Conflict and Healthy Communication

This week begins our summer of lay speakers and guest devotional-ists.  Our writer and speaker for the week of July 5th is Robert (Bobby) Langhorne, a member of the Coop and McMinnville UMC.  We are happy to have Bobby open our summer program and look forward to a season of new voices!

James 1:1-8, 19-25 (NRSV)

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Greetings. Faith and Wisdom

2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy,

3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance;

4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.

6 But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind;

7, 8 for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;

20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.

21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.

23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror;

24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.

25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

Devotional

The book of James is probably my favorite in the Bible. The Epistle – another word for letter – has a lot of great things to say about ways we can structure our lives to be good Christians. It has a lot of beautiful language and metaphor, using Greek that is rarely found in the Bible. For instance, that part in verse 6 – “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind” – it’s a beautiful image. In verse 16, not quoted above, he refers to God as the “Father of Lights.”

James paints a vibrant picture. He speaks of “testing our faith”, using the Greek word δολιμιον (dokimion), which was used in 1st century Greek to mean striking coins to ensure they were true – a great image. He also talks about doubt as δίψυχος (dipsychos) being double-minded, but he doesn’t mean doubt like the small doubt you get occasionally. Here, James is talking about doubt that is a permanent division – a literal dividing of the soul.

It might be fitting that James talks about doubt so strongly – the Epistle is part of Luther’s Antilegomena – books that he questioned the authenticity of. Luther refers to it in different ways, once as “an Epistle of straw and destitute of an evangelic character,” but later Luther described it as a “good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God.”

The Church has had many conversations and arguments about what is canon, about how to worship, how to live, how to be a Christian. At the Co-op, we have those discussions too. In the last two thousand years, there have been times when the divisions in Christianity looked like the survival of the fittest, but that does not have to be our experience here. We have room for many voices and many opinions. Tolerance has room to occur at the Co-op because we recognize the game does not have to be zero-sum.

James is often described as a book of “how-tos”, Proverbs for the modern man. At the time that the book of James was written, the book of Proverbs was several hundred years old – well past the time for things to be updated. The time that James was written is disputed by Biblical scholars, much like many other Epistles. Some scholars say that the Epistle was written by James the brother of Jesus before his death in 62 AD. Other scholars claim it was written around 90 AD and attributed to James by an unknown writer in order to carry more authority. Regardless, the book has been around since at least the 2nd century AD (it shows up in essays by people trying to decide what books should be in the Bible), which was many hundreds of years ago. Perhaps it is time to add some more Proverbs to how we should approach Christianity today.

An Eastern Orthodox Protopresbyter by the name of Thomas Hopko had a similar idea. He came up with 55 modern Proverbs for how Christians should live, just as James had written his “how-tos” earlier. I’ve chose twelve of Fr. Hopko’s Proverbs for brevity here – I wanted a nice even list of 10, but I just couldn’t get it down that far:

  • Be always with Christ.

  • Pray as you can, not as you want.

  • Spend some time in silence every day.

  • Do acts of mercy in secret.

  • Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.

  • Read good books a little at a time.

  • Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.

  • Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.

  • Be faithful in little things

  • Be grateful in all things.

  • Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.

  • Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.

I recommend you read the rest of his list if you get a chance, it is really great: http://www.virtueonline.org/modern-proverbs-55-maxims-christian-living-0

I do not always agree with all the things Fr. Hopko had to say in his life, but that is the point. The church is not made up of one voice only, but many voices that blend. Sometimes they blend into unity, but sometimes that point of unity is only if you are standing far enough back.

Here at the Co-op, we have room for many voices, many debates, many ideas. The church is a reservoir filled up by the individual drops of each person’s mind. That reservoir is going to be there for us for a long time, but we have to treat with some care. Strife, unreasoning discord and violent thoughts will drain the drops away until we have nothing left. But if we approach every issue, every situation that we may come across, with the wisdom of James or even Fr. Hopko, that reservoir will be around for a long time to come.

Quotes of the Week

“Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts…” – Robert Fulghum

“It doesn’t matter what you say you believe – it only matters what you do” – Robert Fulghum

“In the end, the aggressors always destroy themselves, making way for others who know how to cooperate and get along. Life is much less a competitive struggle for survival than a triumph of cooperation and creativity.” – Fritjof Capra

“We must never despair; our situation has been compromising before, and it has changed for the better; so I trust it will again. If difficulties arise, we must put forth new exertion and proportion our efforts to the exigencies of the times.” – George Washington

“Prayer is a strong wall and fortress of the church; it is a goodly Christian weapon.” – Martin Luther

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” – John Wesley

Questions for the Week

If you were to put together a guide for how modern Christians should live their life, what kind of things would you include in it?

Can conflict be healthy?

How would you structure a conversation with many differing opinions so that it does not degrade into unhealthy discord?

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