Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On Conflict

Conflict is such an ugly word.

Or at least, that is how most people view it.  Truthfully, if I were to mention that I was experiencing some conflict with another individual, wouldn't you think that it was probably a bad thing?  I know I would view it as such because that is the culture I live in.

We view conflict as something that goes in tandem with anger, raised voices, "low blows", and sometimes just straight fighting.  But it is a little more complicated than that.

The fact of the matter is, conflict is a neutral party in all of that.  

That's right, conflict is inherently neutral.  It really boils down to people's reactions when there is conflict, or perceived conflict (pseudo-conflict).

And there is a large variety of reactions to conflict aren't there?  Some choose to face it head on with fire and passion, others try to avoid it all together at all costs, still others might approach conflict with a level head and not bring up the conflict until they feel ready, and the list goes on and on.

Sometimes it leads to the conflict being explosive, and sometimes it is quiet and subtle.  Sometimes it is never resolved, and I feel that might be the most damaging of all.  Assuming of course that all true conflict is over important things.

But there's the rub.  Not all conflict is truly significant.  That is why we have anecdotes like, "know when to pick your fights".  Because sometimes the conflict isn't worth it.  Sometimes the conflict is about how the silverware is placed in the drawer (guilty), or whether or not the toilet paper goes over or under, or if you should have gotten grape instead of strawberry jelly.  Simple things.  Little things.  A whole lot of nothing.

When those moments happen.  When I get riled up over the little things I find that 90% of the time there is something deeper rooted in my heart.  And I have to double check myself frequently when it comes to that sort of thing.  Which, lately, is happening more often than I'd like.

Because, I don't really care if the spoons go on the right, and forks in the middle.  What I do care about is that not having it that way changes how I understand order in my kitchen.  Which can be surprisingly disorienting when you have had it one way for two years and suddenly it's different.

Because they don't really care that you bought grape jelly, what they care about is the fact that they felt you weren't listening when they specifically asked you to get strawberry.

It is, however, really about how the toilet paper is oriented.  That's important stuff!

Only joking.

In truth, many of the more significant conflicts we encounter in our lives have multiple layers of importance.  

For example, if you, my reader, had an issue with me as an author or on a more personal level because of something I said, wrote, did, I would expect you to come and address the issue with me.  That is the way I've always been (I'm a conflict confront-er if you haven't noticed yet).  So when it doesn't happen and I hear about the issue through some other means (because it always seems to come to light eventually) I get a little frustrated, sometimes mad.

I would find myself, then, in conflict with you.  And my reasons may not be what you would expect.  Yes, I expect to be told of conflict because I'd rather resolve it and move on rather than let it stew in a pot of emotions for a while and blow up into hurtful words and broken hearts later. 

But that's just the surface of it. 

I know that deeper rooted in it all I feel like you don't trust me to approach our conflict with a level head.  Or that you think I'll just dismiss what you have to say and thus don't even try.  

Deeper than that I might feel that you don't respect me enough as my friend to try to resolve the issue.  That you don't actually care to make it work and are in this friendship for your own selfish motives.

While none of that may be true, I know that is how I would probably feel.  I'm just as guilty of making others feel that way I'm sure.  It comes with the territory of being human.  So many layers, to so many things, that it takes a lifetime to peel them all back.  Even then, you're just scratching the surface.  

It is amazing how incredibly complex we are.  And conflict is just one of the many things that help us learn about ourselves.  Because peeling off layers is actually quite painful most of the time.  But if we don't shed the skin of old selves and keep improving then we never grow.  We never mature.

That is why I don't actually hate conflict at the end of the day.  I certainly don't like it.  It's painful, it's awkward, and leads to a lot of vulnerabilities if approached correctly. But I also know that it can be very healthy; and helpful in creating self-awareness.

Conflict, in its natural neutrality, has its place in our universe.  And it can be so, so good!  And it can be so, so, so horrible.

It all comes down to the individual.

Just my two cents for today.

Grace and Peace

Friday, July 26, 2013

Life, God, and the Little Things - Part 2

Let’s fast forward a few months.  The nutshell of the months between January – April were essentially a monotonous routine.  Get up, go to work, come home.  Get up, go to church, come home.  All the while, my wife (rightfully so) continuously brought up the desire for children and my consent to try.  There were days when my responses could have been kinder.  But, she is a strong and forgiving woman.   I am so honored to have her as my wife.

My only solace was in my weekends when I could use my writing or games to escape my reality.  I had resigned to my imprisonment.  I think the phrase, “creep along,” would adequately describe my progression to anything.  Every day it was the same old thing.  I was getting further and further behind on my payments for loans until I reached the point that I couldn’t pay them anymore.  My car had broken down with Sam and I working conflicting schedules (we ended up having to borrow a church member’s vehicle).  Funnily enough, I did get it fixed and it broke down on our way up to Ohio two months later.  That’s another story though.

In April, things were beginning to look better.  My old position at work had opened up and the CEO gave me a call and invited me back.  This was the beginning of resolution to a lot of my issues.  While where I was working at the time had a lot of room for potential growth, there was no growth happening and so I ended up jumping on the offer and gradually worked my way into the customer service position that I am part of today.  During this time I also had a friend move in as a house mate until he could find a job in the Birmingham area.  He’s currently still looking.

Within all that chaos of life, I still found myself completely dead to anything related to religion or Christianity.  I was numb.  I didn’t feel anything, even when playing music where I normally would feel alive.  I felt dead to the world.

At this time I was also dealing with an incredible fear.  One that some of you will relate to, and some may think is utterly ridiculous; a fear of death.  A fear, so intense at times, that I was just shy of a full on panic attack or mental breakdown.  Every night the thought would cross my mind and I felt myself feeling sick.  It was a crippling fear.  And on top of that I was afraid to reveal this fear to others.  I was irrationally afraid that people would look down on me in some way, like I was weak or stupid for having such a fear.

That is until I just sort of blurted it out on the trip coming back from Ohio and no one flinched (except me, in expectation of worse).  Since then the fear has subsided, for the most part.  Occasionally it still haunts me, but every time it is significantly less. 

Which is crazy right?  If I am a Christian, shouldn’t I have no fear of death because of the promise of “eternal life”? 

Maybe, but I think if we are all a little more honest with ourselves, we all go through a point where we deal with it.  I think a more accurate metaphor might be that we are all on a plane ride that we know is going to crash at some point.  We don’t when or where, but we do know one thing.  We have a parachute we can use when that happens, and we cling to it so tightly that our knuckles turn white.  Because we know that while it is still going to be a terrifying experience, it is our salvation from a gruesome death.

And I guess that really sums up what I’m driving at with these posts.  An explanation to what I’ve been working through and why I identify myself as Christian.

The thing is, science is great.  It has taught the human race so many things, and I think it’s great for understanding the physical world around us.  It gives us the facts, the logic, the reason.  And generally, it is unbiased in its conclusions.  That is its purpose.


I think we forget how important the heart is too.  In our society, Logic and Reason have become the masters.  It’s about the numbers, the facts, the hard tangible evidence.  But it is only one half of the coin.  Our intuition, instincts, and perceptions are just as valid and important.  That gut feeling when you know something is wrong and you turn out to be right.  There was no logical connection but the connection was there nonetheless.  I’m not even talking about our emotions, though they play a role.  The heart plays a role in understanding anything.

Example:  World War II

Factually, we know that it involved most of the countries in the world dividing into two alliances.  We know that roughly 75 million people lost their lives in that war for various reasons directly connected to it.  We know that Hitler was a key figure. But that doesn’t explain what it felt like to experience it.  It’s just the head knowledge.

A gentleman tells you about D-Day.  He explains his fear, the adrenaline rush he feels, the chaos, the horrors.  He explains everything with great detail on the experience.  And you can relate, because you’ve felt shadows of those emotions.  It is a story that connects with your heart.  It’s the heart knowledge.

On their own, the two are good, but when you put them together you get a much more holistic understanding of the event that was World War II.

Simple, I know, but I think it conveys what I’m trying to say well enough.

It is with this heart and head combo that I try to make every decision.  Because sometimes it is better to have mercy, and other times it is better to show none.  Because not everything can be seen with the naked eye, and sometimes you have to read between the lines.

In that pursuit, at this time I’ve concluded God must exist.  Others will conclude that he doesn’t and they are allowed to believe that just as I am entitled to my own beliefs.  But since this is my blog, you are getting my perspective.  Because sometimes it really is the little things that can bring about a whole new understanding.

In this past year, though, I have seen too much to suggest otherwise.  The impeccable timing, the peace when there should be none, among other things.

As a conclusion, I think C.S. Lewis wrote it best when he wrote The Silver Chair:

“One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one more thing to be said, even so. 

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. 

So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say.”

Grace and Peace

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Life, God and the Little Things - Part 1

I've been meaning to do this for a while, but every time I think about sitting down to write things just get in my way.  Or I get distracted (which isn't very hard to do these days).

The past few weeks I've been really working through a lot of different questions.  Many of them centered around my beliefs and the why's behind them.  It has been a very painful, but revealing process and I think I will be the better for it when all is said and done.  There were times when I had questions without answers that indicated a point of view I had not previously considered; and there were times when something else would come up (a discovery here, an off-handed comment there, etc.) that would swing the pendulum back in the opposite direction.

I was on some type of subconscious train ride that felt like at an moment would go off track and end in disaster.

And now there is silence.  Silence in the best possible way.

It is the kind of silence you want when you are alone in the woods, or in your room, or sitting on a random park bench by yourself.  That peaceful, restful silence.  It feels like a weight has been lifted off my heart, and I begin to understand how to breath again.

All of this really started back when a friend of mine decided that he wasn't going to be a Christian anymore.  I guess it was about 10 months ago.

The news was sudden and came without warning.  I felt like I had been punched in the gut, or like I was hit by a train.  And, I didn't know it at the time, but I felt betrayed.  I had great respect for this friend (still do), spent several nights seeking his counsel in college, and always felt a type of connection that I had never felt with any of my previous acquaintances or friends.  His intellect and ability to look at things in an unbiased way was inspiring.  And, perhaps, because of these things, I had elevated him in my mind.  It only makes sense for it to hurt.

It was awkward to talk to him.  I felt like I had lost a part of myself when he chose to be an atheist.  However, we are still friends, thankfully.   While I disagree with more than I have in the past I respect his ability to make the decisions he made because I know it was not an easy journey for him.

It still isn't I suppose.

Regardless, that singular event sent me careening down a path I did not expect to take.  I did not even realize I was on this path until much later.

My path began with just trying to understand the why.  Whenever something happens, specifically significant things that affect me negatively, that is the first question that comes to my mind.  Why?

I explored this question with my friend, with my wife, and even when I was by myself.  Just short of screaming the question at the dead walls.  I never got an answer that satisfied that question.  It burned in me and spurred me onward.

I became a recluse to this friend.  I didn't want to lose his friendship, but I was having a hard time emotionally coping with it all.  So our conversations were short and shallow.  Truthfully, sometimes, they still are but the progress of healing is there and I'm sure one day I'll be able to talk to him once again like I used to.

In the background to all the mental and spiritual exploration there were a lot of things working their way into my physical life.  In October I had lost my job.  The first real job that I had ever truly enjoyed.  And with that job loss, went any progress I had made to getting all of my bills taken care of (including student loans which had been kicking my butt for almost 2 years at this point).  So, I feel like it was safe to say that I felt like I got kicked in the gut again.

It was just one thing after another.

Yet, I was happy for the most part.  I had an adoring wife, friends, and a great and supportive family.

At the same time, however, there was this underlying implication to "man-up" or "get over it".  Never spoken directly, just hovered implicitly at every encounter.

I felt like I was at war, mostly with myself, and I was losing.  By the end of the year I felt trapped and beaten.  I had slumped into a kind of depression that I am just now realizing I had.

More thoughts to come.  

Grace and Peace