January 28, 2011

conflict is a reality

I have now been a part of my church community for three whole years.  It is amazing how fast time has gone by and how much we have accomplished with one another.
As I reflect upon my time in ministry, I feel very blessed. We have been a family. We have worked together. We worship and study and minister. And through it all, there has been almost no conflict!

I have to admit... that last statement makes me a little uncomfortable.  In part, I feel like we have been "playing nice" with one another for some time.  I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I wonder sometimes if I have done too much comforting of the afflicted and not enough afflicting of the comfortable.

During this season of Epiphany we have been exploring Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and it provided an excellent opportunity to talk about conflict.  While Paul urges the people to be united and not divided in heart, I wanted to make sure that my church heard that conflict, in and of itself, is not bad. It is a reality. We will have differences of opinion. We will have varying perspectives. That is a good thing. How we deal with conflict is what gets us into trouble. Paul's problem is not with the differences, but the fact that their differences have pitted them against one another; he urges them to seek a common unity in the cross of Christ.

As Christians, we have to be able to speak what we know. We have to be able to listen to what other people have to say. We have to dive into the Bible and let it be our foundation. We need to let the Holy Spirit guide us. All of these are good ways of handling conflict.

But we haven’t always let those things be our guide. And past conflicts have in many ways left this congregation tired and worn out. And so we choose not to engage anymore. We choose to be quiet. We choose to not participate.

I was reminded by a friend this week that what will destroy the church is not opposition from without, but indifference within. When we are content to sit back and let others make decisions… when we are afraid to speak the truth… when we don’t feel like we have anything to contribute… that is when the church should be worried.

While I am grateful for not having huge problems to deal with, I also want my congregation to know it is okay to speak up.
Speak up if we are going too slow or too fast. Speak up if you don’t understand. Speak up if you have a question. Speak up if you disagree. Speak up if you agree. Just participate. Be engaged. And know that every single one of you – from the quietest to the most outspoken – is a part of this Body of Christ… each of you are important and vital. Each of you has something to offer. Don’t be afraid.
I wrote those words a few days ago. And this morning, I have been glued to my computer as I watch the protests in Egypt.

Egyptians protest in central Cairo today.
Photograph: Khaled El Fiqi/EPA
(from guardian.co.uk)
A commentator on the live Al Jazeera English broadcast said that these protests are so unprecedented because for so long, the Egyptians sat back and were not involved.  They had become complacent and indifferent.
And then, they found their voice. A number of people have said that the Egyptians are no longer afraid. They are welcoming the tanks on the streets... it is a dare to continue protesting and they are taking up the challenge.
People from many different walks of life have come together today to protest the regime that has been in control in Egypt. Young and old, religious and non-religious, men and women have taken to the streets all across the country. There are men in suits and in jeans and t-shirts. Conflict is rampant...
Some are peacefully present.  Some stop in prayer. Some hurl rocks. Some shout. Even in the face of lines of communication being shut down, they are not afraid to speak and to continue to find ways to get their message out. What has troubled me today is how violent these protests have turned.  Years of pent up anger and frustration are being spilled out through fires and projectiles being thrown. Violence from the police and army and violence from protestors feed on one another. 
Today, the conflict that has erupted is good.  The greviances of the people should be heard. But let us pray that both people and government might find peaceful ways of resolving this conflict, of talking and communcating, of finding a way forward.

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