I was recently asked by an acquaintance if I deliberately seek out conflict. This question came in the context of me sharing about my passion for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how I like to start conversations online (and in person) that tend to get a little heated. (Side note: during an interview once I may have said something to the effect of “I just fell in love with the conflict…well, wait, I mean, I fell in love with these people who are involved in a conflict and I want to help…well, crap.”) Anyway, back to the question at hand. I paused for a moment and my response surprised even me with its profundity. I told her that I don’t love conflict, but that I recognize the transformative power of it. There’s this amazing potential in seasons of conflict to bring about incredible change and transformation. The status quo is unable to be sustained and the parties involved in the debate, argument, frustration, cannot remain the same.
Now, obviously, conflict has incredible potential to create much damage, pain, and suffering. That’s undeniable. But, I don’t think that pain is necessary. I have a deep belief in the idea that conflict, if it is well facilitated and mediated and stewarded, can create lasting positive transformation, both in individuals and large communities. Look at the Civil Rights Movement for example. The situation prior to the movement was unsustainable for the country. But we all know that change would have been slow-coming if not for the strong actions of the influential leaders of that day. However, at that time, those leaders were called troublemakers and instigators. Their actions were seen as inflammatory and unnecessarily confrontational. They created conflict. Conflict was necessary to bring about change. But what made all the difference for their cause was the manner in which their conflict was undertaken. MLK and others made conscious decisions to steward and mediate the conflict with the understanding that they were not fighting against a community or their fellow human beings, but against ideas and prejudices. The conflict was facilitated in a way that was able to bring about lasting change for two communities of people, instead of creating a win-lose scenario.
I see so many instances where conflict is seen as an inherently negative idea. In the conservative church environment that I come from, conflict over politics or disagreements over biblical interpretation are seen as a reason for leaving a community or for labeling someone a heretic. Facebook arguments about gun control or the death penalty end with digital shouting matches and name-calling. Conflicts in Congress are understood as a reason to move further and further away from the center, polarizing our nation.
What if there was a simple perspective shift that could dramatically change how we deal with conflict? What if we allowed ourselves to see conflict as a radical opportunity for transformation for an entire community? What if we decided to do a hell of a good job training our kids in conflict management and resolution? What if we decided to teach our leaders to do the same? What if we understood conflict as the way in which the status quo is done away with, in which we learn to listen to our neighbors and become the kind of society that we dream of being?
What if conflict wasn’t a bad word?
Today marks the day that Gil and I were married five years ago at an adorable little park in Manitou Springs. The day was idyllic, filled with family and friends, a violinist and a blues band and our friend Josh playing iTunes DJ, green grass and a fall sky that brought a little chill in the evening, brats and burgers and my mom’s potato salad and a strawberry-rhubarb pie made by my grandma. I carried irises and wore Gil’s grandmother’s vintage ring. I bought my dress on Craigslist and I wore Tom’s canvas shoes. We rented a porta-potty because it was a requirement by the city of Manitou (and that became one of the remaining memories of that day). The day was absolutely perfect as we committed our lives to one another forever and ever.
And then real life happened. I don’t think I was quite ready for real life. Real life kinda sucks sometimes.
I realized early in the marriage that our 10 week engagement and whirlwind romance (I was in China for 3 of the 7 months we dated, granted we had known each other for 4 years prior to getting married) hadn’t quite let me think through the implications of what giving my life over to another person really meant. Oh, you mean I have to make decisions with another human? You mean I don’t get to move wherever I want and spend money the way I want and do whatever the hell I want?? Bummer.
Marriage kinda hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t think I had ever heard anyone talk about how hard it is. Sure, I knew that the divorce rate was super high in the States and in the American church. Sure, I knew married people fought. But man, wasn’t all of the sex and lovey-doveyness supposed to make everything okay????
On top of me realizing that marriage was not just all about sex and watching movies on the couch holding hands, and that maybe, just maybe, I kinda regretted getting married in the first place, REAL LIFE came on like a storm. Death, diseases, church crazy, friendship troubles, depression, college, weight gain, on and on the list goes. Real life doesn’t stop. Real life doesn’t care if you’re too tired. Real life doesn’t care if you can’t take anymore.
Of course there were those days when everything was perfect and we didn’t step on each other’s toes and we didn’t allow our triggers to be hit by one another. There WERE those days when we found life and joy and love again. But those have been the exception, not the rule.
Through five years of marriage, Gil and I have both changed dramatically. We think differently about life and God and politics than we did five years ago. We have different passions. We have wanted kids and not wanted kids. What we thought we were going to do with our lives has changed. Nobody tells you that the person you marry will not be the same person in 2 or 5 or 12 years. Nobody tells you that you have to learn to love the person that your spouse is at each juncture in their journey. Nobody tells you that you have to learn to love yourself through the changes in order to be able to love that person fully.
In the age of social media perfection, we have a tendency to see the greatness of each other’s lives. We watch our friends get married and have perfect children and post hipster photos of their awesome vacations. But do we see each other? Do we see the struggle in each marriage and the pain of the terrible twos or the hurt of broken relationships?
So, that’s why I’m writing this today. To honor the struggle of marriage and to announce to the world, it may not be perfect, and it might definitely be quite a bit screwy, but damn it all, I love Gil Datz and I’m committed to him. There are days when I’m not quite sure I like him, but hell, there are days when I don’t really like myself.
Last night in yoga our instructor talked about acceptance. About accepting the place that we’re at in life and letting go of the expectations that we have had for what life is supposed to look like. So, today, on my fifth anniversary with Gil, I accept this stage of the journey. I accept counseling and long conversations and the days that are blissful (especially after a week of vacation it feels way easier to have blissful days).
Most of all I accept Gil and myself, as we are today, realizing that tomorrow we may be different.
I love this picture of us in front of our rented porta-potty on that day five years ago. Our photographer Beth edited it to look like a depression era photo and I think it so accurately represents us. Holding hands, maybe at times a bit distant from one another, worn out from the journey, but holding onto hope for what may come.
UPDATE: Great quote here about this subject from Stanley Hauerwas:
It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.
The members of this generation of college freshman were only 5 or 6 years old on that day 12 years ago that we remember today. Not quite old enough to have strong memories of planes crashing into buildings or the wave of fear and pain that swept the world in the aftermath. This generation has grown up in a state of perpetual war, coming to think of it as the normal way of the world. So, how we choose to remember and teach the next generation about what happened on September 11th will shape how they understand the past and create their own future.
So, what happened on that day 12 years ago? We all know the basics: the planes, the buildings, the first responders and air traffic controllers. We know about the fear, the devastation, the lives lost and the vigils. Do we remember the whole world watching in shock? Do we remember the candles lit in Tehran, or the fact that the Taliban renounced the attack? Do we remember the reasons that Osama bin Laden gave as his justification for the attacks? The abuse of Palestinians and the US sanctions in Iraq that had killed 500,000 children? If we don’t remember these things we are not remembering the fullness of the context of 9/11. When we choose to see it as a senseless attack, and not as a response to actions our government had taken in the Middle East, we fail to understand the full context of the events of that day. Of course, I am not justifying the terrible actions taken by al-Qaeda or bin Laden, but only hoping to help us learn from that day.
If we can look at history not only through our lenses as Americans, but through our lens of humanity, we can see how war has begat war, violence and colonization has begat terror and fear. Only then can we learn from that day, learn from the past 12 years of war, learn from those lives lost. We remember that day and the context that created it and we learn. We learn how to be circumspect about the action we take overseas. We learn that our actions have consequences. We learn that in the future, we want to treat the world around us like we want to be treated. We learn that an American life is of no more value than the life of an Afghan. We learn that death is painful. We learn that if we act out of revenge, our enemies will act out of revenge and the cycle will not be broken. We learn that our humanity is the common denominator.
We remember so that we don’t have to copy the mistakes of our mothers and fathers. We remember so that those lives would not have been lost in vain. We remember so that we can create the kind of world where terror can not reign and hate cannot rule. We remember so that we might change.
For more on how we as Christians engage in this remembering, check out Glenn Packiam’s blog from today.
I was looking through my old Facebook notes today and came across one from May of 2010, in which I paraphrased a conversation that Gil and I had had that night. I thought it was worthy of a repost here on the blog since I haven’t blogged in forever. It got me thinking about the bigger picture of life since I’ll be graduating in just a couple short weeks….I’d like for my life to look like this.
G: I want to do something big, like take over the world, but not in a violent way. Like how flowers take over a meadow.
C: Ooo…I like that. Like flowers take over a meadow. Because flowers don’t choke out all the weeds…
G: No, they just make everything more beautiful.
That’s the kingdom, no?
Today is International Women’s Day….not quite as popular among Evangelical Christians as National Pancake Day, but just as important I would say. In honor of IWD, I’d like to share a few of my dreams for the women of the world, in MLKjr style.
I have a dream that one day women will not be judged by their gender, but by their humanity and identity as members of the human race.
I have a dream that one day women will not be subjected to the horrors of sex as violence, but that their bodies and spirits would be honored and cherished by their communities and that they would not have to fear as they go to work, study, and walk down the street.
I have a dream that one day women will have economic justice by earning the same pay for the same work as their male counterparts.
I have a dream that one day women will feel confident and comfortable in their bodies and not subjected to idealized standards of “beauty.”
I have a dream that one day women will be welcomed as equal partners in religious communities, with an understanding that we are all children of God and made to reflect the image of God in the world.
I have a dream that one day little girls will be empowered with the knowledge that they can do anything and be anything that they want – from a rock star to the president to a CEO to a pastor.
As I think about the women around the world today who are subjected to sexual violence by spouses, traffickers, warmongers, about the women who commit suicide because they are told that they are not good enough, about the women who will never know sexual pleasure because they’ve been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation, about the women who die in childbirth because they have no access to medical care, about the women who are told that while Jesus loves them he can’t use their gifts in the church – as I think about all of these women, I want to gather them like a mother hen gathers her chicks, protecting, comforting, and nurturing. I think of Jesus who embraced that feminine description and said he wanted to do the same. I think ultimately, I dream of a day when our male counterparts would do the same – cherish, nurture, care for the women and girls in their communities. I dream of a day when women would do that for one another. I dream of a day when the brokenness of women can be healed by the men and women who come around them to bind up their broken hearts, set them free from their captivity, and walk them into the light of jubilee.
What are your dreams for women this International Women’s Day?
I’ll just come right out and say that 2012 has not been my favorite year. It’s been filled with the deaths of friends. Disease in my family. The Waldo Canyon Fire which devastated my city. Crises around the world which broke my heart.
I’m ready for a fresh start. For a 2013 which will see me finally graduate college (commencement will be on my 28th birthday….looking forward to that birthday present). 2013 will be the year of my 10 year high school reunion (this could be highly depressing or fantastically celebratory – I’m pushing for the latter). And then….who knows?
I realize that New Year’s celebrations are pretty contrived…I mean, it’s essentially just a day like any other. People will be born and will die. There’s nothing particularly amazing about the passing of another day or another year. But I think that we all need moments where we are intentional about reflection. Where we take time to think, pray and look back at another year gone by. Where we process the highs and lows. Where we remember the ways in which we have failed, taking time to grieve those failures, receive forgiveness, and turn our hearts towards redemption. And then we remember the successes, taking joy in the little bits of life and love and beauty that we’ve been a part of. We understand that there’s nothing magical in the ticking of the clock, the turning of a calendar, the sipping of champagne, and yet, we take the opportunity to make it magical, by choosing to make the most of a moment that can help us gain perspective on this crazy, extraordinary, spectacular thing called LIFE.
Even though 2012 has been hellish, I choose to take joy in the small moments that make all of the pain worth it. The birth of my nephew James. Celebrating the marriage of great friends. Trips to DC and New York to spend time with world changers. Sweet, everyday moments with my best friend. Friends that are faithful and loving in the hardest of times.
So, bring it on 2013. Bring on more life, more beauty, more celebration. Because, in spite of the fact that you will bring heartache as well, the light always conquers darkness. Hope destroys fear. Life defeats death.
And that, for damn sure, is something worth celebrating.
I leave you with Over the Rhine’s “We’re Gonna Pull Through,” which is just about the most perfect song for the end of this year.
A week ago we wept. We wept for the loss of life. For the loss of innocence. Our pain was raw and real and our hearts felt exposed and vulnerable.
Now we’re mad. We want answers. We want solutions. Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult, complicated and charged issues in our society. Catch phrases and statistics are thrown around with little care of context or clarification. In response to the cries of “it’s too soon” at the end of last week, I started an event on Facebook entitled, “National Day of Discussion: The Gun Issue in America,” with the hopes of creating a groundswell of productive conversation today. What actually happened was a week-long diatribe of both sides of the issue throwing virtual bombs at one another and those looking for compromise and solutions stuck in the crossfire. Some of it has been interesting. But most of it has been so emotionally draining that I had to take a day long break from moderating the mess.
What has been the most shocking/fascinating to me is the response from my Christian friends on the subject. So, this post is my challenge to my brothers and sisters in the faith.
This is the season during which we celebrate the coming of our Saviour into our broken, messed up world. We celebrate the coming of Emmanuel – God coming to dwell with us, to understand our pain and suffering, to identify with the human condition. Jesus understands genocide. He understands the killing of innocents, as he grew up hearing the stories of how he and his family fled a royal order to destroy the lives of every male child under the age of two in Bethlehem. He grew up knowing the pain of a generation of his classmates gone.
He then matured into a rabbi, a teacher of the Scriptures, one who called people to the ways of God. And what were his challenges based on? Loving your neighbor, and your enemy. Where love is understood as a way of sacrifice. Where my enemy’s life is just as valuable as my own. He taught that we were not to fear the one who can kill the body.
My main problem with the response of Christians when talking about gun control or the need for more guns in the public sphere, is that they so often bring up defense of one’s self and one’s family as justification for taking the life of another. Where does that right come from?? That does not seem to be the way of Jesus, who gave up his life for us while we were yet sinners. Who says that the meek or gentle shall be blessed. And that the peacemakers will be called the sons of God. This is the Jesus who rebuked Peter for cutting off the ear of a soldier (in defense of Jesus’ life!) and then proceeded to heal his enemy.
This is the Jesus who did not promise us easy lives. He guaranteed that we would have trouble in this world. He didn’t say to counter it with violence and self-defense. But he said that in him we might have peace, because of knowing that he had overcome the world. He said that loving our enemies was actually evidence of being made perfect like God.
His followers went on to write things like, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires;but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6). And, “don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). The system of the world is death, violence and retribution. As followers of Christ, we are called to another way. A way of love, sacrifice, forgiveness. Knowing that there will be troubles, but that our response to those troubles should not be a continuation of violence, but an extension of the forgiveness that we have received.
This is what faith is: the confidence of what we hope for, even though we can’t quite yet see it. It’s an understanding that, even if it takes longer, or looks like it’s not working, that the ways of Jesus are better than the ways of the world. We talk so much about trusting in God and having the incomprehensible peace of Christ. But then we arm our ushers in our churches, and talk about defending our property to the death. How is that faith in the goodness of the cross? The goodness of sacrifice? That mercy is better than religion? As an American, I defend and understand your desire to carry a weapon in self-protection. But as a Christian, I must call you to the higher way. The way in which we have an understanding that this life is not all there is. That there is something more. That defending this life to the death is a denial of the resurrection.
We don’t have any rights. We gave them up when we chose to follow the way of Jesus. My security is not found in a government. It’s not found in a piece of machinery. It’s in knowing that it is in losing myself that I am found. That dying is actually living. That upside down is actually right side up. It’s in the foolishness of the Gospel. That what looks like utter ridiculousness to the world actually makes perfect sense in the Kingdom.
It’s in this that we find hope. That we see a plan for redemption. The plan of God becoming man and dwelling among us. It is in the truth of God as a baby in a manger – that which is weak and powerless and in need of another human being to live – that is where we find hope.