The Art of Confrontation
By Kent French
February 13, 2020 - 5:49am
One of the things I’ve learned in parish ministry is that effective, skillful communication can be hard. Not just in how to get the word out about our multiple activities and what’s happening in different areas of a vibrant congregation — that’s challenging enough. But what it means to communicate in consistently healthy, kind, caring, loving ways, especially when our feelings or egos get in the way.
As I often say, we all bring our “stuff" to church, by which I mean our “spiritual baggage,” both good and hard. And sometimes that baggage gets in the way of good communication. Inevitably in community living, in work environments, in families, we step on one another’s toes. Sometimes we stomp on them. We experience some slight or wrong, whether real or perceived. And the test is in how we recover from it.
Many of us never really learned how to do effective heart-to-heart communication about difficult matters in our families of origin. Instead we probably learned good avoidance techniques. I’ve struggled with this myself. And over the past six years, I’ve invested in some books to help remedy the problem: Nonviolent Communication (Rosenberg), Difficult Conversations (Stone, Patton & Heen), The Art of Communicating (Thich Nhat Hanh). They are helpful. Who knew that something so basic as communication could require so much self-help?
Jesus apparently understood all of this quite well and gave us some very specific instructions about how to communicate directly about difficult matters. If you go to the 18th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew (18:15-22), he says that when someone sins against us (wrongs us), we are to go and talk directly with them about it. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, we are to bring someone else along with us. And if that doesn’t work, we are to bring the ENTIRE church community along with us to help us work it out.
Sound daunting? It is. Which just goes to show how culturally off-the-mark much of our lives are from Jesus’ instructions for healthy community living. You only have to open the news every day about our national politics to see how unhealthy communication is in our country.
On Sunday, we’ll dig into this passage and think about how we are called to live more authentically in right relationship with one another: family, friends, community members, co-workers, classmates, public leaders.
It’s important work. The kind of work that if we really put it into practice, could transform the world. Come join me as we try to figure it out.
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Image credit: Photo by Michael Bednarek, fineartamerica.com