Tag Archives: mediation

The Weapons of Outrage (and Why They Won’t Work in the Church)

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

A Broken Culture

I don’t have to tell you about the ridiculous state of brokenness in our public discourse. The divide between worldviews in our culture grows deeper by the day. The rules of engagement are changing faster than any of us can fully absorb. So are the weapons. Each “side”, in its obsession with destroying the “other side”, gets more and more creative with its narrative. And, to the extent there are any institutions with any integrity left, both sides have gone after them mercilessly in order to coop them for their own political purposes.

The culture wars tainted social media and completely coopted mainstream media. Similarly, well-intentioned non-profit organizations have been turned. Alas, even the church has been twisted, reshaped and weaponized for the battle. The great divide took an untold number of otherwise profound, complicated social problems and sucked them into the fray, reducing them to trite, idealogical soundbites. This pretty much guarantees no real solutions will be forthcoming. That is because problem-solving is no longer the goal. Winning is the goal. No matter the cost.

The Weapons of this War

In this culture of outrage, all problem-solving begins with an underlying assumption that one “side” must win and one must lose. There are no options outside this false duality. That is the war we are fighting. Those are the rules of engagement. The weapons are false narratives, confirmation bias, identity politics, and fear mongering. These are the weapons …

By Anything but Prayer

 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Mark 9:26-29

prayerI can still remember the first church dispute I officially mediated. I had been involved in literally hundreds of mediations as an attorney/mediator, many involving issues worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Then there was this conflict in a tiny church involving a dozen or so people and I thought to myself, “How hard can this be?” I remember whispering a short prayer or two on my way to the church, thinking this would be a simple matter to iron out…three, maybe four hours, tops. Two days later, the church split, the pastor left, and I had almost certainly done more damage than good. It was by far the most humbling experience of my life.

The lesson there had nothing to do with mediation skills. It had everything to do with prayer, and the only meaningful source of power for anything at all having to do with Christ’s church. Unfortunately, I did not learn the lesson then. There have been many more occasions in my own church since then where my own “expertise” or efficiencies have gotten in the way of what God was doing. I have come to see this problem as a part of the human condition…or at least MY human condition.

It was certainly the lesson for the disciples in Mark 9. A very short time before that failure at …

A Peacemaker’s Advent: Mary and Joseph

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”… When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  Matthew 1:19-21, 23

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  Luke 1:35-38

The Christmas story is filled with contrasts between those who rearranged their very lives in order to make room for the birth of the Messiah and those who either opposed His birth or were completely indifferent to it.  Mary and Joseph had their lives changed forever.  Their obedience and their ability to embrace a seemingly impossible circumstance set them apart.  Even more, it was their willingness to set aside their own pretty good plans in order to be obedient to God which makes them perfect …

The Heart of Your Conflict

Tuesday Re-mix:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them.For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23

If you’re a peacemaker, you need to have read The Anatomy of Peace, a publication of the Arbinger Institute. My first time through it,  I also happened to be working through the gospel of Mark in my church’s regular Bible study. As so often happens, both lessons converged for me.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAeF-pGoAxM&w=560&h=315]

By far the most difficult task before me in any mediation of any conflict (church or otherwise) is getting a conflicted party to quit pointing to all the flaws in the other party and to look inward, at his/her own heart and how he/she has contributed to the conflict. So difficult is it, in fact, that when it does happen it almost always represents an important “a-ha” moment in the peace process.

I think that, for people who value the Holy Scripture, it has the power to bring about that kind of reflection. Words like Jesus’ in Mark 7 can cause us to reflect a little deeper than just our surface “position” on a given issue, and rather consider our “heart” and how we have chosen to express that position. The writers of The Anatomy of Peace refer to it as our “way of being” or as a “heart at war” as opposed to a “heart at peace”.

I see it in every conflict. It is not so much a party’s position or stance on an issue which causes conflict to escalate. Our position is external to us. What escalates the conflict (what “defiles” us) is our …

Your Calling to Do Hard Things

Tuesday Re-mix –

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

 And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

 He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’  Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.  Isaiah 6:8-10

Believe me when I tell you there are parts of my work as an attorney which I do not like.  Likewise, there are parts of my work as a church mediator which are hard and not very rewarding.  Likewise, there are parts of my various assignments as a church leader which I would definitely rather not do…things I definitely do not feel “gifted” to do, but which my leadership requires nonetheless.

struggling-turtleIsaiah’s calling was almost certainly not to do something he enjoyed doing.  It was a calling to do a very hard thing…for over forty years…with practically no visible return whatsoever.

So, I hope my pastor friends will understand when I tend to look with some skepticism at their desire to just do the part of pastoring which they enjoy doing.  Some would like to just focus on the preaching and teaching without having to bother with the “pastoral care” parts.  Others would like to focus on the administrative aspects without having to do so much preaching and teaching.  Still others could be content just doing hospital visits all day long and never having to attend another insufferable committee meeting.

Shepherding God’s people includes all of those things.  You don’t have to be good at all of them…but you do have to do all of them.  If you don’t feel called to visit sick people and to counsel grieving people…you probably are not called …

Eye Contact with God

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Come, let us discuss this,”
says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be as white as snow;
though they are as red as crimson,
they will be like wool. Isaiah 1:18

“Cross-examination is the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.” John Henry Wigmore

As an attorney in America, I am part of a legal system which assumes the adversarial system is the surest means to finding the truth. That assumption contemplates two parties, face to face, exchanging arguments in such a way that the truth somehow wriggles out. It does not have to be litigation–it can be arbitration or even mediation–but there is something about standing (or sitting) and looking someone in the eye which just lends itself to more truth and to less manipulation. I have come to believe in that process, when done correctly, as one which works…most of the time.

Interestingly, litigants in our culture have often never taken this opportunity. They just go and hire lawyers and file cases and it may be years before they actually sit down face to face and exchange contentions. Most jurisdictions today actually require it (i.e., some form of mediation) before you can proceed to trial. I think that is a good thing.

eye-contactGod requires it as well. When we have gotten things horribly wrong and have rebelled against Him and continue to get deeper and deeper in trouble, what He waits for, LONGS for, is the conversation. He waits for the moment when we will sit knee-to-knee with Him (so to speak), make eye contact with Him and Him with us, and talk with Him. If you have parented teenagers, you know this feeling…when they are rebelling and refusing to listen, what you want more than anything else …

When All Else Fails, Read the Instructions

Tuesday Re-mix – 

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James 1:23-24

When installing an appliance or putting together a piece of furniture, it seems to me there are levels of understanding. The lowest level is when you know you don’t know anything at all, so you sit down with the instructions first, before you do anything.  The next level is when you think you know something about it, so you start without the instructions and soon find that your are in fact an idiot and then sit down with the instructions. The third level of understanding is when you know enough about the task to know that each case is a little different, so you start by sitting down with the instructions.

If there are higher levels of understanding than this, I admit to being totally out of touch with them.  I myself typically float back and forth between the first two levels. When my wife sees me walking through the house carrying a tool, she immediately drops what she’s doing and follows me as she grabs the phone and calls for help. I have learned (mostly the hard way) how helpful it is to read and follow the instructions from the beginning.  In my case, it doesn’t guarantee success, but it at least prevents me from screwing my table top into the floor, or other such embarrassing results.

When asked how I can mediate congregational conflict in such a wide variety of denominations and churches, how it is possible to effectively navigate church conflict even with little understanding of the culture, the answer seems obvious to …

Understanding the Rules of Engagement

Tuesday Re-mix –

My South African friend, Frank, tells a great story about being in a motorcycle gang when he turned his life over to the Lord.  A member of the gang confronted him: “So, I hear you’re a Christian now.”  “That’s right,” said Frank.  The gang member continued, “So, if I hit you, you have to turn the other cheek.”  “That’s right,” said Frank, “That’s what the scripture tells me.”  So the gang member belted Frank, right across the face.  Frank obediently turned the other cheek.  The gang member hit him again, maybe a little harder this time.  Frank straightened himself out, looked back at the gang member…and flattened him.  Then Frank told him, “Scripture gives no further instructions after that.”

It’s important to know the rules of engagement.

In the Christian church, the rules of engagement are all spelled out for us in God’s Word.  The Bible, then, becomes the cultural guideline for all of our interaction with one another, whether in times of conflict or in times of agreement.  In most Christian churches, the Bible is held among the very highest of values.  Understanding that culture (i.e., the rules of engagement), then, requires understanding God’s Word.  I think it is fair to say that, in the church today, one of the critical limiting factors to finding peace with one another is Biblical illiteracy.  By the same token, all of the most effective peacemakers I know in the church, past or present, have had a pretty good working knowledge of scripture.

In the secular world, at least in our culture, the highest value in mediation is the agreement.  In other words, that the parties agree is what matters most.  It doesn’t matter so much whether the agreement is fair or unfair or good or bad.  If the parties