Monday, March 4, 2013

Truro in Coventry - the Habits of Conflict Resilience

Editor's Note:  These notes are a late contribution of one member of the Truro team.  Full audio of these remarks can be found on the Faith in Conflict website.

During the Wednesday morning plenary session, "The Habits of Conflict Resilience," we had the privilege of hearing Old Testament scholar,  the Rev. Dr. Jo Bailey Wells, reflect about the challenges of traveling the hard road of conflict to a place of hope and God's shalom.

Jo asked us to imagine how it must have been for God's chosen people to find themselves exiled and held captive in Babylon.  A long-awaited message arrives from the prophet Jeremiah, a captive himself  in Jerusalem, with word that the Israelites are "to settle down in Babylon; make yourselves content. You will live and die in that place. So seek the welfare of the Babylonians, pray for them because your welfare is linked inextricably with theirs. "

There were good reasons then, just as there are today...even good religious reasons...for both reconciliation and hatred. She suggested that Scripture offers no final resolutions to this dilemma and that both extremes are real and valid.

So, how do we live well in this tension? Jo proposed three observations:

1. That conflict is normal and it is to be expected.

2. That conflict is not definitive and what happens on earth does not ultimately reshape anything.

3. That there are many protagonists but no umpires. We all have to unlearn our feigned innocence and accept that we are, each of us in our own way, protagonists ourselves.

She ended by suggesting that lament, sacrifice and hope become the process by which we attain highly effective habits for conflict resilience.

Lament describes our fierce conversations with God where "nettles are truly grasped, " and lead us to ask the question of ourselves, "How much are you willing to sacrifice?"  Our sacrifice then becomes a sign of hope as we share in the sacred, prophetic words spoken by both Jeremiah and by Christ himself:  "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

Jo ended the session with the following insight: "This is what a ‘future of hope’ looks like in God's own white-hot imagination: people praying without ceasing for their enemies, appealing to God for the godless, putting all their hope in God's ability to craft shalom, well-being, peace, true prosperity out of our own misery, suffering, and profound spiritual poverty.  Fulfilling the call to Abraham, to share God's blessing with the world - knowing that it is not in limited supply."
Much of the Jeremiah 29 material was inspired by and borrowed from an unpublished sermon by Ellen Davis. For other, published, sermon material of hers, see Getting Involved with God (Cowley: 2001) and Wondrous Depth: Preaching the Old Testament (Westminster/John Knox: 2005).

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