If you’re just picking this up after the holiday, Marti was still holed up in our tiny bathroom with the little electric space heater because our furnace was temporarily disabled, when she decided to allow me into the inner sanctum as long as I would allow her to hold court on an idea that has been taking shape in her thinking for some time. So I removed a few layers of clothing (my way of dealing with the cold), my stupid wooly hat with the earflaps down, and joined her. What she uncovered with me is a way of looking at things that forced me to pry open some long-standing evangelical cans of worms, and look at things in a new light. I must admit, I am still somewhat skeptical, though I see much sense in her ideas, and feel I must take them seriously, in case my hesitation is merely my religious in-breeding raising its ugly head. There is also the small matter that Marti is not stupid, has her own spiritual gifts and understandings, and has a history of being right, oh gosh, most of the time, I would have to say.
So here is her thinking in a nutshell, and realize this is my current understanding of her thinking, which is undoubtedly somewhat askew, but something I want to attempt, as I know that one of the quickest ways for me to get to the bottom of something new is to write about it and hear what someone else thinks about it. (That’s where you come in.)
It all centers on conflict. Conflict is necessary for real connection to take place. You can’t connect with anyone without conflict. Take the gospel, for instance. Sin obviously has created a conflict between God and us. God has solved that by putting our sin on His son on the cross. That works fine outside of time and space where these transactions have once-and-for-all consequences. However, inside of time and space where we live, sin is still a factor in our relationship with God, so therefore, conflict is too. And yet God connects with us anyway. He has found a way to connect with us – present tense – in our sin, which He paid for, and even more than this, He has reconciled us to Himself. So with Christ, the end result of facing into conflict is connection resulting in reconciliation. Not too bad a result for facing into something like conflict that most of us try to run away from. And facing conflict is not just a path to some deeper experience; it is a requirement for right relationships. We can’t experience reconciliation without embracing conflict just as we cannot experience forgiveness without embracing our sin.
There are only two choices when it comes to conflict: face into it or face away. One leads to reconciliation and hope, the other leads to isolation and further conflict. Think about America’s current political landscape for a good example of conflict without reconciliation. You have to go back to Civil War days to find the country more divided with no one willing to even try and connect with the other side.
But herein also lies the hope, because those willing to connect in spite of conflict will find an empowerment that comes from facing their own fears in the fears of others, seeing their poverty in the needs of others, and experiencing their judgment in the judgment of others toward them. This is what makes reconciliation possible, because in connecting, we are changed; we are simply not the same person we were before.
Every day is full of choices to remain comfortable – to stay within everything you know and believe, or face into the conflict of another outside yourself, and become vulnerable to the reconciliation process that comes through meeting Christ over and over again.
Nobody likes conflict (except perhaps my wife who seems to relish it most of the time). Most of us avoid it at all costs usually steering clear of anything that we know might cause it, but this in turn creates an isolation that drives us further apart.
In the midst of this new understanding, we had a family conflict last night that threatened to tear us apart. Marti wanted to dig in and find out the truth; Annie wanted to express her feelings freely; Chandler and I wanted to run, which would have been temporarily less painful (at least for us), but would have created a huge disconnect that would have been far more painful in the long run, and deeper. Instead, by choosing to connect in spite of the pain, we all became more vulnerable to reconciliation, Christ’s forgiveness and overcoming love.
Can I say we are all healed and hunky dory now? No. Can I say we are all in a place where we need God’s grace? Yes! And I can’t think of a better place to be.
More to come…