Conflict Training

This is a photo of me as a “Fighting Gamecock” USC fan, not of my leadership style! This week has been spent in a Lombard Mennonite Peace Center “Conflict Mediation” Seminar. Well, that’s a mouthfull, but the training has been good. Conflict can even be good, “Iron sharpens iron,” says the Psalmist, but it’s tough work to look for the good in a stressful situation.

As a District Superintendent I spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with people who want me to “straighten out their preacher.” Sometimes they might be right, but I know enough about Edwin Freidman and Murray Bowen (I hope) to not buy into their triangulation. I hope to be non-reactive and stay objective as I mediate. For me, that means cutting down on my facial expressions, no nods up or down, and mostly grunts and innocuous words that state that I have been listening adequately to both sides.
This is exhausting. But community is worth the effort. Scott Peck’s book on peacemaking A Different Drummer has long been a favorite. He sums up life, church, work, and home, etc. as falling somewhere on a continuum between the following stages of community: pseudocommunity, chaos, emptiness, and real community. Some want to avoid conflict and stay in a fake community. To get to real community you have to dare to confront, speaking the truth in love through emptiness.
I hope to do better at listening to people, being objective, empowering people to come to the table and work through their differences. To do it, I’ve got to nail my feet to the floor, and maybe superglue my mouth shut. The main thing is to love, love, love; and listen, listen, listen. Every day is an adventure.

Setting Sun or Beginning of a New Day

The sun in setting on summer. I rushed off to Mt. Mitchell for one last solo trip Sunday afternoon and got back yesterday around lunch. The photo is a shot from just beyond my campfire looking south toward Old Fort and East Asheville. The temps dropped down to the upper 40’s but were absolutely wonderful during the day.
It was a great time to process the whole episcopal election experience and spiritually prepare for my return as Columbia D.S. The sun is NOT setting on my ministry in Columbia and S.C. I read some helpful books during my time around the fire. Of course they are follow-ups to Edwin Friedman’s Generation to Generation and Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. This weekend I read Peter Steinke’s Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What, and two of Roberta Gilbert’s books on Systems Thinking: Extraordinary Relationships and The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory. Before you begin to think I’m a nerd of sorts, I did read a mystery novel The Woods by Harlan Coben. It was a good read.
Actually, all of the books meshed well. Even The Woods had a lot of systems thinking in it, the interrelatedness of life and how to stay connected and be an individual at the same time. Sounds like our United Methodist system. Our polity gives title to church property to the local church, but it is held in trust for the denomination. Our Connection is a family system!
Here’s the rub, how do we keep from becoming separate silos of ministry doing our own thing without losing our sense of who we are as an integral part of the United Methodist Connection? Paying apportionments certainly isn’t the best way to be connected. Better ways in my mind include fellowship and worship/mission opportunities for laity and clergy to connect and share, in a class meeting-like style, what works and what doesn’t in any given setting. My hope in the Columbia District is to provide lots of these opportunities. We will build a community of faith that proves that the Connection is real. Read Paragraph 701 of the 2004 Book of Discipline for one of the best summations of who we are as a family system. So, the sun isn’t setting on us as a denomination, especially if we will embrace our shared identity and live it!