When a truth rests in our heart, it means that how we live will be different because of it. First, someone understands the truth in their head. Then they believe it in their heart. Then they bear out that belief through the actions of their body. In reflecting on the results of their actions, they gain a deeper understanding, and the cycle repeats.
I confess that I’m not sure, at the level of larger social and denominational structures, what can be done about this disagreement. Bonnie Kristian has spoken to the possibility of division in sobering terms; for many of our institutions we may have to say “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” But I do know that at the scale of interpersonal relationships and local congregations, Scripture calls for us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3 NIV) and to “bear with each other and forgive one another” (Colossians 3:13 NIV). To that end, I recommend four difficult steps for conversations about race:
1. Practice a Posture of Prayer
2. Have Humility
3. Hold Your Ground, Gently
4. Champion Cultural Change
The example of surgery is instructive, because the costs of failure are so stark. The “July effect,” so-called for the month when U.S. medical residents begin their work, has an even bleaker nickname in the United Kingdom: the killing season. That irreverent moniker reminds us that there is no “failure free” option for teaching human beings new skills, even in life-and-death disciplines. Every summer, the experts grimace and hand over the knife to those who have never held it before. Whatever our line of work, we can learn to do the same for those who need the chance to learn.
How we respond to suffering sets the bounds on our personal growth, including our emotional health and maturity. Our response to suffering is not just a one-time act of the will. It’s a whole set of habits that are reinforced over time as we encounter small difficulties, either preparing us or leaving us empty-handed when a bigger trial comes our way.
Thankfulness is not just an action we perform, but rather a disposition of life that, Lord willing, increases over time and shapes our responses to our experiences more and more readily. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). That daily petition is completed by daily gratitude for the daily bread God does supply, tracing the pattern on our hearts until the thankfulness comes easy, like the fit of a well-worn pair of shoes.
Scripture invites us into something far richer than a stale duty when we pray. Think about how energizing a genuine friendship can be. You look forward to spending time with the other person. You enjoy conversation with them. You feel close to them. Although we all will face times when prayer doesn’t feel like this, it’s also possible to experience times when it does.
Sometimes leaders can no longer honestly say, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair . . . struck down, but not destroyed.” Instead, they do feel crushed and near to despair. How do we recognize when it’s time to take a break, and what kind of change do we need?
People who are quiet by dint of personality have a particular gift to offer the broader Christian community… the habit of paying attention and being receptive comes much more naturally to some than others. The people who “take up the most space in the room” may not notice everything going on in the room. It’s hard to listen while you’re talking; those who talk less can take in more.
We Christians bring our own uniquely creative dysfunctions to the world of disagreement and conflict, don’t we? Like with bad movies, the best way to make bad conflict even worse is to add religion to the mix… I can think of at least three modes of conflict resolution that are bad in a distinctively Christian way.
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We post thoughtful insights on Christian life and leadership from our own team and awesome guest bloggers every other Thursday.