Friday, May 31, 2013

The Smart Church by Connie Goodbread: CONFLICT

Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict -- alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence. -  Dorothy Thompson

Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy. -  Robert A. Heinlein

Human beings need to be challenged in order the thrive.  There is an old Star Trek episode where a nonhuman entity has been keeping a man alive and safe for a long time and can’t understand why he is not thriving and happy.  In the movie Star Man the alien says, “You (humans) are at your best when things are at their worst.”

Carl Jung - in his idea of the collective unconscious - thought that human beings go through periods of collective change or evolution when something extraordinary is possible.   He thought that over and over again we choose the path we will take.  In 1913 he thought that we were at one of these liminal moments and we chose destruction. 

Are we always on the verge of something extraordinary happening?  Maybe so, but for some time now I have felt like there is something extraordinary happening.  I am sure that it is partially where I am in my own faith development.  But that can’t be all of it because something - and I use the word “magical “ - happens when a group of people get into a room and agree to work together in trust on something deep.  Where I call it magic, Jung might call it the collective unconscious.  We are so much more together than we are apart.

This spring I have spoken to leaders in 20 different congregations in our region who are sad because of the struggles that their congregation is going through.  Please know that this is not an overly large number.  Spring often brings forth new life and congregational struggles, life, after all, is a struggle and making it easy renders it meaningless.  Spring is often the time we begin work, in earnest, on staff transitions.  Spring is when we report our pledge figures and reestablish our covenant with our Association.  Spring is a renewing of energy and a time for looking forward.  Spring is a time of change and so we find ourselves often in conflict.  What is the foundational, fundamental value that keeps us in a state of creative, rather than destructive, conflict?  What is it that we must foster in our culture in order to have an alternative to violence?

I have mentioned Patrick Leniconi’s book The Advantage before - he says the value that is often missing is trust.  He says that when relationships break down over and over it is because the team has not taken the time to build trust. When we find ourselves in times of trouble, if we hold trust close and continue to lead from a place of vulnerability and strength, we will better help our community find its way.  Please understand that I do not mean that we ever allow ourselves to be bullied or abused.  The genuine response to abuse, in any form, is to confront it for what it is and use established processes to take it out of the system.  To be honest is to be vulnerable.  To be in covenant, we must trust and be honest with ourselves and each other.  We are not in genuine relationship if we are not behaving in a genuine manner.  Therefore, when we are feeling bullied we name that and find the correct action that will make it stop.  When trust is established on any team or fostered in any congregation as a cultural norm then we can be in creative rather than destructive conflict.  We will want to stay at the table, in the struggle, being our genuine selves until the path becomes clear.  Once the path is clear we take action, lovingly.  We commit our genuine selves to the task.  We hold ourselves first, and then others, accountable as we blissfully struggle toward our collective goal.

If your congregation is in the middle of a struggle, ask yourself if you trust everyone.  Ask if
trust is alive and well in your congregation.  Ask if you are leading from a place of vulnerability.  Ask if you are being genuine.   Ask if there is abuse of any kind happening.  Ask for help from the Association if you need it.  Call one of your Regional Staff people.  Let us help you to lead through the times of trouble, into a vibrant and dynamic future.  

The ingredient that we need to add to our Unitarian Universalist collective unconscious or to our magic potion, is trust - a pinch of trust.  I trust that we will find our way.  I trust that we are more together than we are apart.  I trust that we will make glorious mistakes and experience grand successes.  I trust that you will forgive me when I fail.  I trust that this is the time for us to become.