Category Archives: Conflict resolution

What Does Joining a Christian Community Mean?

Joining a Christian community means committing ones self to living a way of life with a shared goal: serving Jesus Christ. What does that mean? It means taking up the call of following Jesus with a particular people, doing particular things, but always praying together, reading Scripture, and being faithful in attendance to one’s Christian church. What it doesn’t mean is being controlled by a dominant personality, always being told what to do, or making decisions solely on the basis of pressure in any direction. If living in community comes down to the food, clothing, or room and board being held over the member and threatened to be taken away, the real purpose for being together is lost. In a similar way if a member feels that they are working for the community and so the community must pay them back by paying off bills, the real purpose of being there may have been lost. Community is about consensus and a willingness to take responsibility for what is needed because of the shared commitment to Christ. There are many ways of doing a thing and so it must be decided how the group will work together. Who will do what and how. My way of doing things is not the only way, but it is a way. I can’t get bitter or look down on other members for not doing a thing as I would have.
There is a bond that community members share in Christ. Philippians 2:1-5 It involves “encouragement, solace in love, participation in the Spirit, compassion and mercy, being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.”
And what is that one thing? The same attitude that Christ had. “He emptied himself, took the form of a slave, humbling himself became obedient to death on a cross.” (vs. 8-9)
So how are we to humble ourselves “unto death”, and why? Doesn’t God want us alive? Well, yes but our attitude should be one of sacrifice, giving up our wills, our own agendas, our own way of making peace.

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Filed under Community, Conflict resolution, Personal, Prayer

Enough is Enough

A meditation on Matthew 5:38-48 and Matt 25:35

How many times do I have to turn the other cheek? How many times do I have to forgive? How many times do I have to welcome the stranger? How many times do I have to give drink to the thirsty? How many times do I have to feed the hungry?

I know very good people who grew very worn out by working with the homeless and poor and just got into safer occupations. The stress was just too much. I also know people who bought a gun to defend themselves because the stress of living in their neighborhood was just too much.

But when Jesus said “love your enemy” he didn’t mean one time. When he said “turn the other cheek” or “go the extra mile” he didn’t mean until you get tired of it. He said do it as a child of God. Do it because your heavenly father is perfect. God’s perfection is enough to absorb all the hatred and fear and fatigue in the world. His perfection keeps his children from ever exhausting His love. Notice I say His love. Knowing what Jesus wants means knowing we don’t have it on our own. We are never enough alone.


Being an advocate in the area for tent cities means being lied about. It means standing up for the unsheltered while the city says “there are plenty of shelters and space available.” It means being called a lot of names and having to be patient through a lot of confusion. Being an advocate in addition to being a pastor to the poor is exhausting. This morning I was up at 5:30am and on the radio live at 7am to answer call in questions patiently. I feel like I say the same things over and over and it still seems to be so confusing. But God’s supply is not exhausted. So I gotta just go back to God on my knees.


I can’t love my neighbor let alone my enemy but God’s perfection is never exhausted. I can’t give enough to all the poor to keep them provided for until they die, but God’s supply is never exhausted. And being anything less than a son in God’s family is not an option. Some people say of themselves, “I’m a bad Christian” but I say, leave it up to God to judge. Jesus came to set you free and if you want freedom then don’t settle for anything less. This world will eat you alive and leave nothing left of your memory. But God loved this sinful world and doesn’t consider it so far gone that you can’t be saved.


In a world where people couldn’t care less, be someone who couldn’t care more. Be someone who inspires hope in people that there are Christians trying to do what Jesus said, in the Spirit of Christ.

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Filed under Bible, Conflict resolution, homeless, homelessness, NLEC

Guest Post: Freedom from Animosity!

By Jeremy Nicholls

As Phillip was talking, I started visualizing a scene similar to “Taxi Driver”. A transient hotel. Tight stairways. A trail of blood. A very angry man and two extremely scared men trying to get away, and just LIVE…..

Janice invites these two homeless men into her apartment. She knows them well. She has a case of beer and wants some drinking partners. Being alcoholics and homeless, they oblige. They’re drinking, laughing, singing and telling stories. After a few hours, the alcohol is gone, so Janice steps out to go to the liquor store.

JD has been out all day, steps into his apartment and finds Phillip and Drew chilling in HIS apartment. They were laughing, yelling and intoxicated in HIS house. He knows them, but he does not want them in HIS house. It doesn’t matter that his girlfriend invited them in, he simply does not want them there; they were drinking up HIS money, the money he received being a respected Vietnam vet and a prisoner of war.

JD walks into the kitchen, grabs two knives and starts going absolutely ballistic. He advances toward Drew, but the smaller Drew starts using Phillip as a shield and escapes. His arms and chest get slashed. Dripping with blood, Phil manages to bulldoze out the door and stumble down the few flights of stairs.

Exhausted, Phillip gets outside and breathes a sigh of relief. The wounds aren’t too bad, but he looks up and sees his attacker charge at him with his two knives. Somehow JD had beat him down the stairs. As Phillip continues the story, I picture St. Peter’s attempt to protect his Lord by chopping off the guard’s ear. JD brings his two knives down upon Phillip, viciously slashing the top of his head. With this sudden increase of blood gushing from his skull, the violence finally ceased.

The police arrived. An ambulance came. JD was arrested. Drew appeared from behind a dumpster telling Phillip how he was on his way back in to rescue him. Phillip is exhausted and bleeding. He is mad at his friend’s cowardice, but decides not to argue. He was simply glad and relieved the traumatic event was over and takes the ride to the local hospital. He is thanking God he is still living!

As I sit there listening to Phillip and the other 2 guys talk about JD and the psychotic aftereffects of being a prisoner of war. I listen to how Janice is someone who continually stirs up “mess”. I sit there astounded by the severity of what happened. I am thankful Phillip is still alive to share his stories. I am wondering if there was any revenge bought on by the resulting hatred and nightmares. I don’t want to ask!

Phillip continues with words similar to these….
“About a year later, the prosecutor finds me and is trying to charge him with attempted murder or aggravated battery. He wants me to testify in court. He wants to bring him down. I look at him and laugh; ‘man, if you had come to me a week or a month after the fact, I would have had him fried on the electric chair. But it’s been almost a year man! It’s been a year! We’re cool! Let him be! Let him be free! How can I hold animosity in my heart toward him?'”

Phillip told this story in a local hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, where we were visiting another victim of pointless and unprovoked violence. These 3 men were viewing me as their pastor or priest, so they had asked me to pray over Ron and someone else I didn’t personally know, who was being kept alive by machines. We had held hands and prayed to the God who heals, forgives and endured the cross.

Stunned! This amazing story had left me sitting there; absolutely stunned! I think of all the pain, nightmares and trauma he suffered because of that dark night, and he just let it go. He laid it in the Lord’s arms! I look at Phillip and tell him, “what an example of Jesus – you are an example of Jesus!”

I had come to bless a brain bleeding and blackened Ron, yet ironically, an unusual source had blessed me through a horrifying dramatic story. After years of working with homeless folk, I have come to realize that I see more of Jesus in them (with all their struggles, addictions and sin), than they see in me. So I shared this with them….

“Rich and middle class Christians have so much to learn from you guys and the homeless community. Churches and families are too often divided by petty differences, financial matters and hurt feelings. It is easy to dodge and avoid when we see each other once a week and can vacate to the luxury of our homes. There can remain a bitter silence, and it can last for years. When someone lives in a shelter or on the street, dodging one another becomes almost impossible and the emotion comes to the surface. Vicious fights, threats and incidents do happen and, in my mind, I think reconciliation is an impossible dream! But, I love the fact that I am frequently proved wrong, because among the poor and homeless, forgiveness is ever present! Bitter enemies fellowship! Mercy is given! Grace is received! Love occurs!”

Today, Phillip and JD happily share meals together and all I can say is: Thank you Phillip for showing me what forgiveness truly is!

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Filed under Community, Conflict resolution, homeless, homelessness, love, money

sins to keep us out of heaven

As I think about some of the reactions to the ELCA’s statement on Human Sexuality, namely the claims that God’s judgment was leveled in the form of a tornado at the steeple etc. etc. I think about the other sins common to Christians that somehow don’t get the tornado treatment.

  • Worship of mammon. Jesus said, not that it is hard to be gay and enter the Kingdom, but rich. (Matt. 19:23) Can we say that it is hard to be rich and be an American Christian? No.
  • Lust. What is ignored in the ELCA’s statement by these self proclaimed prophets for the Lord (John Piper) is this statement:

“This is why this church opposes non-monogamous, promiscuous, or casual sexual relationships of any kind.

Indulging immediate desires for satisfaction, sexual or otherwise, is to “gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians

5:16–19). Such transient encounters do not allow for trust in the relationship to create the context for trust in sexual intimacy.” (pg. 16)

I don’t know how this could be any more clear. The Church opposes the sort of sex, gay or otherwise that is lustful.

Jesus’  demands the sort of truth telling that all churches find themselves in want for with these words:

Matt 5:27-29 NIV

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery .’   28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

  • Hate. This is the big one.

Matt 5:21-22

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool !’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. NIV

If you haven’t struggled with hate in the church I submit that you haven’t been close enough to anyone else in the church for enough time to really be a member. Church demands the kind of proximity and rigorous honesty that causes friction and yes, untoward anger. That we can be the Church and not kill each other is wonderful testimony of the grace of God and the active presence of the Holy Spirit.

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Consensus is work!

In Jacques Ellul’s spirit of making a statement and then quickly arguing three sides of it that seem contradictory, my last post on Consensus built largely on a popular notion of what consensus is, namely, a majority rule. Brian Grover reminded me that that’s actually what consensus is not. Since yesterday I have been reading On Conflict and Consensus: a handbook on Formal Consensus decisionmaking by C.T. Butler and Amy Rothstein. You could consider it an alternative to parliamentary procedure, namely Robert’s Rules of Order. Does this sound boring? I mean—who likes meetings?

Consensus is a decision making process. Every community and every church have decision making processes, but what Butler and Rothstein’s book address is the fact that many needed people get left out of that process. What quickly becomes apparent however is that in order for people to be included they have to want to be included.  Consensus relies on the assumption that we all have an important voice with matters to be considered. Herein lies the problem with politics in America.

Instead of believing that as citizens we each have a voice capable of thoughtful political discussion, we are a society of people content with uninvolvement. We get angry about the war or angry at people who are angry at the war and we clam up and turn on Fox News or MSNBC (sorry Jon) and fill our brains with rhetoric rather than formulating actual positions. Do you all know what polling places want to see on election day? What they would say is a good day? 50% of registered voters.  And then we have theorists who say, “This demonstrates a healthy democracy. People are satisfied with the economy and our system of checks and balances. That’s why they don’t vote.” Now that is something to be angry about!

Real consensus is hard to achieve because as Americans and as Christians we are not adequately equipped with resources necessary to formulate real dialogue. I know for instance that in church calling a large meeting to discuss the war would have a lower turnout than if we handed out fifty dollar bills and assigned seats in a van to go and collectively get root canals at the dentist! (In fact I think a lot of us want those!) Why? Because as a society we’ve been trained to feel helpless on international issues. Now isn’t it the church’s job to empower people? To let them know that Christ’s Kingdom reality can change the world? Yes, but I would argue that this must happen one person at a time, and you know what? People forget. People revert to old bad patterns of thinking. People are sinners. Yes, consensus is work.

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Learning to love realistically

Lord, how do I love my family when their loves are in conflict with my own? I mean, you know the political issues that really burn me up: when Christian leaders proffer an idolatrous Nationalism, preach against caring for Creation, adopt far right wing international agendas, teach and preach against women in leadership. You know how I feel about all these things. But what do I do when the issues get personal, when I can’t approach such things among my own family members, when there’s an uneasy quiet in the room because I just can’t say what I’m really thinking. And that quiet goes both ways. I know what they think of my doctrinal and political differences. We agree not to talk about it. I feel as though a big confrontation is just around the corner. Like the storm is coming and its only a matter of time until the accusations get thrown about. Is there real peace in situations like this? Dear God, how do we really talk about our loves and concerns for this world and its future without dissension?

With the recent discussions on the Reformation and Protestantism fresh in my mind, I’d like to extend the conversation into where the proverbial shit hits the fan: at home. Sometimes the blogosphere is the easiest place to talk about theology, doctrine, ecumenism, and politics simply because its set up to attract parties largely in agreement. I’m in a bit of a personal crisis right now that brings it all home to me. Namely, what do I do when my family and I find ourselves diametrically opposed on crucial issues?

How does this connect with the question of Protestantism? Because we are not Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, liberal, conservative, womanist, hierarchalist, revivalist, ecumenist, preterist, zionist, creationist, or evolutionist, in the abstract. These different allegiances come home to roost. For example, if a family member and I are on the same couch watching the Fox News Network for any given length of time, one of us will sigh or leave the room—and I guarantee it will be me. If the subject of women in leadership is brought up, I have a strong dog in that fight. I cannot join or regularly attend a church that excludes women from the Spirit’s giftings.

If a family member I loved were to extol the spiritual benefits of joining John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, my pain and outrage would seem to be without measure. The list of issues and concerns goes on and on, but this gives you have a picture of the fault-line within my own extended family. I’ve made it personal. Why do I do this? Because, from where I sit this is a realistic picture of only some of the divisions within the Church, irrespective of denomination.

There are people whose job it is to deal with conflict resolution. I stand amazed at such people. I can guess that they are certainly not perfect at home themselves, but the ability to stand in the face of someone opposed to you and not back down, avoid, sidestep or let up, is a strong witness that I have far to go. I think in particular of Cliff Kindy and Jim Fitz of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

I see them only on occasion and I read about their work, but I’ve had the privilege of watching Cliff in action, actively listening to someone I would call a wacko expound on a dream about hand-to-hand combat with terrorists in Palestine. I have to guiltily confess that I barely cast an eye at such people. I’d rather shoo them away like a mosquito. I easily other them without thinking twice—until I hear it in the family room, then its a crisis. Cliff calmly walked and talked, eagerly heard the man’s words, did not rush to make his own point, but then calmly engaged the man with another way of seeing the people he did not understand. What I observed that day in Cliff, that active listening with good questions that provoked healing discussion, created a longing in me to be that sort of person.

I have to equate his sort of conversing with watching Lou Ferrigno lift weights. Its rather daunting and I hardly know where to begin. They do this all the time and I have the guilty pleasure of living rather conflict-free. My family members live hundreds of miles away and we just agree not to approach certain topics. This doesn’t keep the pain of my knowledge of their very different beliefs and interests from effecting me.

I found these five core principles from the Common Ground Approach that think I can be safely applied to managing and resolving conflict within Christian families. Here they are:

To me, following Jesus means becoming the kind of person who will not fear conflict, but can transform it. It means looking for common ground, taking the long view of peace as a process, and finally remembering that we humans are interdependent. We need each other, even where we disagree. My truth is not the whole truth. I must be open.

So is that it? No, that’s just the beginning. Like picking a rigorous exercise program, I know the sort of sore muscles, potential injuries, and relapses ahead from experience. But we’re looking for healthy interpersonal relationships here! Those aren’t fostered by hiding behind surface chit-chat. The bottom line is how can I get to know Jesus better through this family member (whom I’m at times tempted to despise)? How can I offer my prayers and support in good conscience?

Recommended Sites:

Search for Common Ground

Christian Peacemaker Teams

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