In my last post, I referenced a poem by Joy Harjo in which she likens conflict resolution to the performing and literary arts. Lest you think Harjo—or I, for that matter—are absurd to suggest such a turn in thinking about conflict, she is not alone.
Four decades ago, the linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson wrote an article called “Metaphors We Live By” in which they begin to explore such a turn in thinking. In the article, Lakoff and Johnson explain how the metaphors we use to describe our world shade our view of the world. Fortunately for us, they used the example of argument to demonstrate their point.
If you’ve ever noticed, in the English language—or at least in North America—we are prone to speak in military terms when talking about argument and conflict. We shoot down the other person’s argument. We build up our defenses. Our argument was right on target—you get the drift. And this way of talking about conflict shapes how we think and feel about conflict which is often fraught with the whole gamut of negative vibes—from fear to frustration.
Lakoff and Johnson then pose the question of how our perspective of conflict would shift if instead, we used metaphors from the world of dance. Unfortunately, my dance skills and knowledge are on par with my musical talent when it comes to ineptness. The little I do know, though, let me imagine how our perception could shift if we used words like rhythm, timing, improvisation, partner, in-step, and so forth to describe our engagement with conflict. Rather than entering a win-or-lose situation with an opponent, you would instead be entering into the possibility of bringing something creative about with a partner.
I know that is a lot to ask and may seem far-fetched for those of us steeped in Western society. However, this is exactly the point Harjo makes in her poem. The way you win an argument does not rely on your ability to destroy your opponent but on your ability to enter into a creative engagement with a partner, much you as would when dancing, playing jazz, “or anything else that matters in this world.”
What would happen if we began to think of dealing with conflict using metaphors from the dance world or the music world? How would it change our attitude when encountering differences in our churches?
What other metaphors might be considered that would alleviate our anxiety when we learn there is conflict in our midst? How might those metaphors help us arrive at a “fierce understanding of each other” rather than tearing each other apart?
–Devon MillerRecognizing the Prophetic Voice Through Community
The New Year is often a time of turning pages in life, between reflecting on past chapters and finding meaning to guide writing the next. As Christians, we seek guidance from Scripture and prayer. But seeking inspiration is not just a solitary activity. In the context of a church congregation, it is a community job.
When we think about the life of a congregation and the experiences that bond its members, the highlights might come to mind: the moving sermon, the effective outreach, and the festive gathering. There are also the comforting aspects of participating in history, sharing in sacraments like 2,000 years of Christians before us. Ease comes from sharing in the service with the members of one’s community for so many years that you know the identity of the person in front of you without seeing their face, as their form and gait are so familiar. Yet there may be other experiences that bond a congregation: witnessing traumatic events; experiencing loss or injustice; maybe even just growing old together.
Each person in that church, whether ordained or not, impacts the community’s life. That may be by getting involved or walking away. It may be by showing up ready to welcome all, or by bearing hurts from the world. One may come for succor, and another to support. All are children of God and bear gifts to be nurtured and shared. During times of stability, one set of people’s gifts may come to the fore. Times of change can be stressful to the status quo but may also be an opportunity to develop the gifts of others. When things are calm sometimes the practice of listening stagnates. Change invites us to re-open our ears and hearts to those around us. Each person can offer insights into the prophetic voice of the community as the fresh pages of tomorrow are considered and words weighed.
Sometimes, hearing the truth from others is hard, especially where there is hurt or guilt. Sometimes, those normally involved in leadership are too close to the challenge, and for healing to happen a consultant must be brought in. This is the forte of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. We are not here to tell you what you should do but to create a safe space where substance and inspiration can be discerned to write new chapters that are not hampered by unfinished storylines of the past. Peace in community settings is a gift we give each other by listening to, respecting, understanding, and seeing the potential in each other as we face new situations in life. Meaning develops between members until the suitable words flow, speaking for the community from its prophetic heart. If you seek a coach to support hearing your community voice, we are here.