They managed to stay civil
Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 3:02PM
Robert Gallagher

If you clear the ice and snow from your sidewalk – you’re a good person; if not, you’re a bad person. 

We have had snow in Seattle. It’s rare. But it happens. More frequently than earthquakes, less frequently than electing a progressive to City Council.

Yesterday I stayed home. No trips to Ladro for coffee. Today I missed Morning Prayer at the parish. It just seemed too dark and icy out there. At 74 and with shaky legs I am working on not being stupid – as in attempting to walk on icy sidewalks.

By noon I was getting a bit stir crazy. That this was my experience after just 1 ½ days stuck in my apartment suggests I should also avoid committing a crime and going to prison.

So, out I ventured. I carefully weaved my way along the few inches of cleared pathway; I dangerously jaywalked across the street when all was ice in front of me and I could see dry cement on the other side; and when such escapes were not possible I’d walk on the curb strip (the usage common both to Washington and New Jersey, in other regions called a berm, grassplot, snow shelf, or best of all in parts of Ohio, a devil strip).

While walking the four blocks to Café Ladro I made moral judgments based on clearing the snow and ice – my coop is purer than the condos next store. The sidewalk down 2nd Avenue was totally clear. But that gets the sun, so no moral benefit was given the property owners there. But the apartment building at Roy and 2nd had completely cleared the walk. Of all people in the four blocks they were the most blessed.

We all have an inner Pharisee – more interested in the speck in the eye of others than the beam in our own eye. Or maybe it’s just me.

The ice will melt. That will allow me to return to my true calling of judging the drivers breaking the law at Roy and Queen Anne. They are trying to kill me so I will judge them!

You get the idea.


Red flags at home

There’s an article in the New York Times about experts in conflict resolution shifting their attention from oversees to America. “They Have Worked on Conflicts Overseas. Now These Americans See ‘Red Flags’ at Home.” The quotes below are from that piece unless otherwise noted.

The story focuses on Paula Green who has worked in Bosnia and Rwanda. She’s learned a few things from those experiences. Here are a few that we of the Church might make use of.


They are evil

“People are making up stories about ‘the other’ — Muslims, Trump voters, whoever ‘the other’ is,” she said. “‘They don’t have the values that we have. They don’t behave like we do. They are not nice. They are evil.’”

It’s not a new problem –

“your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) 

A few gentle sermons every year around the theme might prove useful. Help us get a bit of perspective and humility.  We need to recognize our inner Pharisee if we are to be healed and find real communion with others.

We are all “under the Mercy.” We are saved by Grace.



The article highlights a meeting lead by Paula Green between people from Kentucky and others from Massachusetts. Republicans with guns and Democrats without; Trump supporters and New England liberals.

Prior to the meeting a participant from Massachusetts explained why he was coming, he wanted to understand “how rural white voters could possibly support such a vulgar, dystopian presidential candidate.”  An educational administrator from Kentucky said she cried when she read the man’s email. “But she didn’t take offense and decided to make the 15-hour trip in a van to Massachusetts to explain to people there that while some might have been mad starting in 2016, she had been mad for most of her life.”

At the beginning the people from Massachusetts approached it as a project. At least that’s how the Kentucky people experienced it. A community health researcher from Kentucky said, “They had such desperation … They are very well educated and I think they’ve always been confident that they’ll just carry people along with their way of thinking. And suddenly, when it didn’t happen, they didn’t hardly know what to do.”

Just getting people face-to-face is absolutely necessary. In this story the process seems rather direct. Those who were willing came together. Each side with narratives about themselves and the people they were to meet with. It may be useful to note that people didn’t change their views because of the meeting. Though many may have been changed by the meeting.

For we who are of the Church, we who are to love our enemies, the first expression of that love may be to quickly get face-to-face with those we are in conflict with. Not waiting for the kind of love based on feelings and comfort but love based on a stance, a decision, and on the grace of courage.


Profound listening

Once people feel heard, their dignity had been acknowledged and the facts of their lives taken seriously, it is easier to take on harder topics like politics. – Paula Green

Green’s starting place with the group was to have them talk about their families – “everybody has one.” She used a standard listening method. They all sat in a circle spoke one at a time, with no interruptions.

You do need some competence to facilitate the work of reconciliation. There are a mix of attitudes, values and skills required. The methods used with competence and humility can at times make space for something holy to take place.

In this case one of the women from Kentucky said, “I think we all expected it to be a lot harder than it was, … I really learned that no matter how differently we think or vote, if we take a moment to see the other person for who they are, as somebody with a family and a story, that made the hard stuff easier.”



The article

“They Have Worked on Conflicts Overseas. Now These Americans See ‘Red Flags’ at Home.”

Postings on conflict 

When people get together face to face rather than on Facebook, with the invocation of the Holy Spirit, their differences become occasions for grace and truth  to burst forth. In making sense of it, I drew on my training. Conflict is Augustinian; conflict is nothing but disordered desire
The parish conflict has moved to level 4 or 5 . There have been blow ups and people are moving among the standard options -- terminate ("I have to get out of this place," withdraw (emotionally, physically - "It's just too painful"), fantasize ("can't we just go back to the way it was?"). 


Grumbling can fester and grow into conflict in the parish community. The small irritations can be indulged and become a fight. What wisdom can we find from Saint Benedict? 


It's difficult to manage a parish conflict when too many people are taking side trips. Side trips are flights from the actual situation in front of us.


 Conflict at any level rises out of a competition. Two groups or two individuals each wanting something that is in competition with the needs or wants of the other. This is true at all levels of conflict whether we just have a problem to solve or we face an intractable situation. 


This is offered in gratitude for the work of Saint Clement of Rome and Saint Benedict of Nursia. Assessments such as this are not for the purpose of defining reality or making judgments. They are best used to begin structured and disciplined forms of parish conversations.


Severe parish conflicts tie up the time and energy of bishops and their staffs while destabilizing the life and ministry of parishes. 


The parish had a major conflict several years ago. People left. The rector resigned. Friends were on opposite sides. It was awful! Attempts to “talk about it” have generally resulted in a reactivation of all the feelings and positions that existed during the dispute. 
Real parish development isn’t possible when you are of a stubborn mind. Parish development efforts require leaders who are adaptable while at the same time holding firm to the parish’s identity and integrity. 


Here’s another thought about what can help us clergy with our stubborn minds. Allow yourself to start with the assumption that you are to be obedient. And the starting place for that is to do the daily office for 20 years. 


What is the church’s way when facing conflict? Is there a pathway of faithfulness we can use to guide us? 


Rectors make decisions all the time that don’t satisfy everyone. And healthy priests and healthy parishes don’t spend excessive energy re-visiting those decisions or trying to get consensus. This is one more area where there’s not a simple answer.


There are a number of skills and methods that are useful when you're trying to have more collaboration and/or to reduce the level of conflict in the parish. Collaboration is probably the hardest style to use because it requires more skill and emotional intelligence than other styles.


There’s a model of conflict styles that looks at two dimensions – the extent of cooperativeness and the degree of assertiveness. 


Collaborating has costs. It requires a lot of time and energy. And that means the parties involved need to have the willingness to engage in structured conversations. We need to be willing to work face-to-face with those we disagree with and to listen to them.


Always There will always be grumbling in the parish. Always. I suspect that the reason Saint Benedict wrote so much about grumbling was because there was so much of it in the monastic community. I doubt Benedict ever believed it would stop. 
Article originally appeared on Congregational Development (
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