If you wanted to know how to support someone sturging with grief this article is bloody brilliant. It talks about ‘conversational narcissism’. Where we insert ourselves into the conversation instead of listening. Great read.
A good friend of mine lost her dad some years back. I found her sitting alone on a bench outside our workplace, not moving, just staring at the horizon. She was absolutely distraught and I didn’t know what to say to her. It’s so easy to say the wrong thing to someone who is grieving and vulnerable. So, I started talking about how I grew up without a father. I told her that my dad had drowned in a submarine when I was only 9 months old and I’d always mourned his loss, even though I’d never known him. I just wanted her to realize that she wasn’t alone, that I’d been through something similar and could understand how she felt.
But after I related this story, my friend looked at me and snapped, “Okay, Celeste, you win. You never had a dad, and I at least got to spend 30 years with mine. You had it worse. I guess I shouldn’t be so upset that my dad just died.”
I was stunned and mortified. My immediate reaction was to plead my case. “No, no, no,” I said, “that’s not what I’m saying at all. I just meant that I know how you feel.” And she answered, “No, Celeste, you don’t. You have no idea how I feel.”
She walked away and I stood there helplessly, watching her go and feeling like a jerk. I had totally failed my friend. I had wanted to comfort her, and instead, I’d made her feel worse. At that point, I still felt she misunderstood me. I thought she was in a fragile state and had lashed out at me unfairly when I was only trying to help.
But the truth is, she didn’t misunderstand me at all. She understood what was happening perhaps better than I did. When she began to share her raw emotions, I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say, so I defaulted to a subject with which I was comfortable: myself.
I may have been trying to empathize, at least on a conscious level, but what I really did was draw focus away from her anguish and turn the attention to me. She wanted to talk to me about her father, to tell me about the kind of man he was, so I could fully appreciate the magnitude of her loss. Instead, I asked her to stop for a moment and listen to my story about my dad’s tragic death.
From that day forward, I started to notice how often I responded to stories of loss and struggle with stories of my own experiences. My son would tell me about clashing with a kid in Boy Scouts, and I would talk about a girl I fell out with in college. When a co-worker got laid off, I told her about how much I struggled to find a job after I had been laid off years earlier. But when I began to pay a little more attention to how people responded to my attempts to empathize, I realized the effect of sharing my experiences was never as I intended. What all of these people needed was for me to hear them and acknowledge what they were going through. Instead, I forced them to listen to me and acknowledge me.
Sociologist Charles Derber describes this tendency to insert oneself into a conversation as “conversational narcissism.” It’s the desire to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself. It is often subtle and unconscious. Derber writes that conversational narcissism “is the key manifestation of the dominant attention-getting psychology in America. It occurs in informal conversations among friends, family and co-workers. The profusion of popular literature about listening and the etiquette of managing those who talk constantly about themselves suggests its pervasiveness in everyday life.” Derber describes two kinds of responses in conversations: a shift response and a support response. The first shifts attention back to yourself, and the second supports the other person’s comment. Here is a simple illustration:
Mary: I’m so busy right now.
Tim: Me too. I’m totally overwhelmed.
Mary: I’m so busy right now.
Tim: Why? What do you have to get done?
Here’s another example:
Karen: I need new shoes.
Mark: Me too. These things are falling apart.
Karen: I need new shoes.
Mark: Oh yeah? What kind are you thinking about?
Shift responses are a hallmark of conversational narcissism. They help you turn the focus constantly back to yourself. But a support response encourages the other person to continue their story. These days, I try to be more aware of my instinct to share stories and talk about myself. I try to ask questions that encourage the other person to continue. I’ve also made a conscious effort to listen more and talk less.
Recently, I had a long conversation with a friend of mine who was going through a divorce. We spent almost 40 minutes on the phone, and I barely said a word. At the end of our call, she said, “Thank you for your advice. You’ve really helped me work some things out.” The truth is, I hadn’t actually offered any advice; most of what I said was a version of “That sounds tough. I’m sorry this is happening to you.” She didn’t need advice or stories from me. She just needed to be heard.
Is love enough? Lisa Hunt-Wotton
This week for me was a dark, but illuminating space if that makes sense. We are in a disturbing season on planet earth in so many areas its enough to make you want to hide under the bed and never come out. The world seems to have been turned topsy-turvy and all the absolutes that we used to count on are shifting. People we used to trust seem to be on the other side of the fence and leaders that we could count on are… well… lets just say, less than worthy of being followed.
This week I had several uninvited and robust discussions with people about same-sex marriage. I was clobbered with bible verses and thrown to the mat over what were obviously very important views for these people. Several people threw the love word at me. Yes, if you can throw love. ‘Love does not come into the picture here, we are talking about the preservation of marriage’ (bit ironic that one). OR ‘I do love them, I just don’t love what they do’. ‘There is a lot more to consider in this issue than just love’.
I was a little shocked to be honest and began to question my own theology.
Have I got this all wrong?
Is there more to consider than love?
Am I watering everything down?
Is love too weak a position to have these days with ‘the world escalating to the New World Order (where all sorts of unspeakable things are going to happen) and we (Christians) are in danger of being overthrown and jailed for what we believe.” (Yes this was said to me)
Many sleepless nights ensued. When finally I felt a whisper of hope. Literally a whisper of hope which woke me up yesterday.
Love, faith and hope remain but the greatest of these is love. (I Cor 13)
Where is the good news people? We are supposed to be the people of good news. Even I am scared of Christians at the moment. Where is the faith, the hope and the love? No wonder people are abandoning religion at staggering rates. Some of you are terrifying.
The greatest of these is love. Love is not weak, it is not an alternative theology and Yes it pretty much is all that you need to consider.
GOD IS LOVE – hello. It is who He is.
“Love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God … for God is love” (1 John 4:7–8).
Love is the greatest commandment (Mt. 22:36-40)
Love is the greatest thing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
Without love, nothing matters. (Gal. 5:6)
The fruit of the Spirit is love. (Gal. 5:22)
IF we are to throw the sacred texts like weapons at people then please get it right.
Jesus has to be the interpretative key to everything in the Bible.
Jesus was asked this: “Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets are based on these two commandments.
School of Love
How many years have you spent studying love? How many workshops, conferences, books, schools have you attended on love? We were never called to be church goers, or even Christians. We are called to be disciples. Disciples are students and our teacher Jesus, came to teach us about love.
I would like to see less doctrinal wrangling in the church and more love. Brian McLaren,
We are called to love
Jesus teaches us to love God and to love others. Imagine how the statistics of rape and domestic violence would fade away if we truly learned to just love our families? But He didn’t stop there. He asks us to love the ‘other’. The outsider, the outcast, the stranger, the alien, and even the enemy. With the SAME love. To treat EVERYONE the way that we want to be loved and the way that we want to be treated. There is not longer US and THEM there is only US.
How does this stack up with our behaviour, language, engagement and response toward the other? To refugees, muslims, LGBTI, homeless, other ethnicities. Is it loving? Jesus’ rather clear teaching on love of enemies has been consistently ignored by all the mainline churches.
Conversation of love. “Tell me your story? What has life been like for you? Help me to understand. How can I support you, sit with you, listen to you? What breaks your heart? What is hurting right now?
We should see all people as brothers, sisters, neighbours, loving them as ourselves, standing with them in unity. Loving someone includes understanding them. Walking alongside them through all of life’s ups and downs.
Think of your child, your grandchild, your partner, your best friend. You don’t abandon them, or cut them off or turn your love off like a tap if they make a mistake or stumble. True love is selfless, it is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking.
John offers an insight that resolves the paradox: if you don’t love your neighbor whom you have seen, you can’t love God whom you have not seen (1 John 4:20). His words recall Jesus’s own words: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). (Source)
“Sacred texts always maximize your possibilities for life and love, which is why we call them sacred. I am afraid we have for too long used the Bible merely to prove various church positions, which largely narrows their range and depth. Instead of transforming people, the Biblical texts became utilitarian and handy ammunition. Rohr.
Love for the other also extends to love for creation. When God told Noah to make an ark, is was not just to save humanity. It was to save all of creation. All the differences, paradoxes and opposites shut up inside a boat with the door locked. What a picture of the preservation and celebration of diversity and otherness.
In conclusion, I would have to say that love IS the only thing to consider. Love is enought. If I am wrong, then I will gladly be wrong on the side of love.
“Jesus does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them”. (Saint Therese of Lisieux)
“All that we do is a means to an end, but love is an end in itself because God is love”. (St. Maria Teresa of the Cross [Edith Stein])
Featured image by Trunk Animation.
If the work here is meaningful to you, you can partner with me in a very real way through Patreon.com.
Patreon allows me to get support for the work that I do on this blog. Patreon allows people to financially pledge to support artists, writers, musicians, and other creative people. Sunday Everyday has been on-line since the first of February 2015. Since that time I have been doing this in a volunteer capacity. For the blog to continue I need your support. You may want to give the amount you would spend on a coffee and muffin once a month or you may wish to pledge $50.00 a month or more. Every bit helps.
Please help support my ministry and magnify my voice by pledging.
Thanks for considering.
This is an excellent read, tailored to men about how men heal from trauma. I found this really helpful. I hope that you do to. Lisa.
Sean Swaby tells his story of trauma and healing.
Ask a man if he has experienced any trauma and he will probably just shrug his shoulders. He will tell you he’s never faced any of it, so go ask the next guy.
The reality is that most men have experienced some level of psychological trauma.
What is trauma?
Trauma can be defined as situational or chronic.
- Situational trauma is a car accident, one incident of harm or an overwhelming experience (such as witnessing someone being hurt, shot, or murdered).
- Chronic trauma is where a person experiences ongoing traumas that include (and are not limited to): emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and even spiritual abuse. For a more exhaustive list, click here.
According to PTSD United, 70% of us have experienced at least one trauma. If you dig into the statistics, you soon realize…
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The Virtual Reformation
BY JANE CARO
In this new ‘Age of Anxiety’, where the world’s future appears unprecedentedly bleak and volatile, historical parallels between our times and the Protestant Reformation can draw some comfort – and some alarm.
In 2017 we live in a world that is gripped by fear.
Social researcher Hugh Mackay has dubbed our times an ‘Age of Anxiety’. All the old certainties have been turned upside down and the only thing that we are told we can rely on is an ever-increasing pace of change.
To a jittery population that is cold comfort. In our existential dread we thrash about for people to blame: the left, the right, Muslims, refugees, feminists, believers, unbelievers, terrorists and that reliable old omnibus – political correctness. The one thing we all agree on is that the future looks alarming and unpredictable. We are, we believe, in uncharted waters.
But perhaps that is not so. Perhaps human beings have been through something like this before.
In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and changed the world. Prior to this technical marvel, every book had to be handwritten, predominantly by monks laboring in scriptoriums.
Information was controlled by a tiny number of educated scholars, most of whom were priests of the Catholic Church, and almost all books were Bibles. The rest of the population were mostly illiterate. Information was guarded zealously and people were woefully ignorant.
Those in power liked it that way. The many Bibles and religious texts that were laboriously produced by hand were written in Latin, a language ordinary people did not understand. When people participated in worship – and it was compulsory – religious ceremonies were conducted in that same dead language, with the priest behind a screen, his back to the congregation.
Worshippers were only permitted to participate in a pre-ordained, ritualistic manner. Indeed, it was one of the tenets of the Catholic Church that ordinary people should neither read the word of God nor pray to God directly. Their only contact with their maker had to be through a man of God: a priest.
Everything else was heresy. In this way, the priests and the Church controlled virtually all information for centuries. And through controlling information, of course, they also controlled the population.
In my other life, I have written a trilogy of young adult historical novels about Elizabeth I, and this has meant I had to research her life and times. As I did I began to see powerful resonances with the present.
Elizabeth Tudor’s very existence was a direct consequence of the dramatic changes occurring within the power structures and organisation of the world at that time. Changes that were the result – as I suspect they always are – of a technological innovation.
In the 1500s it was the printing press. Elizabeth Tudor was born in 1533, during the tumult that followed the first information revolution. We are currently living through the second.
It was the invention of the printing press that gave rise to the Protestant Reformation. Suddenly, books (most of which remained Bibles) could be produced more rapidly and in greater numbers, and at much lower cost.
With more books available, supply created demand. People, particularly those with means, began to learn to read. Even before Martin Luther nailed his ‘The 95 Theses’ to the church door in 1517, cracks were beginning to appear in the ironclad control the Catholic Church had previously exercised over access to information and knowledge.
Even the language of knowledge started to change. Luther translated the Bible into the German vernacular, and William Tyndale translated it into English. Such was the Church’s fear of the spread of information that both men were excommunicated. Tyndale was eventually condemned as a heretic. He was strangled and his body burnt at the stake.
But even in the face of such draconian consequences, the public continued to demand their own direct relationship with God and their right to read the Bible in their own language.
What people were really agitating for, perhaps, was access to information and knowledge. They were no longer willing to know only what the priestly class wanted them to know.
Elizabeth I’s mother, Anne Boleyn, a devout and evangelical Protestant, is famous as the coquette who held a King’s ardour at bay for a decade until he eventually made her Queen. It was Henry VIII’s determination to get a divorce from his Catholic first wife, Catherine, so he could marry Anne that led to his countries’ break with Rome and the establishment of the Protestant Church of England.
Henry was a Protestant for political, dynastic and sexual purposes, but Boleyn was a true believer. Her tenacious commitment to ideas, such as each Christian’s right to a direct and personal relationship with God, was one of the reasons she made so many powerful enemies.
In response to the Protestant schism and the threat it posed to their power and control, the Catholic Church burnt heretics, hunted them down and tortured them. The Spanish Inquisition was formed to stamp out heresy. Huguenots were massacred in France and wars were fought between Protestant and Catholic nations. Elizabeth herself lived under a Catholic fatwa. (Protestants, of course, were brutal and fanatical, too.)
The Catholic Church had to learn to share power…with the growing secular society that emerged as a result of widening education.
None of it worked. The Catholic Church had to learn to share power. Not only with Protestants but with the growing secular society that emerged as a result of widening education. From ruling half the planet, to such an extent that Pope Alexander VI actually divided the new world in two and gave one half to the Spanish and the other to the Portuguese, Catholicism became just another branch of Christianity.
As education and knowledge spread, Enlightenment followed the Reformation, and then all the liberation movements that emerged thereafter, including the abolition of slavery, child labour, and increased rights for women. After all, if every man could have his own relationship with God, why not every woman? Why not every slave?
This democratisation of the word of God led inexorably to democracy itself; predicated on the idea that all men (even, perhaps, women) were created equal. Everyone ended up entitled to not just a relationship with God but with a vote and a say. One followed inevitably, I think, from the other. As those in power understand only too well, once a few difficult questions began to be asked, a great many more would follow.
The internet is at least as revolutionary as the printing press and we can already see the effect it is having on today’s information gatekeepers. In the West, these are no longer the churches, although they battle on manfully.
The mainstream media, particularly newspaper proprietors – the high priests who used to set the daily political agenda – big business, banks, retailers and governments are all feeling the loss of control. Many are thrashing about in protest, trying to hold onto a power that they once acquired so effortlessly that they may have begun to see it as a divine right.
Now that everybody with a smart device has access to the media as well as the ability to create content themselves, things that used to be kept quiet are getting out; everyone can have a direct relationship with what used to be privileged information.
Most recently, WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden have brought that home to the powers that be in no uncertain terms. I can’t help wondering if Julian Assange, Snowden and Chelsea Manning are the William Tyndales of our time. They can expect – and indeed have received – no mercy if they are.
Wherever you look in the modern world, old certainties are collapsing. Bricks and mortar retailers are struggling to hold onto customers and profits. The music industry has returned to concerts and touring to make money, not just because of internet piracy but because even when fans legally purchase their download, prices (and so profits) have collapsed. The troubadour, it seems, is back.
The same is true for books, films and TV. Advertisers are in a cold sweat about how to catch viewer’s attention in these days of fragmenting media, Apple TV, Netflix, IQ, live pause and fast forward. Those that rely on making a profit to exist are badly shaken.
Rupert Murdoch began his attack on the new media landscape by berating public broadcasters like the BBC and ABC, aware that their publicly subsidised model allowed them to offer viewers much better service than his stations could afford. Public broadcasters are now under siege around the world.
Murdoch’s desperation about holding on to the readers and viewers has led to staff at some of his newspapers using the new technology to break the law and invade the privacy of those who attract the attention of a fickle public. Arguably it is the sense of having lost control that drives people to take escalating risks.
Newspapers – direct products of the invention of the printing press – appear to be on the brink of extinction, at least in hard copy and on weekdays. And news stories no longer break on the evening news or in first-edition headlines, or even on radio. They break on Twitter, Instagram and on Facebook.
The witnesses to momentous events now upload their smart phone photos and videos instantly. Who needs an expensive camera crew anymore?
Newspapers – direct products of the invention of the printing press – appear to be on the brink of extinction.
Even that indomitable old dame feminism has found herself firmly back on the political agenda, thanks to women’s unmediated voices on social media. When the women of India find the courage to march in the streets to protest the endemic rapes in that country because access to social media (even the poorest have smart phones) has at last given them a voice, you know the world is changing.
The current outpouring of rage by women over the treatment of the Stanford rapist is also an expression of the new capacity to speak up and speak out. LGBTQI activists are asserting their rights just as emphatically, further panicking those who see power as a zero sum game.
Polish women have marched in their thousands and gone on strike in their millions in protest against proposed draconian laws against abortion. Their combined voices are forcing politicians and church leaders to take notice.
The response of today’s powerful class to their comprehensive loss of control mirrors that of the Catholic Church five hundred years ago. They are furious and they are fighting back.
Politics have moved sharply to the right. Only three decades ago, it was a conservative Fraser government in Australia that reacted with compassion and generosity to the first boat people from Vietnam. Today even Labor appears to be in some kind of competition with its conservative counterparts as to who can be most cruel.
The election of Donald Trump, the triumph of Brexit, the re-emergence of Pauline Hanson – all are signs of such fear-based responses.
It is human nature to react to a sense of losing control by clamping down twice as hard on anything you can control. Hence the triumph of the measurement-maniacs in areas such as health, education, government policy and management theory. I have even read an article touting a new quantitative process for ‘objectively’ measuring success in the arts.
Worse, what now goes by the once liberal term of ‘reform’ often looks much more like old fashioned authoritarian ‘control’ when scrutinised. As author C. J. Sansom warned in the preface to his dystopian novel Dominion, forget fascism and communism, what we may be facing now is the development of toxic democracies based on nationalism and xenophobia, both favourite boltholes for the frightened and insecure.
The election of Donald Trump, the triumph of Brexit, the re-emergence of Pauline Hanson – all are signs of such fear-based responses. If things feel out of our control, we turn to leaders who find us scapegoats to blame.
But it is in climate change denial that the powerful most resemble the Catholic Church of the 15th century. Faced with the literally earth-shattering realisation that the old economic model of continuous growth is starting to decline and that the planet’s resources are not infinite, many of those running the world have reacted by closing their eyes and covering their ears.
Like the Inquisitors of old, they prefer to accuse climate scientists of heresy and conspiracy than listen. Using somewhat more subtle tactics than burning or torturing, they have still managed to intimidate many – including our public broadcasters – into a nervous silence or, at best, spurious attempts at balance.
Professor Brian Cox debating One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts on the ABC’s Q&A was a recent example. I won’t labour the point by mentioning Galileo, but you get the idea.
Of course, such tactics didn’t work for the Catholic Church then and won’t work for the powers that be now. But if history is any guide (and it’s the only one we’ve got) we should expect the powerful to fight back hard and to fight dirty for some time before they bow to the inevitable.
The fear and loathing around debt and deficit, the constant pressure on public services, particularly those that serve the vulnerable, are examples of desperate attempts to take back control.
Living in a constant state of ‘crisis’ helps keep people docile. Frightening them into compliance by taking away social safety nets is another way, as is exhausting them by making jobs insecure and asking them to work until they drop.
Increasing the barriers to further education is another method of keeping control in the hands of the already privileged. Noam Chomsky put it like this in a speech on the cost of public education in May 2011:
Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society. When you trap people in a system of debt they can’t afford the time to think. Tuition fee increases are a disciplinary technique, and, by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalised the disciplinarian culture. This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy.
I’m not saying political leaders have done all this consciously, or as some sort of conspiracy, but, as I was taught in my advertising career long ago, if you want to know why someone does something: follow the benefit.
The part of the world, however, where the impact of this latest information revolution may be most powerfully felt did not experience a reformation last time around.
As I was taught in my advertising career long ago, if you want to know why someone does something: follow the benefit.
We can see that already in what used to optimistically be called the Arab Spring. Not just the explosions of dissent in Egypt, Libya, Syria and, more surprisingly, Thailand and even Hong Kong, but also the general resurgence of fundamentalist Islam (and Christianity, for that matter) makes perfect sense when looked at through the prism of history.
In 15th century Europe the once all-powerful church tried – vainly, as it turned out – to shut down access to newly available information and to continue to control the population. In the 21st century, extreme anti-information movements, like the Taliban and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and now ISIS, are attempting to do the same thing.
They will fail just as they did five hundred years ago. So will the authoritarians and the previously all-powerful information gatekeepers in the West. The only question is how long it will take until they do.
We do not have the same luxury in terms of time that we had in the 15th century. Climate scientists believe it may already be too late to cap global warming at two degrees and no one really wants to contemplate what effect uncontrollable global warming may have. Add to that the super-destructive weapons that technology has put into the hands of modern humans and I cannot help fearing what state the world may be left in once the virtual reformation has run its course.
In the words of George Santayana: ‘Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.’
My only hope is we repeat them in a hurry.
Jane Caro is an author, novelist, journalist, broadcaster, columnist and social commentator. She spent thirty years as an advertising writer and her creative work has won many national and international awards. Her most recent book is Plain-Speaking Jane (2015).
Happy Fathers Day to all the Dads out there including my own and to my husband Philip.
It was my father who taught me to value myself. He told me that I was uncommonly beautiful and that I was the most precious thing in his life. Dawn French
This is a simple DVD Tribute to Dads. Enjoy
One of the greatest gifts my father gave me – unintentionally – was witnessing the courage with which he bore adversity. We had a bit of a rollercoaster life with some really challenging financial periods. He was always unshaken, completely tranquil, the same ebullient, laughing, jovial man. Ben Okri
If the work here is meaningful to you, you can partner with me in a very real way through Patreon.com.
Patreon allows me to get support for the work that I do on this blog. Patreon allows people to financially pledge to support artists, writers, musicians, and other creative people. Sunday Everyday has been on line since the first of February 2015. Since that time I have been doing this in a volunteer capacity. For the blog to continue I need your support. You may want to give the amount you would spend on a coffee and muffin once a month or you may wish to pledge $50.00 a month or more. Every bit helps.
Please help support my ministry and magnify my voice by pledging.
Thanks for considering.
More than 80% landed in Greece, with most of the rest making landfall in Italy
You can also read more about the issue and the work of Samaritans Purse here.
Bindi Cole Blogs
Posted: 28 Oct 2015 01:47 AM
Come to this amazing art tour of the Western Treatment Plant!
It’s free and going to be awesome and will fill up fast. I’ve created Scratch’n’Sniff cards and a new video work that I’m excited about. The other artists are Catherine Bell, Megan Evans (whose work I’m in love with), Shane McGrath, Techa Noble and Spiros Panigarakis. The whole thing has been curated by David Cross and Cameron Bishop. Here’s the details:
The TREATMENT project has enabled six artists to explore and interpret the Western Treatment Plant.
The project tour provides an opportunity to explore the landscape, history, science and innovation at the Western Treatment Plant through art. Organised by Deakin University School of Communication and Creative Arts, and supported by Melbourne Water and Wyndham City Council, the artists have spent six months exploring the plant’s sights, sounds, textures and even smell to create their artwork.
Their artworks will be temporarily displayed at the plant during November with the free bus tours being used to move the audience throughout the site.
The art tour will be run over two days:
Dates: Saturday 14th & 21st November 2015
Bus Tour Times: 10am, 11.30am, 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm. Tours are 80 minutes.
Location: WTP Discovery Centre, New Farm Road, Werribee
Melway Reference: 205 E12 (take the Princes Freeway exit after Werribee Zoo if travelling from Melbourne)
Bookings are required. Bookings and enquiries should be directed via 131 722 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The tours run for 80 minutes, staring and ending at the Discovery Centre
There’s walking involved, it’s not a fully accessible tour
Minimum ages do apply – children must be at least five years old
Clothing requirements apply and people won’t be able to participate in tours if not in long pants/trousers and fully enclosed, flat shoes (not sandals)
See you there!
Intra-congregational Conflict and the Impacts (or not) on Individuals’ Spiritual Formation
By Jehan Loza
Conflict among God’s people has existed since the beginning of time.
Beginning with the fall and the first conflict between Adam and Eve, the Old Testament is peppered with conflict between Israel and other nations and among the Israelites themselves. Even the New Testament, with its message of hope and love, includes stories of conflict.
The causes and outcomes of intra-congregational conflict
According to Starke and Dyke (1996) intra-congregational conflicts with the greatest consequences are either authority-based or doctrinally-based and certainly the Church of Corinth was suffering from both. Other research has shown that intra-congregational conflict occurs over issues such as worship and ritual, gender and sexuality, church building, generational gaps, liberal and conservatives, individual differences in race or ethnicity (see Grace Chou for a bibliography 2008). Community congregations (those placing emphasis on interpreting and applying shared values on social issues) have twice the number of conflicts as family congregations (those placing emphasis on close knit and supportive relationships) and congregations affected by the charismatic movement are more vulnerable to intra-congregational conflict (Grace Chou 2008). The notion of ‘values issues’ picked up here by Grace Chou is not to be underestimated.
Paton (1996) claims that religious organisations, including Churches, are organisations marked by “value issues”, and, as a result, experience a greater measure of internal conflict. Paton (1996:31) defines value issues as:
an organisational conflict which reflects emerging or unresolved tensions concerning the implications of a commitment central to the identity or mission of an organisation or between two such commitments, where such tensions are perceived to have a clear ethical dimension.
While value issues often lead to conflict, they have a distinctive attribute and therefore differ from other internal organisational conflicts. Value issues: appeal to and are motivated by higher values, have significance both at the organisational and individual level and carry limited leverage for negotiation. Value issues are more likely to appear in public and voluntary organisations that exist to pursue humanitarian or religious goals and those that exist to bring about change in the wider society. Paton (1006) suggests that because religious organisations are critical of the status quo they are prone to intense disputes over critical tenants and principles.
Picking up a similar theme, Greenwood (2005:3) argues that one of the qualities that make churches vulnerable to intra-congregational conflict is idealism.
Greenwood suggests that members bring to their congregations:heartfelt values and ideals, hopes and dreams, passion and caring, and our families. We invest mind, body, and spirit. We have high expectations that our need for belonging, affirmation, emotional support, unconditional love, meaning, guidance, usefulness, mastery, and power will be fulfilled.
As a result there is much at stake when conflict erupts. Since church decisions matter, members may lack the grace to accept convictions that differ from their own. Simultaneously, churches will often encourage idealism by building optimism through promoting an ideal of ‘the family of God’ while avoiding conversations around limitations (except those that are financial). Greenwood (2005) argues that this disposition as one towards “a mindset of perfectionism” creates a false hope, camouflaging the reality of humanity’s inclination toward conflict. When values are therefore challenged and expectations are unmet, conflict can emerge. It is for this reason that Greenwood (2005:4) comments that “the very root of the church’s genius – its ability to stir the human heart and to elicit hope and action – is also its vulnerability”.
Yet church conflict is all too common. In their research on conflict with American churches, the organisation Your Church found that nearly all pastors recall experiencing conflict in their church at some point and a staggering one in four are in the midst of conflict in their current church. 93 percent of those surveyed noted several negative effects from conflict (La Rue 2006).
According to La Rue (2006) the damage from conflict is twofold. First, is a wounded pastor and congregation with broken relationships, loss of trust and bitterness. Second, is that people leave the church. In nearly four out of ten cases (38%) pasters reported that they had left their church due to conflict. Church leaders leave a third of the time. And one-third of churches experienced a drop in church attendance compared to only 16% of churches that see attendance growth as the result of conflict.
Other research has noted that severe and unresolved conflict can result in church exit and even for those that remain committed to the church, the conflict can generate crippling emotions that result in a withdrawal from regular participation, activities, social opportunities and even friendships within the church – all important aspects for spiritual formation. For those directly involved in the conflict alienation, mutual recrimination, accusations and, harsh deeds are common place experiences (Becker 1999, Ellison et al 2009).
Drawing on the work of Baumeister (1991), Krause and Wulff (2005) argue that one of the primary functions of religion is to provide a sense of belonging. When individuals encounter interpersonal problems with fellow church members, the effects are likely to be pernicious, since such experiences can destroy deeply held beliefs about the way church members should relate to each other. Church conflict, therefore, can also have negative outcomes on an individual’s psychological wellbeing.
Finally, prolonged and bitter congregational conflict can distract both operations and staff and members from the core mission and purpose of the church such as ministry areas, outreach programs, discipleship training, support and care for members and their families etc. Such conflict, argue Ellison et al (2009:5) has the potential to “suck the air out of” the church community and erode, even diminish, friendship networks, support structures and generate a highly charged and negative environment.
Important to also note is that the inability to address and resolve conflict in a healthy manner not only undermines the mission of the church and its viability but will also stunt the spiritual vitality of the congregation (Greenwood 2005).
The next section presents a personal recollection of two recent church conflicts and their outcomes.
A personal reflection: There is strife in the house
During 2008 and early 2009, my husband and I would often visit my parent’s church. Planted as the first Arabic AOG in Melbourne, this group of 40 adults were on ‘fire’ and the Spirit was moving. The church was growing and was excited to welcome several recently converted Muslims. Every Sunday the congregation ate together and every Wednesday at least half the church met for life group. My parents had been attending the church since 2007. The transformation that we witnessed in my mother, who was once a Coptic, and father, who had not attended church for more than 20 years, was nothing short of incredible. There is more to write though suffice it to say that my husband and I often reflected that this Church did in fact represent an Acts 2 church!
However, in mid-2009, things began to go awry as some of the board members began to question the senior Pastor on financial matters.
The Pastor would not defend himself stating only:
“I can only tell you that I did not do this and God will be my defender.”
This did not placate the board and within a short time, and with an escalating debate, alliances between board members and congregation members were made. The gossip and backbiting increased as members sought the ‘truth’ creating a fertile ground for previous and unresolved offences between members and members and their pastor to be raised and accusations to widen. Those with offense began to accuse him of being too controlling. The Pastor responded with: “I am your Pastor”. By now, the people were in a frenzy. The more they talked the more things heated. The talking behind closed doors in hushed tones became loud, public declarations. My mother and others pleaded with the board members to tell to give them more information.
“This man is a good man. Tell me what he had done that is so bad. I do not understand and I am hearing mixed and confused messages.”
Their answers did not satisfy. The conflict continued to escalate and when it became physical, the Pastor and his wife resigned, went home and packed their bags for Egypt. Their plans were stalled when half the congregation knocked on their door and pleaded that they plant a new church.
The church had split. The ramifications were high. Some newly converted (Muslim) members retreated to their homes and many friendships were broken. The Pastors wife needed some serious health care for the stress and my parent’s allegiance was also split. My father stayed in the old church and my mother went with the Pastor to the new church plant. Over several months, my husband and I watched with both amusement and horror my parents throw fierce accusations at each other. The arguments always concluded with one pointing the finger at the other yelling: “you are going to hell!”
Not long after the new church plant, the Pastor of our church at the time invited the Arabic Pastor to use a room in our church for his meetings. It was nice to know my mother and I, though divided by language, were worshipping in the same house. It was nice watching her church grow. And just as we were coming terms with the devastation that we had witnessed in my parents church, a new type of devastation erupted.
On a Saturday night friends of ours met with us to ask if my husband would be one among three men who would meet with our current pastor and ask him to resign. They said, “there is a Jezebel spirit in the house”, that “the Pastor was too controlling over the people”, “the control was not permitting the Spirit to move”, and that in fact, “there was a spirit over the house that needed to be broken”. Horrified, my husband declined their offer and attempted to make clear that this is not something he agreed with. “You do what you feel prompted by the Spirit John and we will do what we feel prompted by the Spirit” was the response.
Six months followed where, within a culture of secrecy of the details of the conflict and its negotiation, new accusations and rumours emerged. While the senior Pastors tried to remain silent for ‘confidentiality reasons’, a couple of board members and some staff members took free reign further fuelling the conflict. “His wife had an affair”, they said. “She has damaged a lot of our members over the years … A lot of people have left because of her”, they accused.
It felt like déjà vu as we watched (sometimes even participated in) several yelling matches after the Sunday services. Friendships were strained, many were broken and more accusations emerged. Finally our Pastor and his wife resigned and left the church. His parting words were, “my family has been brutalised”.
During the interim, my husband was made connections ‘Pastor’. His new role stirred up some unexpected, unbeknown and unresolved issues between him and I. This coupled with the aftermath of pain and devastation I witnessed all done in the name of God and His glory, almost caused me to walk away from church and God.
Our church has now become a Planter Shakers campus. Some people have left, though it is hard to say how many. Many more have come, though it is hard to know from where they have come. The community of which we were a part has been disintegrated as the foyer is now flooded with strange faces, yet we see salvations every week.
My mother’s church is shrinking. There has been more conflict and more members have left. Due to space restrictions, last week they were asked by Planetshakers to leave our building.
I do not know what has happened to my father’s church. His behaviour during that time was so appalling to me that I refused to engage in any conversation with him about either his church, my mother’s church or my church. I do know that they are still seeking a permanent pastor.
Conflict as spiritual formation
Given the negative outcomes of intra-congregational conflict, it would seem that such conflict might have a degree of impact on an individual’s spiritual formation. If as Richards (1975) argues it is the body of Christ, in the ministry of believers to one another that leads to the spiritual transformation of fullness in Christ, what happens when the ministry of believers find themselves in friction or conflict? What are the spiritual formation impacts of this?
This question raises a significant pastoral concern since, as Majerus and Sandage argue (2010), there is a Divine call on Christians to pursue spiritual maturity which sees its full expression when we become in the image of Christ and are able to express unity in the faith and knowledge of Christ becoming mature in Him, attaining to the whole measure and His fullness.
The general admonition of Christian life that positions passivism as a virtue and a condition of conflict avoidance can result in avoidance of conflict at all cost. Those accepting this view, see conflict as anathema to Jesus’ proscription to be selfless and loving (Ennis 2008) and attempt to rid all conflict from their relationships, considering it improper, deviant and ‘unchristian’ to expect conflict to be a plausible condition of the human experience. These individuals, argues Ennis (2008:346), are “avoiding their Christian duty to properly use conflict to achieve positive results” rather than resolving the conflict. The means to escape conflict are denial, flight, or physical suicide and the results end in chaos and even death. The opposite of passivism, direct action as a means to resolve conflict can be just as detrimental. Such a response to conflict can too often lead to litigation, verbal/physical assault and even murder.
What then is the response to conflict that facilitates our Divine call to spiritual maturity?
There is a common perception among Christians that church exit as a result of conflict leads to a loss of faith and at a minimum stunts an individual’s spiritual growth. However, Grace Chou (2008) has highlighted that exit is only one possible outcome of intra-congregational conflict and certainly not the most common outcome. A study conducted by Hibbert (2010) found that church leavers still expressed belief in Jesus and continued to pray regularly. The majority of church leavers were still very positive about Jesus and most indicated that their primary allegiance was to Christ who they had an ongoing relationship with (which included experiences of God speaking to them and acting in their lives (Hibbert, 2010)
Researchers like de Kock (19920 Grace Chou (2008), Hibbert (2010) and others position conflict as a positive force for spiritual formation and transformation. Ennis (2008), for example, asserts that Christian understanding of conflict and its correct resolution is essential to continued spiritual formation and the churches promotion of the Christian faith. In fact, Ennis claims that when it is handled appropriately, conflict can facilitate our growth and strengthen our relationships. Ellison et al (2009) hypothesise that, while conflict may give rise to emotional distress, in the short term it is possible that this may yield cumulative benefits in terms of spiritual growth over a longer period of time. Further, New-Edson (2005) asserts that conflict can allow us to be open to other ways of seeing and understanding situations. Within a congregation, times of conflict provide the Holy Spirit with an opportunity to refine and mature individuals into more Christ-like servants.
In their research, Starke and Dyck (1996), found some surprising positive outcomes for those that had experienced intra-congregational conflict which resulted in a church split. One significant positive outcome of the split was the need for more people to become actively involved in congregational life. That is, many of those who had sat on the sidelines up until the conflict, had to step forward and assume positions of leadership that they would otherwise have assumed. Such participation provided a tangible benefit. Furthermore, congregational splits can result in new congregations that are similar to the diaspora of the early church – that is, as a promulgation of the faith and improvement in the performance of the larger church (Starke and Dyck 1996).
Finally, according to research conducted by the organisation Your Church, there are many benefits of conflict with those surveyed claiming it was a learning experience, or a spiritual encounter that was necessary to resolve a problem or bring about healing. The overwhelmingly positive outcome of the conflict for more than seven in ten pastors was wisdom. Other top benefits included a purifying process, a better-defined vision for the church, and better communications (La Rue 2006).
A one body: A reconciling spirit
Ackerman notes that if the outcomes of conflict are not positive then there has been a failure among the people to “live by the model of the cross”. According to Ackerman (2005:350):
Any growing group will experience friction as part of the maturing process. If the friction, however, is not filtered by love, the human tendency for self-glorification will contaminate the fellowship, leading to a breakdown of community.
Ennis (2008) argues that few people have learned that conflict is an opportunity to solve common problems in a way that honours God and, in turn, facilitates the spiritual maturity of others. The problem with the Church at Corinth mentioned earlier, therefore, was not the conflict that was among the believers but that their individualism and lack of love towards each other led to unhealthy friction and a barrier to non-believers. Their show of gifts did not produce fruits of faith but of alienation and disbelief. Their boasting of speaking in tongues, for example, did not facilitate unity but the alienation of unbelievers. The Corinthians prioritised the temporal, neglecting love which, according to Ackerman (2005) is the sign of the true eschaton.
According to Hybels (1997:26) we should expect disagreements, even strong disagreements, in Christian institutions. Hybels argues that unity is not a word we should use to describe human relationships since the popular notion of unity among Christians being the absence of conflict:
is a fantasy land where disagreements never surface and contrary opinions are never stated with force. Instead of unity, we use the word community. . . . The mark of community—true, biblical unity—is not the absence of conflict. It’s the presence of a reconciling spirit.
Sande (2000:25) claims that we should view conflict as an opportunity to illuminate the power and presence of God for that is what the Bible teaches us. According to Sande conflict always provides an opportunity to glorify and honour God. It also provides us with the opportunity to demonstrate God’s love for others, that God is loving, and faithful.
It is important to note that Scripture is written to and for groups of people not individuals. For Ennis (2008) learning to read our Bible in this way means rather than asking, ‘What is God saying to me?’ we ask ‘What is God saying to us?’ As Paul noted to the Corinthians, we are a body. As believers, we have the mind of Christ. This means we have a way, by God’s grace, to resolve conflict together. This is the reconciling spirit.
The church and its leaders have a major part to play in this.
According to de Kock (1992) if we acknowledge that the church is an ecology of different styles and members at different stages of faith, we come to realise that the response to certain demands placed upon the church might create conflict and that many in the church may not be able to respond adequately. De Kock (1992) claims that the church must provide ways and means for which to deal with conflict creatively. This is not the place to discuss creative means for addressing conflict, though as an entry point, one must understand that Christian action in relation to conflict has a higher purpose than the resolution of the conflict itself (Ennis 2008).
As a pastoral concern issue, the role for the church and its leaders, therefore, is to equip the people for change and conflict. One way of doing this is for church leaders to bring the conflict to light and then to equip the people to better deal with the conflict as an asset, as an important experience for spiritual growth rather than as a negative or a limitation. This in itself is a creative approach and one that I would argue is based on a reconciling spirit. After all, as Greenwood (2005: 4) claims:
If there is any shame, it is in failing to acknowledge our problems and gain the skills necessary to address them in a life-giving way. This journey begins with compassion for our congregations and ourselves, and appreciation for the unique gift the church represents. What other institution attempts to cut across boundaries of class, age, and ethnicity to build a caring, cohesive community with all those who show up, whatever their quirks, dreams, needs? An aversion to conflict deprives churches of the material needed for health and growth, the fresh air that mediates the Spirit’s presence. Conflict, after all, bears potential gifts. Conflict is the engine of change, and always a call to renewal. The very impetus toward a loving, cohesive community becomes our nemesis if not rightly understood. In seeking to emulate the witness of early Christians (“My how they love one another”), we must safeguard our authentic struggles, which serve to deepen our love for one another and God.
On the home front – the good news is that several months ago my parents reconciled and are now talking. A few weeks ago one of the members of my father’s church participated in a social activity in my mother’s church and last week my mother said she might go and visit my father’s church. In our church, broken relationships are being mended, some people who left the church many years back are ‘coming home’ and many are being ‘spiritually awakened’.
For my family and close friends, whether forced into the conflict or entered into it willingly, the trauma they endured, I believe, has paid off. Most of us would say that despite it all, we have come a long way spiritually. I am thankful for the experience. I have learnt so much and have come to understand and experience God more intimately. While the story ends well (for now at least) I would still argue that both my parents and our church leaders could have played a bigger role during the conflict process. The secrecy that shrouded the conflict and was generated by the leaders of both churches only served to fuel the situation, further creating a divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’. As a result, our spiritual growth, such as it has been, appears to have occurred at the individual rather than at the corporate/community level – a level which Greenwood (2005) above notes is so important for one’s spiritual development. Rather than travelling solo on the spiritual formation journey, leaders can be constantly asking “what is God saying to us” and in doing so ensure that congregations in conflict travel as one body in reconciliation – albeit as Paul the Apostle noted – a body with many parts. With such diversity in parts, the journey can only rely on creative methods.
Conflict is an inevitable part of human existence and interaction. It has existed since the beginning of time. Despite the research that claims that intra-congregational conflict has negative outcomes, there is other, more compelling, research that shows that conflict is a necessary requirement, even an asset, for one’s spiritual growth.
Conflict is a positive force for spiritual formation. Rather than a negative, conflict provides an opportunity to glorify and honour God. Church leaders have an important role to play in this. Rather than promoting a culture of secrecy, a culture of false harmony, church leaders must recognise that action for conflict serves a much higher purpose than the resolution of the conflict itself. The role for the church and its leaders, therefore, is to equip the people for change and conflict. Leaders can be constantly asking “what is God saying to us” and in doing so ensure that congregations in conflict travel as one body with many parts and as a body armed with a reconciling spirit.
I am left with some questions: To the present Pastors and those to come: will you bring to light what is your shame and your secrecy? Will you step out and teach your people that conflict is natural, normal and expected? Will you equip your people in the ways of reconciliation, give them the tools, the understanding of doing conflict in love – creatively, doing it with a reconciling spirit? Will you show your people, teach and train them how they can grow, and be transformed through conflict as one body with many parts? Will you?
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