an unrelated person or a charity you want to receive something from your estate, the only way to ensure that (other than giving it to them personally) is through a will. While a will doesn't have to be complicated or expensive, it is important that it be done right. For this reason, I would recommend having a lawyer draft it for you.

In terms of planning for the future, there are a couple of other documents which probably are equally, if not more, important, than a will.   Do you know what these are?   Health Care Power of Attorney, Durable Power of Attorney, Trust Documents, Life Insurance designations, Retirement Account beneficiary designations, Bank Account ownership designations, to name some. 

For an example of how important these documents are, have you considered:  What would happen to you, personally, if something were to happen where you could not speak for yourself or make decisions on your own behalf? Who would make decisions about your medical care or how you should be treated? The document governing this is called a Health Care Power of Attorney. Everyone needs one. Any one of us, no matter how healthy, could be in a car crash tomorrow and need this document to ensure that our values are known and followed. (Alternative documents are known as "advance directives" or "living will," are not quite the same things and an attorney can explain the differences to you.)

What would happen to your business matters if you were in an accident and couldn't manage your own affairs? Who would get your mail? Who would pay the bills? Who would check on some suspicious credit card transaction? The document giving some agent power to act on your behalf when you can't do so is called a Durable Power of Attorney. Everyone needs one.

Who would become owner of your bank account?  If person A is authorized to sign on your bank account, do you mean for that person to own the entire account at the time of your death?  If not (for example, if you have two children and you want them both to share the proceeds equally, not just the one who has signature authority), then you need to set up the paperwork to reflect your wishes. 

These are just some of many documents everyone should consider having. Anyone who is divorced with children and considering remarriage should think about having a prenuptial agreement drawn up. A "prenup" can settle any potential property division questions many years before issues even surface. Anyone with young children should consider designating a guardian and trustee for those children in the event of parental disability. Anyone with a business should have a business succession plan, and a partnership or close corporation should have buyout provisions.

Lawyers don't just sue people. They help ordinary people make arrangements that help their lives run more smoothly when the going gets tough. I encourage people to get a "legal checkup" every few years just to make sure they have everything they need.  

Notice: this is not legal advice. It is a suggestion that you seek legal advice concerning these issues.   Because my goal is to help people manage their affairs in such a way that they stay out of court, I do offer a service of “Legal Checkup” to help you sort out these issues.  If you are interested in a one or two hour consultation in my office for a legal checkup, please email an inquiry to

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Santa, the Nativity, and ... What?

An Advent Message for 2010

(cross posted from my professional web site,

Just Mediation, LLC)

Of course Christ is the center of Christmas.  But, in fact, the season holds something for everyone who seeks a better world.   This is because,  no matter what a person's faith -- Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Daoist, Atheist, or something else  -- the Nativity gives each of us an opportunity to open our mind to the possibility of  miracles, including the  the miracle of peace.

By focusing our mind on the concrete reality of an historical, embodied fact, the Nativity of Christ invites us to imagine concrete ways an ordinary individual can seek the extraordinary --  even the miraculous – in the context of our ordinary lives.

The spirit of the Advent and Christmas season even invites us to take action that could make that imagined, and better, world become a reality.

An example of how the ordinary can become extraordinary lies in the legend of St. Nick.  Was he really just an ordinary guy who gave some gifts to some kids at Christmas?  Is he a magical elf who wears a red suit and lives at the North Pole?  Or, is he something else altogether?

This season, we at Just Mediation, LLC, know of a young child, age ten, who has begun to confirm their suspicions that the person who puts presents under the Christmas tree during the middle of the night on Christmas eve is not a person who arrives with reindeer and a red suit.

But does this realization, that the presents arrived in a different way than previously thought,  make the miracle of Santa any less of a miracle?

This little person has always been told that "Santa is someone who loves you very much."   Does the fact that Santa has a different permanent address than they previously imagined take away any at all from the joy and love of the Christmas spirit?

For many children, it does take away.  Most of us can remember with some sadness the first year we found out that Santa "wasn't real".  But, what if there were some way to hold on to that magical feeling about Santa?

In a sense, no matter what the physical facts, it can be said that “he who believes, receives”.   It is possible for Santa to remain very real, immortal, and miraculous.  How?  Because we make it so.   As adults with a more refined understanding of Santa, we can choose to redefine the way we view him.   Santa endures because he symbolizes, for all of us,  a spirit of giving, the magical power of love, and a wish for a world where all of our best childhood dreams come true.

We hope the child will come to understand that even if Santa doesn't squeeze down a chimney, there is still magic.  There are still secrets, there is still giving, and there is still joy in Christmas.    If the child can hold on to this sense of the reality of Santa, even while the child gains understanding of the “facts” of Santa, the child will have achieved a better understanding (indeed!) of the true magic of Christmas.

A true transformation of understanding will have occurred, and the child will have acquired a deeper and richer understanding of the meaning of the Christmas season.

The child’s transformation of understanding then becomes a lesson concerning love.   A new wisdom concerning the magic of Christmas will then be carried forward and continue to shape the way the child relates to others during the Christmas season.

Transformation of one's understanding of conflict, as applied through the style of conflict transformation employed by our mediators, works in a similar way.

The goal of the conflict consultants at Just Mediation, LLC, is not just to "solve" a problem by settling a case, allowing each mediator to get a “settlement star” on our achievement chart.   Rather, our goal is to transform your experience of conflict, literally, in a way that perhaps can be explained by the example of the child's transformed understanding at Christmas.

Our hope is that by assisting you in gaining insight to see your conflict in a new way, and in helping all parties to achieve a deeper understanding of the conflict itself, this insight may then open the door to new possibilities and new imaginings of how to resolve it.    It’s not always easy.  Old presumptions sometimes must be replaced with a new understanding.   There may be challenging issues, and old habits of  communication and distrust may need to be overcome.   Yet, with this new insight, sometimes the previously unimaginable becomes possible.

To characterize agreements reached through conflict transformation as the result of "compromise" is trite.   To call this "win win" is not always quite accurate.  But to call it a sound method for achieving a better result, that is quite accurate.

And sometimes, though not always, the results can be almost miraculous, offering participants an opportunity to transcend the “what has been” and achieve a better future.

As you contemplate the miracle of Christmas, we invite you to be open to the possibility of miracles everywhere.  Including the possibility that miracles sometimes can happen even in the ordinary, mundane world we inhabit in our daily lives.

Behold!  A mere babe in a manger.  Yet on another level, this Christmas season, be open to the idea that what is truly “real” may be altogether different from what is readily seen.


(Illustration of Tissot’s “Journey of the Magi” is courtesy of Wikimedia commons)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Recommended book: "A Is For Asshole" by Vickie Pynchon

I'd like to highlight a review of a book written by my friend Vickie Pynchon. This book is easy to read and very helpful when it comes to dealing with conflict. Highly recommended. click HERE for a more extensive review by mediator Joe Markowitz, and click HERE for a more extensive review by Tammi Lenski.  The bottom line is, buy it. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Divorce Options in South Carolina

Have you ever heard of collaborative divorce?  Mediated divorce?  I just posted an article on my web site about options for divorce, comparing these options to litigated divorce, divorce with one lawyer, and do-it-yourself divorce.  For more information, click HERE

No one thinks divorce is a “good” thing, overall, but divorce using one of the newer methods of conflict resolution, that avoids pitting the parties against one another in battle, is far superior in most cases to adversarial divorce.  

Monday, November 22, 2010

Giving Thanks

This is the week Thanksgiving is celebrated in the United States.  Regardless of whether you are American or not, it never hurts to be reminded to be thankful.   Here are two exercises for thankfulness:

1.  Write a list of 20 things you are thankful for, that money cannot buy. 

2.  Write a letter to someone you are thankful for.  Tell them what you are thankful for about them, how they’ve influenced you, or what they did that you are thankful for.   Now, mail it. 


Have a great day! 



Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Exploitation of Virtue: The Book, “The Crisis Caravan” Takes a Hard Look

This provocative book by Linda Polman, published in September of 2010, traces the rise of humanitarian aid from the time of the Biafran war in Africa in 1968 (the first war with daily televised images of starving children) to the present.  In it, Polman makes a  convincing argument that humanitarian aid has often contributed to suffering by virtue of its sustenance of the power infrastructures that created the deplorable conditions in the first place. 

In the Biafran war, for example, Nigeria pursued a deliberate policy of maiming and starving children.   Polman traces how the images of this clash, broadcast in the West, resulted in an explosion of aid to Biafra, an outpouring of Western aid which gave rise to the huge NGO’s and to the basic shape of humanitarian relief as we know it today.   In the case of Biafra, aid from these NGO’s enabled the resistance movement to last longer, but eventually Biafra was forced to concede and be re-absorbed by Nigeria.  Following defeat, the feared retaliations and genocides never happened, leading observers to wonder if the humanitarian aid had enabled a losing battle and, by virtue of its enablement, caused even more suffering than if the war had ended earlier. 

The same type of story has been oft repeated since. 

Polman follows that thread, examining humanitarian aid through subsequent wars and events such as Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Ethiopia.  Using concrete examples, she illustrates her theory that western aid organizations often have been shrewdly manipulated by parties to violent conflict, with aid deliberately leveraged by parties as a means of increasing power.  In case after case, Polman makes an argument that humanitarian aid has done as much harm as good, by propping up or supporting power structures which fail the societies which inhabit them.  

A review by Phillip Gourevitch in New Yorker  magazine  places this book on the same shelf with an long list of books by former aid workers *(see list, below) which argue, in effect, that humanitarian aid may be as damaging as colonialism, by virtue of its ethnocentric export of western values and western solutions to problems. 

Gourevitch quotes Kennedy from The Dark Sides of Virtue:  “Humanitarianism tempts us to hubris, to an idolatry about our intentions and routines, to the conviction that we know more than we do about what justice can be.”  Gourevitch also references scathing critique from Marin, to the effect that donors may care less about the effect of their aid than their own sense of virtue:  perhaps we give not because of the effect of aid on the person we are helping, but rather to further our own sense of virtue. 

To my way of thinking, these books, singly or in combination, are a must-read not only for those who donate aid, but also for anyone who is involved with cross cultural negotiation and conflict resolution.  Anyone involved in cross cultural exchanges intended to benefit an “other” needs to be concerned not only with ensuring first that no harm is done, but also with making transparent the larger power structures and influences that contribute to (or take away from) peace and justice. 

* This list includes:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Love, Embodied

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”  (1 John 4:7-9)

Enjoy this video: 



Skye Jethani has said:  “Judgment causes us to see the other not as a person, but as a thing, as less human and therefore less valuable. And once we do that to a person or a group of people, it opens the door to all kinds of terrible evil -- segregation, injustice, abuse, even genocide. . . . The Christian's job is to agree with God that every person you meet was worth Jesus dying for. We cannot ascribe that kind of value and dignity to people and condemn them as worthless at the same time. It's just not possible” (“Judge Not”,, accessed October 29, 2010).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Elder Mediation Helps Families

A recent article in the New York Times (click HERE for full story) tells the story of a family who got help from an Elder Mediator with a distressing family situation.

An elderly client was calling her caregiver in the middle of the night and making unreasonable demands.  The caregiver was close to quitting her job.  At a family meeting facilitated by attorney and elder mediator Joy Rosenthal, the family discussed the issues and needs of various people affected, including the elderly person and the caregiver.  Then, the group came up with a list of things they could to to make the situation more manageable for everyone.

There are a couple of things I love about this story.

For one thing, it makes it clear that Elder Mediation is helpful in many cases that would not call for court action.  The issue of calling a caregiver in the middle of the night was not the type of thing that people go to court for.   Yes, it is true:  mediation is appropriate for situations involving very serious issues that could legitimately be taken to court.  But mediation is not limited to these types of situations.  It can be helpful at every level of conflict.  Indeed, the earlier a family calls in a mediator, the better.

When the family calls a mediator at the first sign of distress, the mediator can intervene before the family has become polarized and estranged from one another.   (In cases where family appears headed for court, early intervention by a mediator may save not only relationships but tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs.)  Additonally, mediation enables families to consider options that would never be available in a court of law.  In this case, the family was able to intervene before the caregiver quit, and mediation enabled them to work together to forge a creative, win-win solution.  The result?  The elderly client was happier, everyone had a better understanding of each other, the caregiver was able to to keep her job and work more reasonable hours, and the elderly client was able to retain a trusted employee.   Even more important, the air was cleared, people understood each other better, and a better foundation was laid for future decision making.

Another thing I like about the story is the simplicity of the solution and the way the solution met the true needs of all the parties.  (To learn the exact problem and solution, read the story!)   As this story illustrates, sometimes the solution is very simple, and all it takes  is to talk it through.

As simple as the solution sounds, however, I’m certain it was worthwhile to engage the mediator.   A qualified elder mediator isn't just a person who has decided to act as a middle man and "keep the peace".  A mediator, if properly qualified as an Elder Mediator, is a seasoned professional with advanced training not only in basic mediation skills, but also in mediation of large and complex family issues, and they will have specific training or expertise in elder and geriatric issues.    The mediator will know how to set the stage and manage a meeting in such a way as to ensure that all family members are heard and all interests are on the table before  options or solutions are considered to address those needs.  The integrity of the mediation process is what ensures that once a solution is in place, it is a good solution that does meet all needs, and not just a knee-jerk, slap-a-bandage reaction.   Indeed, that is one of the best values that mediation offers.    By going through the steps in a methodical way, as led by a expert in conflict management, families who choose mediation actually address root causes.  Conflict addressed in this way offers opportunity for families to develop better systems of communicating and making decisions, and thereby have the opportunity to achieve authentic healing and reconciliation.    It's virtually  a no-lose proposition.

To find a mediator in your area, search through mediators listed on the web site, or search specifically for an elder mediator on the site  .   I've also written a guide to choosing an elder mediator, which can be accessed HERE.

[caption id="attachment_475" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The author with her grandmother"][/caption]

(My own background that prepares me as an Elder Mediator includes approximately 160 hours of study of mediation techniques (including specific study with Zena Zumeta and Susan Butterwick in mediation of Elder issues and contested guardianship cases and study with Richard Blackburn in conflict transformation in large group settings), personal study in elder law, personal experience in elder care management, and graduate level study in medical ethics.  I am a member of the Elder Decisions section of the Association of Conflict Resolution, and I am listed on both of the above sites in the field of Elder Mediation.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Haiti: An Opportunity to Advocate and Help

Are you concerned for Haiti, and want to get involved?  A group of Presbyterians will be traveling to Haiti from November 10, 2010, to November 19, 2010.  If you are interested in joining this group, you must respond immediately.  Applications to go on the trip must be received by October 25, 2010! 

As stated on the blog of the Presbyterian Hunger program: 

The goals of this Agricultural Missions delegation are to:

-  visit rural organizations and communities

-  assess the context, challenges and opportunities that face rural Haitians in consultation with Haitian leaders

-  build relationships of mutual respect, and

-  upon return to the U.S., advocate on behalf of rural Haitians and the member organizations of FONDAMA.

The cost is anticipated to be  $350-500, plus airfare (typically $600-$700). 

For more information, click HERE



photo compliments of Biswarup Ganguli,


What’s There To Do in Columbia, SC?

Here are some suggestions from the official city web site 
See a concert at the Colonial Center. an ice show at the Carolina Coliseum. a Broadway show at the Koger Center. a national dance touring company at The Township. a regatta at Lake Murray. a replica of a three ton white shark at the State Museum. historic homes from the 16th century. festivals, concerts and an amazing view at Finlay Park. Catch a theatrical production at one of Columbia's many theatres. Walk through the tallest trees on the East Coast in the Congaree National Park. Tailgate at Williams-Brice Stadium as the University of South Carolina battles in Southeastern Conference football. Enjoy food from around the world at one of many festivals. Listen to one of music's hottest performers at the South Carolina State Fair. Play challenging golf course. Visit Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden, consistently rated one of the nation's "10 Great Zoos." In short, Columbia really does have it all!

You can easily spend a full day at Riverbanks Zoo. When you purchase your ticket, check to see the times for your favorite animal feedings (penguins, seals, birds, sharks) and then schedule your visit around that.
Until the Charleston Aquarium was constructed, Riverbanks was the largest Aquarium on the Eastern seaboard between Sea World in Orlando and Sea World in Williamsburg.
Depending on your preference, the botanical garden (across the river on a footbridge from the zoo) is lovely and includes a trail that goes through remnants of a pre-Civil war encampment. It was from this location that Sherman bombarded the City.

State Museum 

The State Museum is housed in a former textile mill building that at one time housed the first electrically powered mill in the USA. The building is constructed by master craftsmen using construction techniques that are no longer available in the USA. Taking up four floors, the first floor is Art, second floor is Natural History as well as various traveling exhibits, 3rd floor is Science and Technology, and 4th floor is Cultural History. The Cotton Mill gift shop has gifts and souvenirs made by local artisans and with themes unique to the state.
Columbia Museum of Art
This museum has  a sizeable collection of antiquities, as well as one Monet, in addition to some other nice work, and it often has great traveling exhibits.  
University of South Carolina 

This is the flagship university for the state. It is one of the oldest public institutions in the USA. Within easy walking distance of the State Capitol building, the historic portion of the campus is centered around the “Horseshoe,” which includes the buildings which house the McKissick Museum and the South Caroliniana library (below). The Law School is home to a Children’s Law Center. The Koger Center for the Performing Arts, Town Theater, Workshop Theater, Township Auditorium, and Colonial Center are all within a ten minute walk of the University.
Some web sites for various departments at the university: 

Finlay Park:

This is an award winning park located at 930 Laurel Street, which is near Assembly Street about nine blocks north and two blocks west from the state capitol building. Unfortunately, either due to budget constraints or simply because of winter, the beautiful fountains are not currently operational.

One of the few old growth forests remaining on the East Coast (spared because the swampy wetlands are too low for logging).  This park, which boasts some of the largest trees on the Eastern seaboard, has a boardwalk of about half mile which runs from a parking area to the river, as well as miles of other hiking trails, camping, and river access.

A lovely park with hiking trails on the shore of the Saluda River, interpretive center, as well as a children's zero-depth water playground in the summer.  A bit north and west of the city. 

Lake Murray

At one time, the Lake Murray Dam was the largest earthen dam in the world.  Lake Murray is about fifty miles long with both open water and coves, and it is a popular destination for fishermen. 
The following web site has links to find fishing guides:

Tour of State Capitol Building
 Tour of the State Capitol

The four city block area that makes up the State Capitol Complex is a very nice garden in and of itself. There are state-run souvenir shops in the basement of the Blatt Building and on the first floor of the Rembert Dennis Building.

How to Find Local Event Schedules and Tickets

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Six Principles of Nonviolence

by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 (click HERE for link to source material)


Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.

  • It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. 
  • It is assertive spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. 
  • It is always persuading the opponent of the justice of your cause.

Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.

  • The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. 
  • The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.

Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.

  • Nonviolence holds that evildoers are also victims.

Nonviolence holds that voluntary suffering can educate and transform.

  • Nonviolence willingly accepts the consequences of its acts. 
  • Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. 
  • Nonviolence accepts violence if necessary, but will never inflict it. 
  • Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities. 
  • Suffering can have the power to convert the enemy when reason fails.

Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

  • Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as of the body.
  • Nonviolent love gives willingly, knowing that the return might be hostility. 
  • Nonviolent love is active, not  passive.
  • Nonviolent love does not sink to the level of the hater. 
  • Love for the enemy is how we demonstrate love for ourselves. 
  • Love restores community and resists injustice. 
  • Nonviolence recognizes the fact that all life is interrelated.

Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

  • The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Letter to the Church in North America

This is a video blog from Kester Brewin.  I really enjoyed it.  I’m not sure if I’m more intrigued by the thought itself, or by lyrical power of the imagery used to convey the ideas. 

Brewin explains,

Last weekend saw a really innovative gathering in Toronto called ‘Eighth Letter.’ It asked the simple question: if the writer of revelation had written ‘A Letter to the Church in North America’ what would they have said? A number of people were asked to present their letters – some in person, some virtually.

Mine’s now on YouTube, and carries a simple message: if you want to find the Kingdom of Heaven, you’re going to have to abandon your pursuit of paradise. In other words, the purified utopian ideal is dangerous; God is found in the dirt of the incarnation.



Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day 2010

On Columbus day,


(Landing of Columbus, Library of Congress)

I find it fitting to remember the Trail of Tears.


Why would I choose to write about Trail of Tears on the day the Europeans first encountered the New World?  It’s simple:  because of the effect this discovery by Christopher Columbus ultimately had upon the indigenous population already in North America.  And because I could hardly believe my ears when I overheard a remark recently stated in the context of the immigration debate. 

A person rallying against the Arizona border law mentioned that every white person in the USA had at one time been an immigrant. 

A protagonist in favor of the Arizona law replied that yes, but the European settlers were all legal immigrants because they came here legally

In general, I can only be concerned with so much, and immigration is not at the top of my list.  Yet, this remark just about bowled me over on account of its obtuse ignorance.

I ask, “Legal by whose standards?  By the standards of the people who were already here?  By the standards of the people whose rules for governance of this land were already in place?”  I think not! 

The conquest of the New World involved a great clash of cultures.  If you have any doubt about that culture clash, I encourage you to read the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.



  Or, check out the Kevin Costner film, Dances With Wolves. 


The conquest of the New World was not all sweetness and light.*  I’m not sure by what intellectual trick one could maintain the ignorance required to maintain a belief otherwise. 

It was certainly apparent when I took Florida history in the Fourth grade and learned the fate of those native Americans who encountered Fernando DeSoto and Ponce de Leon.  It was pretty obvious to me as a Sixth grader, when I learned the Seminole tribe of the swamps of South Florida was actually the refugee remnant who had taken refuge in the mosquito, alligator, and snake infested swamps of southern Florida to avoid being rounded up and exiled in the Trail of Tears.  And, well, I was really sad when I learned the story and tragic fate of their leader Asi Yahola (Anglicized as “Osceola”), who died in chains at Fort Moultrie, SC, while awaiting a hearing on his tribe’s claim. 

The pain of the clash of cultures was still apparent when I studied U.S. history in 10th grade and learned the fate of the Eastern tribes and of the nations of the Plains.  And it still hadn’t changed when I took World History in college and learned of the subjugation and marginalization of the Aztec and Inca peoples, already decimated by diseases from the European ships, to which these peoples had no resistance. 



Trail of Tears

by Robert Lindneaux


The Granger Collection, Ltd., NY


Yes, I’m aware that the feelings of animosity ran in both directions.  I’m aware that in the French and English war, the French paid native Americans for scalps of their English rivals, fueling what was a particularly grisly practice. 

But Puh-Leeze, don’t whitewash it with studied ignorance and the claim that “the White Men came here under the authority of King George”.   By what measure did King George – or any Western king – have authority to decree what rights he had in the New World?!  Perhaps by the same authority that Hitler exercised when he decided he had a right to govern France and Poland? 

Facing superior firepower, Native Americans were forced to fight the battle according to the rules of the dominant culture.  But even those rules were then mis-applied, to the great detriment of the indigenous peoples.  Land was “sold” and entire nations forcibly evicted from their homelands.  Such was the fate of the Choctaw and Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw, Seminole and Muskogee tribes.  Between 1831 and 1838, beginning during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, approximately 46,000 Native Americans were removed from their tribal lands by U.S. armed forces, thus freeing 25 Million acres for development by peoples of European descent (according to Wikipedia). 

It is generally accepted that somewhere between 20% – 25% of the Native Americans relocated out of their Eastern homelands and herded westward to Oklahoma perished as a result of the relocation that we now call the Trail of Tears.  (For the research paper where I got this statistic, click HERE, but if you don’t believe this source you can Google it yourself and find any number of other papers.) 

None of us have any control over what our ancestors did.  Nor can we take any personal responsibility – neither good nor evil -- from our personal heritage. 

But that lack of control we have over our heritage doesn’t mean we can’t take responsibility for our thoughts and actions from this day forward.  And the first part of that taking responsibility is to take an accurate view of history. 

Those who are ignorant of history, are doomed to repeat it. 


Image from HERE 

National Park Service Historic trail, link HERE


Do you choose ignorance, or knowledge? 

A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.  (James Madison, 1788)


(*I’ve written before about this clash of cultures in a prior blog post HERE.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Where There is Hatred … Let Me Sow Love

Between the bridge and the river
he falls through
a huge portion of night;
it is not as if falling
is something new. Over and over
...he slipped into the gulf
between what he knew and how
he was known. What others wanted
opened like an abyss:the laughing
stock-clerks at the grocery, women
at the luncheonette amused by his gestures.
What could he do, live
with one hand tied
behind his back? So he began to fall
into the star-faced section
of night between the trestle
and the water because he could not meet
a little town's demands,
and his earrings shone and his wrists
were as limp as they were.
I imagine he took the insults in
and made of them a place to live;
we learn to use the names
because they are there,
familiar furniture; faggot
was the bed he slept in, hard
and white, but simple somehow,
queer something sharp
but finally useful, a tool,
all the jokes a chair,
stiff-backed to keep the spine straight,
a table, a lamp. And because
he's fallen for twenty-three years,
despite whatever awkwardness
his flailing arms and legs assume
he is beautiful
and like any good diver
has only an edge of fear
he transforms into grace.
Or else he is not afraid,
and in this way climbs back
up the ladder of his fall,
out of the river into the arms
of the three teenage boys
who hurled him from the edge-
really boys now, afraid,
their fathers' cars shivering behind them,
headlights on- and tells them
it's all right, that he knows
they didn't believe him
when he said he couldn't swim,
and blesses his killers
in the way that only the dead
can afford to forgive.

By Mark Doty

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Compassion in Listening

One of the interesting things that happens when one begins to coach others is that the skill being taught becomes embedded more deeply into one’s own, personal life.  As a conflict resolution professional, one of the main things I do is to coach people on how to listen to one another.  My experience is that really listening, and really hearing, is not easy and it’s not intuitive.  I certainly can’t claim to be a perfect listener.  All I can say is that I’m learning and getting better. 

We all know, of course, that listening and hearing are required in order to understand the heart of what the “other” person is trying to communicate about their needs and interests that give rise to a conflict.  But often, in conflict scenarios, the parties are no longer in authentic communication.  Instead, they just talk past each other.  An additional challenge for a mediator, on top of getting the parties to listen to one another, is that it’s often the case that a person who is embroiled in a conflict situation and trying to communicate a general anger or other emotion doesn’t even fully understand his own reasons and needs, himself.  At such times, the mediator must listen twice as much.  Listen first in order to help the parties clarify what they mean and what they want to say.  Then, coach the parties in listening so that each can hear what the other is really trying to express and not just what they expect or want to hear.     

Listening is a skill that takes practice, practice, practice!  The good news is that we can get better at it.

What are some tips and tools for listening?

One thing a good “listener” can do is to clean their own glass, to make the lens through which we see and hear things less intrusive.  In other words, when we remove our own preconceived notions, then we become enabled to hear more of what the other person is really trying to say and less of what we are expecting or wanting to hear.  A word to describe the process of removing one’s self (and one’s own responses) is the term “mindfulness”.  When we become mindful of our own biases, tendencies, and prejudices, then we are better able to account for those and to try to filter them out.  What the insightful mediator is doing is removing himself from the frame so that the party may have a clearer image in the mirror of his conflict and his own response to it. 

The opposite of mindfulness is when we project a lot of ourselves into a conflict and hear only what relates to our own experience.  How many times have I (or you) listened to someone’s story and immediately knew what they should do?   Or how often have you heard a story and said, “The exact same thing happened to me!”  But, the exact same thing didn’t happen, and if the answer were truly so obvious the speaker would have found it already.  Personal mental responses like these are the mediation equivalent of raising a storm warning flag at a beach.  Friends who are in the position of listening to each other can be on the alert for these responses, too.  When I “know” what my friend ought to do, it means I haven’t removed myself from the story enough to really listen to them fully and presently.  If the answer is too obvious, there would be no conflict.  Since there is some countervailing view, if the answer seems too simple then it’s likely that some aspect of the conflict remains mis-understood.  

Another way of knowing when we are putting too much of ourselves into a communication is when we feel tempted to interrupt, even if we only interrupt the person mentally and not physically.  How many times, when a friend is speaking, are you tempted to think ahead in your mind to how you will answer them rather than continuing to listen to them as they speak?  For me, this mental feeling is like having two lanes of traffic.  One lane of traffic in my mind is the stream of thought that is attentive to what my friend is saying, imagining with them what their experience is.  The other lane of traffic in my mind is to be thinking about how I am going to respond to what they’re saying: How does this relate to me, what I can I say about it to give them feedback?  The problem is,that mentally I can really only be in one car at a time.  If I’m already formulating the response to my friend, then I’m not really listening fully to them in the present, here and now. 

So, next time your best friend is telling you about a situation and you’re tempted to give advice, think of this column.  Instead of projecting your own idea of “what is true,” or thinking “this happened to me,” and then telling the person what to do or giving them advice, try first to discern the reasons that their situation feels like to them.  Why do they perceive a conflict in the first place, what is that experience like for them?  What values, needs, and interests got them into the situation where they find themselves?

Most likely, there’s more to their situation than can be answered by a simple knee jerk reaction and response.  What our friend needs from us is not advice, but the feedback and mirroring to help them gain insight.  Then, with increased insight, our friend can find the answers from within themselves.  Answers that come from within and are authentic to lived experience are the ones that will be best in the long run.  So, the way to be a better friend is to help our friend develop capacity from within, not by imposing a solution from without. 

How to do this?   Ask powerful, open ended questions of our friend, as a means to help uncover some of those underlying complexities, different perspectives, and ways of increasing understanding of the experience which is being communicated.  In my next blog post, I’ll write more about that. 


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mid Autumn Festival (Full Moon Festival)

Happy Mid Autumn Festival!  The moon is at its largest and brightest for the year. 

Here is a beautiful song where the moon plays a prominent part.

The name of this song is “Moon Hanging Over the West House”

A translation of the words (provided by a reader on the YouTube site) is underneath the video.  My friend who taught me about this song explained to me that the woman is watching the moon and thinking of her husband, knowing that her husband is also watching the same moon and thinking of her. 

In the same way, my friends across the world and I all watch the same moon …


我想中国! 我想念您,我的朋友! 


古筝-月满西楼(演唱:童丽)the lyric is from an ancient poetry written by a famous female poet whose name is Li Qinzhao.

red lotus flower is gradually fading and the bamboo mat is cold because of the autumn will come soon.
take off my robe and drive my boat.
who sends the love letter of my husband to me from the clouds?
the moon is round hanging over the west house and the wild goose will return their homeplace but where is my husband?
the flower fades and the water flows.they are separate just like me and my husband.
same kind of lovesickness but two gloomy mood.
I have no idea to eliminate this sentiment.
down from brow but come into heart soon.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Are You In the “Silent Majority”?

If so, why are you silent?

It’s true, that silence sometimes is a good thing.  At the knee of my father, the epitome of a Southern gentleman, I learned to live by the rule that “discretion is the better part of valor.”  The origin of this English language idiom is the character Falstaff in Shakespeare's play Henry IV.  In Part I, Act 5, Scene 4 of that play, Falstaff pretends to be dead, in order to avoid being killed by a hostile enemy.   When nothing could possibly be gained from conflict, it may be best to avoid it.  A wise person knows when to speak up, and when to remain silent.  However, faking peace is not always the best way to meet our challenges or resolve our problems. 

Sometimes the urge to stifle conflict is a response driven purely by fear.  People who are deeply afraid of conflict may attempt to mute its expression without addressing any of the causes. Merely muzzling the expression of conflict doesn’t make it go away.  Instead of doing anything to address the cause of the problem, pretending that nothing is wrong can just make matters worse.  The cause of the conflict remains unchecked, leading to escalation of and worsening of division.  This is especially true in families, whether between spouses or siblings or parents and children.   Stifling the expression without addressing the cause leaves the splinter to fester deep within the wound, causing further irritation and even infection. 

A strong willed parent or a spouse in denial can pretend that nothing is wrong and by force of character maintain that facade.  The problem is that it’s a faked peace and not an authentic peace.  Putting a lid on a pressure cooker to keep the steam inside will enable one to maintain the appearance that there is no steam.  But eventually, the pressure inside the container may cause an explosion.  When that explosion comes in a relationship, there is often already deep damage, and then even more harm from the consequences of letting things go too far.  How much better it would be, to enable a healthy process for dealing with those troubling issues, for venting the steam before it reaches the tipping point that causes an explosion. 

The tipping point in a relationship may take the form of a divorce, a failed business partnership, or a family that ends up filing court papers.  Other times, the pain is less visible.  The tipping point may not be so obvious, but it shows up in families where one wounded member fails to attend family holidays together, quits returning phone calls, or simply is never heard from again.  To ignore the problem doesn’t make it go away, it delays and even worsens  the inevitable day of reckoning, a reckoning which always manifests as a loss of authentic relationship. 

The next time you are tempted to declare yourself to be “neutral” or you don’t want to take a stand, ask yourself “why”.  Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.  Other times, it’s just a knee jerk reaction of fear and an excuse to avoid the inevitable.  Make sure you are not responding just because of fear, because of a knee jerk reaction that wants to put a lid on the pressure cooker, quickly.

How can one discern when conflict should be confronted rather than avoided?  Well, is there a deep conflict of values?   Are you having to stifle things that are very important to you just to “get along”?  Are you ignoring or having to overlook signs of deep sin or something that will cause great damage to you or a loved one, such as physical or emotional abuse, financial misdeeds, alcohol or drug dependence, or failure to nurture intimate relationships?   If so, being noncommittal now is not going to make it easier to confront that problem later.  Be wary of another enabler of evil, which is denial.  Are you making excuses, overlooking the obvious, having to hide things or explain away things that don’t make sense objectively? 

If so, a response is needed. 

I apologize that I am now going to take a scripture out of context.  But somehow this analogy of being “lukewarm” intrigues me.  We are taught that “moderation” is a good thing.  Not too much of this, not too much of that.  “Moderation” also implies that we don’t let things get out of control in our lives:  no drunkenness, no speeding, no sky diving, no screaming matches with our partner, right?  Those are all far too close to the edge, far too risky, nice people don’t do things like that.  Paul even says, “Be not drunk with wine.”  But there’s another view of moderation, expressed in Revelation Chapter 3.  Hear this: 

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:  These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 3:14 – 22)

Perhaps the lesson is this:  Discernment.  Should our response to conflict be hot, cold, or lukewarm?  Perhaps the answer is “it depends” and comes back to the reminder that, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”  Sometimes, in the interest of saving a relationship, we exercise discretion not to say hurtful things.  Sometimes, in caring for ourselves or others, we choose moderation in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  But “lukewarm” is not necessarily always a good or healthy response.  Sometimes, moderation is exactly opposite of the path we need to choose.  Sometimes in life, we must walk into the fire and let the challenges of life refine us, to burn away the impurities and damaging things in our relationships with others.  When we do successfully overcome the issues that caused conflict, to achieve authentic reconciliation, then how much sweeter is the true peace! 

This is where it is appropriate to speak of a concept called “conflict transformation”.  Some view peacemaking, or peace building, as a wimpy, cowardly response to conflict.  That’s because they equate peacemaking with a lukewarm response, the response of conflict avoidance or of walking away.  But this is not actually the way of peacemaking. 

The way of peacemaking is to walk through conflict, to confront it head on.  The difference between peace making and adversarial responses to conflict is that while peace making speaks truthfully to the conflict and its root causes (and thus confronts the causes head on), peace making also speaks and in a way that strengthens relationships and creates opportunities for positive response.  Peace making actually offers the hope of rebuilding and strengthening relationships.  It eschews violence because the peace making response seeks to address the conflict in a way that doesn’t harm the one confronted.  (A significant aim of peace-making activism is actually to convert the heart of one’s adversary, something Abraham Lincoln implicitly affirmed when he stated, “Am I not destroying my enemies, when I make friends of them?”) 

On the other hand,  harm and discomfort are two different things.  Sometimes conflict transformation can be a challenging process.  It also requires bravery to trust the process as well as to make one’s self vulnerable. 

Indeed, peacemaking is also not intuitive.  People are not born as peacemakers.   Our intuitive response is to engage in the screaming match, to pick up a stick and throw it, and then to throw up our own arms as a shield when a stick is thrown back in our own direction.  The opposite of this, peacemaking, is a skill that must be taught, nurtured, mentored and consciously developed.  If you would like to learn more about peacemaking and conflict transformation, if you would like to bring peacemaking to your family, to your church, to your workplace, please feel free to contact me for more and deeper information.  My web site for my professional practice of peacemaking and conflict transformation, is at

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lighten Up!

Okay, time for a break from all that serious stuff.


Q:  How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?

A:  How many can you afford?


Q: How many judges does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Judges do not change the light bulb.  They just say who is responsible for the darkness.


Q: How many arbitrators does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Same as judges, but you can’t appeal the decision.


Q:  How many mediators does it take to change a light bulb?

A:  Mediators do not change light bulbs, they empower the bulb to change itself.


(This joke was originally posted on May 2, 2010, by Debra Synovec on her blog )

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Intolerance means …

“If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one's cause.”  Gandhi

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Speaking Truthfully: Ephesians 4:25

I wrote recently about Glenn Beck and how he mis-states the position of his opponents in order to “disprove” the phantom view.  The problem is, that what he disproves has no relation to what his opponent was saying. 

This seems to be a general symptom of debate in our society these days.  Much of public discourse in both the political and religious sphere seems to involve fabrication of extravagant claims regarding the most extreme boundaries of opponents’ statements.  Then, once the fake argument is set up, the audience is entertained by the show of striking it down.   A current example in the Christian world appears in the  September 13, 2010 issue of the Christian journal, The Layman.  An article in that journal accuses the Vice Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Rev. Landon Whitsitt, of asserting that the Bible was not the Word of God.   Did Whitsitt really say this?!  Well, it depends. 

As with most lies, a kernel of truth is manipulated so as to lend credibility to the whopper.  In this case, Whitsitt did say something which struck a nerve, but his critics won’t allow him to elucidate or explain or try to draw finer nuance.  They just want to proclaim, “Gotcha!”  Taken all together, the issue is: “What did Whitsitt mean; what was he trying to express?”  His critics don’t really want to engage in dialogue about that, they just want to jump on him for saying one thing, which they take out of context, as impugning their view of the significance of the words on the page of the Bible. 

Ad hominem.  Straw man.  Argumentum ad logicum. 

These are the names for the basic logical fallacy of misrepresenting the position of one's opponent and then attacking the false argument and "defeating" it.  Seemingly, ad infinitum!  The problem is that the argument so "defeated" is a straw man and not a real one – it has no real resemblance to the true position of the opponent.   If Whitsitt really believed the things he is accused of – saying that scripture is not authoritative – not only would he never have been ordained as a minister, it’s more likely he’d never have any motivation to call himself a Christian in the first place.  Instead, his position has been misrepresented precisely so that it can be easily burned in effigy:  a classic straw man.  That why Argumentum ad logicum describes exactly what has happened here. 

Vice Moderator Landon Whitsitt has merely stated the obvious:  the “mind of God” [a metaphor in and of itself] is not "contained" in scripture any more than it can be "contained" in human thoughts or brains.  I hope that most mainstream Christians agree that whenever we begin to limit God to expression that falls solely within the constraints of human language, and even more so when we subject that language to a literal interpretation, we make the grave error of remaking God according to our own likeness. 

By reframing Whitsitt's point as an extreme view, claiming that he doesn't believe the Bible is authoritative, Whitsitt's detractors have gravely misstated his position.  They fail to address in any way Whitsitt's actual observation, which is that disagreement over social issues facing the denomination is really just a symptom of a deeper disagreement, which is to ascertain how do we decide what this writing MEANS, with respect to how we address this social issue?  Must we always pay homage to literal interpretations of scripture, choosing the literal over the metaphorical in every instance?  Whitsitt thinks not.  If the detractors were honest with themselves, I imagine they would not adhere to a literal interpretation of the Bible in every instance, either.   Not only have Whitsitt's detractors committed logical error, they've also violated a basic tenet of scripture itself.  Namely, the duty to speak truthfully regarding our fellow Christians: "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body."  This logical fallacy --   misstating the view of one’s debate opponent --  is also a specifically enumerated sin! 

To my way of thinking, these men commenting in the Layman are modern day Sophists:  seeking to be wise, they become fools.   They reveal themselves as fools not just because they speak untruths, but because they are thinking in a small minded way, at odds with deeper spiritual principles.  For when one member of the body of Christ is injured, we all are injured.  When even one is wounded, Jesus weeps.  I’m not going to quote a chapter and verse for this.  The detractors, if they are familiar with their Bibles, should know those.  

The comments in The Layman by Whitsitt’s detractors make it appear that they think they are winning and scoring points, as if they were playing in a game of one-upsmanship.  Strutting like gamecocks, writing letters with headlines like “More Liberal Drool,” and “Stay and Risk Decay,” they congratulate and encourage each other in finding fault with church leaders.  "Oh, I see you’ve located one more reason to proclaim the mainline denomination is going to hell, let’s congratulate each other on how bad it is!"  One imagines a figurative patting on the back, a scorekeeping where the writer checks a box that says “one up”.  But what they are really accomplishing, is nothing less than to wound the body of Christ. 

I know that I certainly feel insulted, belittled, betrayed, misrepresented, and misunderstood by this kind of "trash talk" aimed in my general direction.   And I’m not the only one.  We who are wounded would rather find common ground with these other Believers,  yet we find ourselves feeling spat upon, figuratively speaking, by the scornful attitude and deliberate misrepresentation of our earnest and sincere efforts when we attempt to engage in dialogue with them.   (What Whitsitt actually said can be heard HERE.)      

In spite of, and not because of, their thumping on its cover and proclaiming it as the “Word of God,”  I will continue to think that the Bible is one of the most beautiful writings ever.  I will continue to believe that to literalize the Bible, trivializes it.  To the extent that the Sophists proclaim that my refusal to trivialize the Bible means that I don't think it's the "Word of God," they lie and mis-state my position.  How dare they!  To the extent they are willing to engage in hyperbole and deliberate mis-statements, they should be ashamed. 

Great for boosting TV ratings, great for selling magazines, great for strutting and shooting pot shots.  Terrible for dialogue.  Tragic for the church.  Once again, Screwtape, take note! 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who Am I, and Who Are You?

In a blog posted today on Huffington Post (click HERE for link), Skye Jethani speaks of two different kinds of judgment.  One is a judgment concerning good versus evil, the other is a type of judgment in which we judge another in a self righteous way. 

Jethani quotes Martin Luther King, Jr., from a sermon on why the pre-judgment of segregation is wrong:  “Ultimately, segregation is morally wrong and sinful . . . because it substitutes an "I-It" relationship for the "I-Thou" relationship and relegates persons to the status of things.” 

Then Jethani continues: 

Judgment causes us to see the other not as a person, but as a thing, as less human and therefore less valuable. And once we do that to a person or a group of people, it opens the door to all kinds of terrible evil -- segregation, injustice, abuse, even genocide. Jesus is warning us about excluding anyone, or seeing ourselves or our group as inherently better than any other. We may disagree and discern another person or group to be wrong, but when that discernment causes us to value another person or group less, then we've crossed the line into judgment, condemnation, and exclusion.

He concludes:

When we see other people as wrong, not just about what they believe, but in their core identity as people, then it's easy to convince ourselves that we don't have to love them, that we don't have to serve them, and that we don't have to respect them. This exclusion and condemnation of others fuels so much of what's broken in our world today. It's what convinces one group to kill another, or one person to abuse another.

But Jesus says, not so with you. Not among my people. The Christian is never to judge, never to condemn, never to exclude, never to see anyone as without value or dignity, even the person he or she disagrees with most. . . .  "The Christian's job is to agree with God that every person you meet was worth Jesus dying for." We cannot ascribe that kind of value and dignity to people and condemn them as worthless at the same time. It's just not possible.

Think about it! 

How Does Your Church Manage Conflict?

Rare is the church that has no conflict at all.  The question is not whether your church has conflict, but how the leaders in your congregation deal with it. 

Sometimes church leaders have a strong urge to stifle conflict.  This is a response driven by fear.   The problem is that ignoring the conflict doesn’t make it go away.  To the contrary, pretending that nothing is wrong can make matters worse.  Stifling the expression without addressing the cause leaves the splinter to fester deep within the wound, causing further irritation and even infection.  Some refer to this as faking peace. 

The problem is that a faked peace is not an authentic peace.  The cause of the conflict remains unchecked, leading to escalation of and worsening of division.  Sooner or later, the facade of a faked peace will come falling down.  Denial of a problem merely delays (and even worsens) the inevitable day of reckoning. 

One of the worst examples of denial being reported at the present time appears to be the tragic lack of response of the Catholic church to allegations of child abuse.  The only point of bringing up this tragedy and failure of leadership is to point out that lack of response to the tragedy led to broadening and magnification of the problem, not to its going away. 

On the other hand, there’s the other extreme, of a congregation that squares off against one another, forming factions that fight, lobby for position, and wage personal attacks against one another.  Rather than faking the peace, call this breaking the peace. 

Peace breakers deal with conflict in negative and destructive ways that are all too familiar:  by engaging in name calling and trash talk, through polarization and staking out extreme positions, by failing to take responsibility, by blaming others, by failing to listen or communicate, by failing to consider reasonable proposals, by escalating conflict through adoption of extreme “winner take all” positions that leave no room for compromise.  The peace breakers marginalize others, let anger (including self-righteous indignation) govern their actions, take “I win, you lose” positions, and are callous to the effects of using verbal barbs which leave their opponents wounded on the battlefield of conflict. 

The peace breakers are the worst nightmare of the peace fakers.  The peace breakers take over churches like a motorcycle gang, revving their engines and wearing leather jackets that say “My way or the high way,” and causing the less adversarial members of the congregation to run for shelter in churches elsewhere that seem more welcoming. 

In a recent tiff within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA denomination), a Pastor confronted a member of the governing board (an Elder) concerning comments by the Elder which the Pastor viewed as racist.  An article about the conflict, and the way the church dealt with it, appears HERE

The conflict was not dealt with perfectly.  There is no mention of any efforts at mediation or peacemaking, but there was an effort at a middle ground, which is to communicate, to acknowledge the conflict, and to deal with it in an appropriate manner.  The pastor confronted the Elder privately first and then publicly, and also began preaching sermons about racism.  The Elder, in retaliation, began lobbying for the congregation to fire the pastor from his position.  In a deeply divided and close vote, the congregation elected not to fire the pastor.  As the conflict escalated, there was some intervention by the ruling body of the denomination.  As a result, several families left the church, which is not an ideal situation.  Nevertheless, the conflict was addressed.  Now, the congregation has an opportunity to move forward and to heal from that conflict.  The article reports that the congregation is beginning to regroup and expand again, now that divisive issues and ideas have been addressed from the root. 

This conflict, and this report, is a reminder that sweeping negative issues under the rug is not always a good idea. But as the split in the PCA congregation illustrates, conflict that is escalated and dealt with in an adversarial manner will cause loss of congregants and deep wounds.  Is there a better way?

In a nutshell, yes.  The middle way is to “Make Peace”.  Peace making is not a skill that is particularly well taught in our society.  Just because someone has been selected to sit on a governing board does not mean they have good conflict resolution skills.   However, there are specific techniques and skills that can be taught during leadership development and utilized to help congregations address conflict constructively. 

Does your church’s leadership development program include training in conflict resolution skills?  Is your congregation equipped to address conflict in ways that uplift one another, that affirm the love that God has for each of God’s children, at the same time you work through conflict?  Is the gospel of peace and reconciliation not just part of  your weekly message, but is it part of your witness in how you live your congregational life?  If the answer is yes, great.  On the other hand, If this is not something your congregation or church leadership has given close attention to, consider seeking some training for your congregation in healthy leadership and conflict resolution skills.  

The potential for conflict exists in every congregation.  Conflict can be handled in positive or in negative ways.   Help your congregation develop skills in making peace.