Church of Scotland, Oban–photo I took of sanctuary.
A presentation for Faithful Friends,
1-17-2012, 4:00 PM at Bates Memorial Presbyterian Church, Barboursville, WV
How are we to form Circles of Trust in our lives: Parker Palmer gives details which I have tried to simplify for any who might want to start a group. Please read Parker Palmer’s book for more details: A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life It’s a good read.
Later on in this blog I’ve added some conflict resolution measures from: Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker. Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Books, 2004.
Finally, there is an article titled: The Issue of Sin An opinion expressed by Desmond Tutu http://www.huffingtonpost.com/desmond-tutu/religion-homosexuality_b_874804.html
We live in a culture of invasion and evasion, but when people feel safe to tell their stories without others wanting to fix, judge or criticize, deeper truth emerges.
Truth becomes discernible as a pattern in individual lives and in the lives of institutions.
For instance, an exercise for us all to do is consider what we mean when we unwittingly say “That’s the story of my life.” A pattern may be in place that needs to be changed, but can only be transcended through greater self- awareness.
Storytelling is at the heart of being human:
- It passes along traditions
- Confesses failings
- Heals wounds
- Engenders hope
- Strengthens sense of community
So, how do we gain insight and learn to listen to one another, without imposing our belief system on others, without busily considering what we want to say when others are speaking so we only half hear them?
How often do we live side by side with people but remain superficial–never telling our deep stories, the ones that matter? Perhaps we fear dismissal, ridicule, rejection.
It’s odd to realize, though, that the more we reveal our true selves, our vulnerable selves, to those we trust not to hurt us and to respect us, the more we sense connectedness and community.
When we stick with abstractions, opinions, knowledge, beliefs, but do not tell our hearts, we lose a genuine sense of being connected to one another.
One of the problems we have when we are dealing with conflict is that both sides are convinced they are right, and when we are dealing with conflict in churches, people fall back upon their interpretation of the Bible, something they may well take to be inerrant and absolute. In fact, all too often, people latch on to one aspect of Scripture and use it as a weapon against others. Bible verses become Bible bombs. We are convinced we must be right because God says so–and maybe we heard it from preachers too–so it is hard for us to understand that one verse of Scripture might well be contradicted by other verses, and while the Bible is inspired, it is also a special history of a faith journey, and a special type of literature intended to help deepen our understanding of truth.
Parker Palmer makes the realization that my truth is not your truth. However, all truths are not equal, nor is there a relative truth, but rather in community, when we bring our deepest truths together, we are enabled to enter into a transformative process.
He says: My working definition of truth is simple, though practicing it is anything but: “Truth is an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.” Truth cannot possibly be found in the conclusions of the conversation, because the conclusions keep changing. So if we want to live “in the truth,” it is not enough to live in the conclusions of the moment. We must find a way to live in the continuing conversation, with all its conflicts and complexities, while staying in close touch with our own inner teacher.
In a circle of trust, we can dwell in the truth by dwelling in the conversation. In such a circle, our differences are not ignored, but neither are they confronted in combat. Instead, they are laid out clearly and respectfully alongside each other. In such a circle, we speak and hear diverse truths in ways that keep us from ignoring each other and from getting into verbal shootouts–ways that allow us to grow together toward a larger, emergent truth that reveals how much we hold in common…
According to conventional wisdom, we arrive at shared truth only by confronting and correcting each other in debate. But my experience suggests that we rarely change our minds and move toward mutual understanding in the heat of argument. Instead, we become separated from each other, and from the inner teacher, by our fear of losing the battle–and the energy we expend trying to make sure that we win leaves us with no resources for reflection and transformation.
In combative situations, some people withdraw from the fray, disappearing into the foxholes of private belief where the conflict cannot touch them. Others stay on the field and fight by clinging more tightly to some preexisting conviction, wielding it to fend off their foes like the familiar weapon it is. In the midst of intellectual or spiritual warfare, we rarely risk expressing those tentative probes and vulnerable ideas that might lead us to new insights but would also leave us open to attack. Confronted by “the enemy,” we become even more committed to whatever we have always believed and are less likely to embrace the challenges that might lead to new understanding.
In a circle of trust there are ground rules that forbid us from confronting and correcting each other, and a remarkable thing happens: we confront and correct ourselves! In a circle of trust we have a chance, over time, to sit quietly with our own and other people’s thoughts–a chance to see how our insights relate to the larger pattern of the group and to determine how much of that pattern we wish to embrace as our own.
These are the ground rules for creating “circles of trust:”
- Covenant to keep anything revealed by others as confidential.
- Begin with a prayer for harmony, wisdom, freedom, love and community.
- Respect the others in the group, recognizing they may have understanding you do not have, and that God speaks through all people and circumstances in many ways.
- Everyone has a chance and a right to speak, but only if they so wish.
- Agree to hold the person speaking in prayer.
- Do not interrupt, attempt to fix, correct, or argue with the speaker.
- While someone is speaking, listen deeply, paying attention to one’s own reactions/emotions.
Each member of the circle will sign a covenant of agreement to these rules.
The facilitator will introduce a reading–because religious people have presuppositions about how God speaks through the Bible, the proposed reading is a poem. The goal is for everyone to listen to the poem, and see what issues, understandings, memories, images it elicits. After the reading, the facilitator will begin by telling his or her story that emerges from this reading. Then others are invited to share their stories.
At the end of the session, we close with prayer (and a circle of healing).
Covenant of Trust
- I agree to participate in an opening prayer for harmony, wisdom, freedom, love and community.
- I agree to keep anything revealed by others in the group as confidential.
- I agree to respect the others in the group, recognizing they may have understanding I do not have, and that God speaks through all people and circumstances in many ways.
- I agree to hold the person speaking in prayer.
- I will not interrupt, attempt to fix, correct, or argue with the speaker.
- While someone is speaking, I will listen deeply, paying attention to my reactions/emotions.
- I will allow the facilitator to guide the group by leading us with a reading and beginning the story-telling time with his or her story.
- I agree to participate in the closing prayer.
Signatures of Participants:
Adapted from: A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, Parker Palmer– Telling our Stories, Kindle 1251-53
Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker. Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Books, 2004.
This is a book dealing with conflict resolution. It upholds Biblical traditions and was written by a lawyer.
From Chapter 1: Conflict Provides Opportunities
The Slippery Slope of Conflict p.22-27
There are three basic ways that people respond to conflict.
1. Escape Responses include denial, flight and suicide.
2. Attack Responses include assault, litigation and murder.
3. Peacemaking Responses are the middle road and include overlooking the offense, reconciliation, negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and accountability.
A Biblical View of Conflict p.29-31
Many of the problems associated with the escape and attack responses to conflict can be prevented if you learn to look at and respond to conflict in a biblical way. In his Word, God has explained why conflicts occur and how we should deal with them. The more we understand and obey what he teaches, the more effective we will be in resolving disagreements with other people. The following are a few of the basic principles behind a biblical view of conflict (which is defined as a difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires):
- Misunderstandings from poor communication (Josh. 22: 10-34)
- Differences in values, goals, gifts calling, priorities, expectations, interests, or opinions (Acts 15: 39; 1 Cor. 12: 12-31)
- Competition over money
Conflict is not necessarily bad, however. In fact, the Bible teaches that some differences are natural and beneficial. Since God has created us as unique individuals human beings will often have different opinions, convictions, desires, perspectives, and priorities. Many of these differences are not inherently right or wrong. They are simply the result of God-given diversity and personal preferences (1 Cor. 12: 21-31)
Not all conflict is neutral of beneficial, however. The Bible teaches that many disagreements are the direct result of sinful attitudes and behavior.
The Four G’s of Peacemaking p.38
- Glorify God: How can I please and honor God in this situation?
- Get the log out of your own eye: How can I show Jesus’ work in me by taking responsibility for my contribution to this conflict?
- Gently restore: How can I lovingly serve others by helping them take responsibility for their contribution to this conflict?
- Go and be reconciled: How can I demonstrate the forgiveness of God and encourage a reasonable solution to this conflict?
The Issue of Sin
An opinion expressed by Desmond Tutu http://www.huffingtonpost.com/desmond-tutu/religion-homosexuality_b_874804.html
Tutu’s position is reflected in excerpts from a newspaper article and a sermon preached in Southwark Cathedral, London, in 2004.
A student once asked me, If I could have one wish granted to reverse an injustice, what would it be? I had to ask for two. One is for world leaders to forgive the debts of developing nations which hold them in such thrall. The other is for the world to end the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation, which is every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid.
This is a matter of ordinary justice. We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about — our very skin. It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given. I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination that homosexuals endure, even in our churches and faith groups.
I am proud that in South Africa, when we won the chance to build our own new constitution, the human rights of all have been explicitly enshrined in our laws. My hope is that one day this will be the case all over the world, and that all will have equal rights. For me this struggle is a seamless robe. Opposing apartheid was a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination against women is a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a matter of justice.
It is also a matter of love. Every human being is precious. We are all — all of us — part of God’s family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honor. Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God. This must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are.
Churches say that the expression of love in a heterosexual monogamous relationship includes the physical — the touching, embracing, kissing, the genital act; the totality of our love makes each of us grow to become increasingly godlike and compassionate. If this is so for the heterosexual, what earthly reasons have we to say that it is not the case with the homosexual?
The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority. I myself could not have opposed the injustice of penalizing people for something about which they could do nothing — their race — and then have kept quiet as women were being penalized for something they could do nothing about — their gender; hence my support for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate.
Equally, I cannot keep quiet while people are being penalized for something about which they can do nothing — their sexuality. To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as apartheid ever was.