September 2012 Letter

I disagree!

 

Every community – whether that is a church, a village, a local society or a family – knows how sometimes the smallest disagreement or argument can spread and cause trouble out of all proportion to its actual importance.  When we know that life-long friendships can be ended in a storm about teacups, or families cease to speak to each other long after they have forgotten the ‘who said what to whom’ of the original disagreement, what chance do we have when genuinely serious causes of dissent raise their heads?

 

And in fact the Bible and some other classics of spiritual literature have some startlingly good advice for all of us when it comes to solving disputes, not taking offence, and generally getting on with one another.  St Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”   He also says, in his letter to the Christians at Rome, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

 

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples how to deal with someone who has harmed them.  “Go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the person listens to you, you have regained that one.  But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”  How different from what is sadly more often our first reaction – to go and moan about the person to all our friends, while leaving the person themselves perhaps not knowing at all how much they have upset us.  By the time they hear about it, positions are entrenched and defensiveness on both sides may make reconciliation impossible

 

St Benedict, who founded the famous Benedictine Order of monks was an expert on community living, and the ‘Rule’ he wrote for their guidance is particularly strong on the harmfulness of what he calls ‘murmuring’ – monks grumbling to other monks when there was a dissatisfaction instead of speaking to the abbot or other person in charge to see what could be done about the problem.  Anyone who has taken part in office conversations around the photocopier knows how that that is something that hasn’t gone out of date in the last thousand years or so, and unchecked it can sour the atmosphere of any organization.

 

Yes, of course it can feel very difficult to tell someone directly that they have upset us.  Sometimes, we may feel that the other person won’t listen, or might shout us down, or it may simply be hard to find a place to start.  Sometimes, the presence of a third person who can take a neutral stance and just be there to see fair play and keep both sides on their best behaviour can be very helpful.  In intractable situations, it may be possible to ask someone outside the situation to act as a ‘mediator’ to listen to both sides and help them to listen to and understand each other.

 

Is there a place or a group or a relationship that you are part of that needs some help in sweetening the air?  Could God be calling you to take a lead or to ask someone else to act as a mediator?  Or perhaps you need to pluck up the courage to speak to someone who has upset you.  Pray about it first, and ask for the Holy Spirit to give you the right timing and the right words.

 

Rev’d Karen Spray                 01392 877400                         church@revdkaren.org.uk


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