Conflict and Harmony

Living in harmony is important. I believe this as a Christian, as a daughter of two hippies, and as someone who has many issues with how the world is.

I studied Native American culture and literature one semester at Western and loved it. We mostly covered the Cherokees, which isn’t all that surprising considering we were right in the middle of where they once lived. (Seriously. I walked past or had class every day by a spot that used to be an Indian mound.) I learned so much in that class, including how Native Americans value harmony.

I won’t pretend to know much about many cultures, but Native Americans are the most harmonic culture I do know. There is (and always has been) such a sense of who they are as a people, of community, of really helping each other out. It would be ignorant (and frankly, stupid) of me to tell you no two Native Americans or groups of Native Americans have ever argued or fought. I’m simply saying that they are generally unified and peaceful.

Conflict happens. It’s as simple as that. There are over seven billion people on this planet, and it’s unrealistic to expect to get along with all of them all of the time. Some people run from conflict and others live for it. It remains that you cannot avoid it sometimes regardless of how you react to it.

Not too long ago, we had a volunteer meeting at the church, and Alan told the greeters that they would be the first impression of Christ that people see when they walk in the door, and I don’t know about you, but that thought actually terrifies me. I’m far from being like Christ, and while I understand why people would base their impression of Christ off of a Christian, it seems unfair. (It reminds me of lyrics by a band I love called TEAM. “Couldn’t be like Jesus / But he tried, but he tried, but he tried, but he tried.”)

“Carrie, how am I supposed to be Christ-like if I can’t handle conflict?”

Remember that Jesus was also human and also had to deal with conflict. The Pharisees? He butted heads with them many times. The people in his hometown? The last encounter wasn’t pretty. The general population? Well, they put Him on the cross. Jesus had His share of conflict and in abundance. He couldn’t avoid it any more than you can.

We could sit here all day and discuss reasons for conflict. Jealousy, stubbornness, the inability (or rather, the lack of wanting) to see things from someone else’s perspective, and as Alan mentioned Sunday, judgment. This list will remain just that – a list – because a couple of these items are soapboxes of mine, and for all of our sakes, I’m going to choose to let them sit here without stepping up on them. I just want to acknowledge some of the reasons conflict arises in our lives and, yes, even in our churches.

We read a lot about “one mind and one accord” situations in the New Testament after Jesus’s death and the formation and growth of the Church. Because of this, it’s easy to imagine the early Church getting along perfectly. It sort of conjures images of everyone sitting in a circle singing “Kumbaya” after a job well done.

And wouldn’t that be fantastic? All of these new converts meeting and mingling with the apostles, everyone just doing their things and feeling the love of Christ.

That does sound awesome, and I wish I could tell you that’s exactly how it happened, but it’s not. That’s why those “one mind and one accord” moments are so important. The truth is there was a lot of division and conflict in the Church and in the first churches. (And as a quick word of hope, they made it through with God’s help, so we can too.)

As Paul is wrapping up his letter to the Philippians, he says in 4:2-3 (NLT), “Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life.”

Call me nosy or invasive, but I want to know what they were fighting about. Was it a theological issue or something small that grew too big? Did Euodia want to lead the choir instead of Syntyche or did Syntyche neglect to bring refreshments to the Wednesday night service? I understand that what the argument was about isn’t the point, but I do love a good story, and I would like to know the rest of this one.

I may not know what they were fighting about, but it seems their church did. First, if it was a big enough issue to reach Paul, it probably wasn’t a secret. Second, there are a few people specifically mentioned, not just the two ladies. They don’t mean anything to me, but I’m sure they did to the church or, at the very least, to the people close to the situation.

Paul doesn’t just say, “Hey, solve this,” and end it there. He goes on (in verses 4-9 if you want to read along) to tell them to be joyful, to pray about everything, to only think of positive, praise-worthy things, and to keep doing what they know to do.

The way Paul phrases all of that is lovely (infinitely lovelier than my summation above), but he doesn’t just write these verses so that people will memorize them centuries later. Everything he mentions in those verses help resolve conflict and/or reach harmony.

Staying joyful shifts your focus and your attitude, usually causing less problems and making those around you happy as well (assuming you haven’t let the problem grow to the point that your joy actually angers others).

Praying about everything means you’ll pray about the conflict, you’ll pray for yourself and others involved in the conflict (and I’m not referring to the “God, help them all see how right I am” prayers), and you’ll ultimately arrive at God’s will.

Thinking of positive things leads to a positive and peaceful outlook. With that outlook, you’re more likely to resolve old issues and avoid new ones. After all, who wants to give up a good feeling for ugly wounds? In addition, if more people do this, there will be so much unity. Look at everything God’s people can accomplish when unified and focused on Him.

To keep doing what you know to do keeps you out of trouble and keeps you moving forward, which are both necessary when things are looking sort of down.

Paul’s methods are just as effective now as they were when Euodia and Syntyche were going at it. If you don’t believe me, try them for yourself.

If you want my advice (I don’t know why you would, but I feel compelled to give it just in case), pray about it. I cannot stress that enough. Try to see things from the other person’s perspective. (I did this recently and ended up feeling sorry for someone instead of being upset with the person.) Turn it back on yourself and figure out why you’re perceiving the situation as you are. (No one can “make” you feel anything. It’s how you take it all in.) Talk it out. (As Mrs. Reece, my sixth grade teacher, once said, “The number one problem in the world is miscommunication.”)

Is resolving conflict easy? Not always. Will talking about it be awkward? Probably. Will you feel better when it’s over? Yes.

The goal is to live in harmony. The only way to achieve that is to stop fighting. We should stop putting each other down and start holding each other up. No easy task, but a task worth trying.

By Carrie Prevette

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