Some of you will remember who said that. His name was Rodney King. He was violently arrested by the Los Angeles police in 1992. Someone happened to record and share the incident, spawning the LA riots of 1992.
In an attempt to calm the situation, King released this statement: “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all JUST get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? … It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice … Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out.”
A lot of people kind of made fun of King and, what they seemed to think of as, a simplistic view of what was going on…but ya know, King kind of had it right. “Let’s try to work it out!”
And yet, when I look around at the way society is right now, in 2018, I don’t see much desire to work anything out. In fact, it reminds me of an old Popeye (don’t judge) cartoon. Olive Oyl is describing how things would be if she were president. After every proposal, we see a room will elephants on one side and donkeys on the other. No matter what one group agrees with, the other group disagrees: “We accept it!” “We reject it!”
Um … can we call that art predicting life? Well, if we can call a Popeye cartoon art.
Anyway, there’s an old saying that used to be proudly displayed on bumper stickers and plaques all over the United States: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Wow! I’m not seeing much of that going around these days, do you?
I know that we live in a world filled with conflict and disagreement. It seems like we’re more polarized every day … even in the family of God, we are finding it harder and harder to find any middle ground. There’s a problem with that, though. When we give our lives to Jesus Christ, we pretty much give up our right to be a contrarian.
“… God has called us to live in peace.” 1Corinthians 7:15
“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” 2Corinthians 13:11
“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” 1Thessalonians 5:12-15
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:14-15
And, just in case you’re thinking Paul was making a suggestion, here’s Jesus, Himself, COMMANDING us to love one another: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34
So, do you think all of this means that we should never disagree with each other – that we have to move forward in lock-step? Or can we disagree and still love each other and live in peace with each other? Can we even be angry with someone and still love them like Jesus asked us to?
Well, I believe we DO need to agree on things that lead to salvation, but after that, living in peace means allowing for people’s opinions, even when we don’t agree with them. But what do we do when our disagreements surround the way our local church is run? How our national/world church is run? Can we agree to disagree? Or do we need to take a stand? Is there room for differences in church organizations?
I’m not entirely sure I know the answers to any of those questions. I know, for myself, I absolutely detest conflict. I want everyone, everywhere to get along all the time! But I know that’s not possible in our broken, sinful world. So what does “healthy” (is there such a thing?) conflict look like?
“A young rabbi found a serious problem in his new congregation. During the Friday service, half the congregation stood for the prayers and half remained seated, and each side shouted at the other, insisting that theirs was the true tradition. Nothing the rabbi said or did helped solve the impasse. Finally, in desperation, the young rabbi sought out the synagogue’s 99-year-old founder.
“He met the old rabbi in the nursing home and poured out his troubles. ‘So tell me,’ he pleaded, ‘was it the tradition for the congregation to stand during the prayers?’
“‘No,’ answered the old rabbi.
“‘Ah,’ responded the younger man, ‘then it was the tradition to sit during the prayers.’
“‘No,’ answered the old rabbi.
“‘Well,’ the young rabbi responded, ‘what we have is complete chaos! Half the people stand and shout and the other half sit and scream.’
“‘Ah,’ said the old rabbi, ‘that was the tradition.’”
That would definitely be unhealthy conflict … do you think there’s a way to resolve such things within the church family, that do not have anything to do with salvation, in a way that no one gets their feelings hurt?
Maybe not. But maybe if we could all stop for a minute and realize that we may not know all the answers … maybe conflict, when it comes, would be easier to resolve.
“I used to do a lot of marriage counseling, and often one spouse would come in the office and start ranting and raving, ‘My husband does this …;’ ‘My wife never will do that …;’ and it would go on and on. I would sit there thinking, This counseling isn’t going to be very effective, because the person who apparently needs to change isn’t even in the room. So I would get a pad of paper, draw a circle on it, and say, ‘This is a pie that represents all the chaos in your marriage. Now, 100 percent of the blame is in that pie, because that’s where all the chaos is.’ I would give them the pen and say, ‘I want you to draw a slice of pie that you think represents your responsibility for the chaos.’ The piece of pie that that client would draw was never very big, but I would say, ‘Okay. So why don’t you and I talk about just this. Let’s talk about this piece that is your responsibility. Let’s talk about your slice.’ You know what? My approach never worked. I could never get anybody to stay on his or her slice of the pie.
“So here is what I want you to do this week: As you experience relational conflict at work, at home, with your friends—any conflict of any sort, big or small—stop and think about your own slice of the pie. Ask yourself, What is in my slice of the pie? Have I taken responsibility for my life, really, or am I enjoying the blame game so much that it has allowed me to ignore what I am ultimately responsible for?
“In any relationship, if you can ever get the two parties to own their piece of the pie, you can make progress. But if everybody is focused on the other person’s slice of the pie, you will just have chaos.”
Can we do that this week? Take responsibility for the role we play in the conflicts in our personal lives and in our church family? Maybe if we can look at the other person and remember that both of us are broken and sinful? That they too are someone that Jesus died for? That conflict doesn’t have to end in hate? That Jesus wants us all to spend eternity with Him, not just the ones who agree about the color of the carpet in the sanctuary? Remember: “For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16 AMP
Lillianne Winegardner Lopez 11.9.18
In a congregational meeting, two young male professionals made a presentation to update the sanctuary sound system. Their pitch was well delivered. As they began fielding questions, a retired gentleman, a former engineer, challenged one of the presenter’s use of a technical term. I don’t remember the exact phrasing that sparked the fireworks, but the atmosphere in our fellowship hall, which had held a little tension because the sound system upgrade involved a significant amount of money, suddenly intensified.
The young presenter and this former engineer began to quarrel about who was right, as if they were the only two in the room. I began to feel embarrassed for the older gentleman, since his comment and persistence provoked and sustained the interchange. The discussion ended awkwardly, the congregation voting to upgrade the sound system, and the meeting came to a close. Afterwards, I saw the elderly gentleman amble toward where the presenters sat. Later I heard from others who overheard that conversation: the former engineer apologized for his conduct and asked one of the young professionals out for breakfast to discuss the sound-system project.
At its best, the local church functions as an arena in which conflict and hurts among participants who choose to stay can open up possibilities for spiritual progress.
It’s nice to talk with people who can make a point without impaling anyone on it.
At one point in his journey towards Christ, Nathan Foster (the son of author Richard Foster) was living “a ragged attempt at discipleship.” He was afraid to share his honest thoughts about God and his disillusionment with the church, especially with a father who had given his life to serve God and the church.
But one day as Nathan shared a ride with his dad on a ski lift, he blurted out, “I hate going to church. It’s nothing against God; I just don’t see the point.” Richard Foster quietly said, “Sadly, many churches today are simply organized ways of keeping people from God.”
Surprised by his dad’s response, Nathan launched into “a well-rehearsed, cynical rant” about the church:
Okay, so since Jesus paid such great attention to the poor and disenfranchised, why isn’t the church the world’s epicenter for racial, social and economic justice? I’ve found more grace and love in worn-out folks at the local bar than those in the pew … . And instead of allowing our pastors to be real human beings with real problems, we prefer some sort of overworked rock stars.
His dad smiled and said, “Good questions, Nate. Overworked rock stars: that’s funny. You’ve obviously put some thought into this.” Once again, Nathan was surprised that his “rant” didn’t faze his dad. “He didn’t blow me off or put me down.” From that point on Nathan actually looked forward to conversations with his dad.
It also proved to be a turning point in his spiritual life. By the end of the winter, Nathan was willing to admit,
Somewhere amid the wind and snow of the Continental Divide, I decided that if I’m not willing to be an agent of change [in the church], my critique is a waste … . Regardless of how it is defined, I was learning that the church was simply a collection of broken people recklessly loved by God … . Jesus said he came for the sick, not the healthy, and certainly our churches reflect that.
Spurred on by his father’s acceptance and honesty and by his own spiritual growth, Nathan has continued to ask honest questions, but he has also started to love and change the church, rather than just criticize it.
In an article for Leadership journal, Gordon MacDonald shares the story of a friend who was caught in the middle of a nasty church conflict that had spun out of control. When MacDonald asked his friend how the situation had been resolved, his friend told him that he had been confronted with a piercing piece of advice: “Someone has to show a little dignity in this thing. It really should start with you.” MacDonald’s friend took the wisdom to heart, and it worked wonders in the situation. MacDonald took the wisdom to heart himself and had the opportunity to apply it when caught in the middle of an airport fiasco.
MacDonald was scheduled to fly from Boston’s Logan Airport to Chicago, but the boarding-pass attendant realized that he was scheduled to fly not out of Boston, but Manchester, New Hampshire. MacDonald asked whether she could solve the problem for him. She could—but for an extra $360.
MacDonald was shocked. “I’m a 100k customer on your airline. I give you guys a lot of my business. Can’t you just get me on the flight for free as a courtesy?” But the boarding-pass attendant said her hands were tied. MacDonald would have to pay the $360.
The testy situation had reached its decisive moment. Though the problem was a result of MacDonald’s incorrect booking, he felt “depreciated, blown off, victimized by a big company that seemed to put a monetary value on every transaction.” As he points out in his article, “the ungodly part of me wanted to say something sarcastic (about friendly skies, for example) that would hurt the other person as I felt hurt. Hurting her would help me to feel that I’d hurt the rest of the company—all the way up to the CEO. Perhaps she’d call and tell him how I felt so that his day would be ruined like mine was about to be ruined.”
But then he remembered the advice his friend had been given: “Someone has to show a little dignity in this thing. It really should start with you.”
MacDonald swallowed his pride and applied the advice to the situation at hand. He writes about what happened next:
I said to the boarding-pass lady, “Before I pay you the $360, let me say one more thing. Six weeks ago I came here to take a flight to the West Coast and discovered that the airline had cancelled the flight and hadn’t told me. They said they were sorry, and I forgave them.
“Then two weeks later, on a flight to Europe, the airline lost my luggage (for two days). They said they were really, really sorry. And, again, I forgave them.
“Last week, on a third flight, they got me to my destination two hours late. Your people fell all over themselves saying how sorry they were about the delays. And you know what? I forgave them again. Now here I am—fourth time in six weeks—wanting to fly with you again. See how forgiving I am?
“But this morning the problem’s mine. I forgot that I scheduled myself out of the other airport. And I am really, really sorry that I made this terrible mistake.
“You guys have said ‘sorry’ to me three times in the last six weeks, and, each time I have forgiven you. Now I would like to say ‘sorry’ to you and ask you to forgive me and put me on that flight without charging me the $360. You have three ‘sorries,’ and now I’m asking for one. Does that make any sense to you?”
The boarding-pass lady took her own time-out and considered my idea and then said, “It really does make sense to me. Let me see what I can do.”
She typed and typed and typed into her computer—as if she was writing a novella—and then looked up with a smile. “We can do this,” she said. Two minutes later I was off to the gate with my boarding pass.
That morning dignity won. The airline forgave me. The skies were indeed friendly. I didn’t have to pay an extra $360.
MacDonald offers these closing thoughts: “This increasingly crowded, noisy world is generating more and more of these kinds of moments where no one is really doing something bad … just stupid (me, in this case). But because our human dignity is eroded by these constant clashes, even our innocent mistakes point to the possibility for hateful exchanges and vengeful acts. You have to keep alert lest you get sucked into saying and doing things that you’ll regret an hour later.”
Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back.
The peace intended is not merely that of political and economic stability, as in the Greco-Roman world, but peace in the Old Testament inclusive sense of wholeness, all that constitutes well-being…
The “peacemakers,” therefore, are not simply those who bring peace between two conflicting parties, but those actively at work making peace, bringing about wholeness and well-being among the alienated.
Robert A. Guelich
In his 2007 article “All the Rage,” Andrew Santella observes that anger is a prominent emotion in American life. Our politics is dominated by angry rhetoric; cases of road rage are increasingly common. The shelves of local bookstores are full of books explaining both the benefits and the dangers of anger. In fact, many of the books are simply “Wrath Lit”: published written rants on various topics.
Peter Wood, in his book A Bee in the Mouth, writes that a sure sign of America’s problem with anger is the tone of its politics. “For the first time in our political history, declaring absolute hatred for one’s opponent has become a sign not of sad excess, but of good character.”
As prevalent as it is, anger is a bit mysterious; it can be either one’s greatest liability or one’s greatest asset. Carol Tavris, author of Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, explains:
I have watched people use anger, in the name of emotional liberation, to erode affection and trust, whittle away their spirits in bitterness and revenge, diminish their dignity in years of spiteful hatred. And I watch with admiration those who use anger to probe for truth, who challenge and change the complacent injustices of life.
A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner. This is a happy discovery for the Christian who begins to pray for others.
Don’t say, “That person bothers me.” Think: That person sanctifies me.”
After 125 years, the infamous feud between the Hatfields and McCoys is finally history. Sixty descendants of the original clans gathered on Saturday, June 14, 2003, in Pikefield, Kentucky, to sign a document declaring an official end to more than a century of hatred and bloodshed.
Most think the feuding between the McCoys of Kentucky and Hatfields of West Virginia began in 1878 when Randolph McCoy accused one of the Hatfields of stealing a hog. The Hatfields won the “hog war” when a McCoy cousin sided with the opposing clan.
Feelings festered and other incidents occurred that finally resulted in the shooting death of Ellison Hatfield in 1882. Retaliation begat retaliation until the feud claimed 11 more family members over the next ten years. Subsequent conflicts between the two clans have involved court battles over timber rights and cemetery plots.
The treaty calling for peace reads: “We do hereby and formally declare an official end to all hostilities, implied, inferred, and real, between the families, now and forevermore. We ask by God’s grace and love that we be forever remembered as those that bound together the hearts of two families to form a family of freedom in America.”
Reo Hatfield, who first thought of the ceremony, said, “We’re not saying you don’t have to fight, because sometimes you do have to fight. But you don’t have to fight forever.”
Although the treaty was largely symbolic, both the governor of Kentucky and the governor of West Virginia were present for the nationally televised ceremony.
Stephen Leon Alligood
Forgiving the unforgivable is hard. So was the cross: hard words, hard wood, hard nails.
William S. Stoddard
People in the church are like porcupines in a snowstorm. We need each other to keep warm, but we prick each other if we get too close.
 Rodney King, May 1, 1992
 As retold by P. J. Alindogan, The Potter’s Jar blog, “Communicate and Relate” (9-4-11)
 Andy Stanley, from the sermon “Let the Blames Begin”