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Toward a Spirituality of Conflict Transformation (Part III)

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This is the final post of our Toward a Spirituality of Conflict series.  Do not forget to take a look at Part I and Part II.  If you have found this series valuable, we would love if you would share it with your community!

Christian spirituality proposes that – with regard to the either/or and both/and frame – where we begin changes everything. Whereas much of Christian history has begun with an either/or theology of division (humanity as consumed by sin, deep divisions between God and people, one theological impulse as correct vs. another as wrong), Christian spirituality, as defined here, begins with the belief that God’s presence is alive in all of creation including with self and other. This space is inherently both/and in nature. It allows for wonder, the goodness of creation, the beauty that exists in both self and other, the fundamental unity of all of life (including self and other), harmony between humanity and God. It short, it affirms love as the fundamental source of all life. While our lives do not always reflect this harmonious reality, beginning with this foundation is significant for the following reason: Where we begin changes everything because where we begin is also where we return. If we begin with both/and we end with both/and, even when a season of either/or emerges between these two states.

Between a both/and beginning and a both/and end, life will bring its reality to all on this journey. As people grow and develop, as they define and stake a claim for themselves in the world, they tend to befriend either/or thinking. While for a time this state seems important for the self, eventually the growing division between self and other creates a sense of loneliness for the self. The self cannot find meaning alone. This either/or state is further challenged by life doing what life does: Moments of personal and/or vicarious suffering emerge in every life journey. The lonely and suffering self is now caused to raise questions regarding the either/or frame. Some will rebuff this suffering by taking refuge in the rightness of self, actively increasing the chasm between self and other. Others will allow this suffering to become their teacher, being transformed by their pain, moving beyond either/or into the space of both/and once more. When this occurs, the self returns to where the self began, but now with a depth and maturity not seen before. Of course, on this side of eternity, the learning never ends: The self will continue to move through this cycle multiple times before the final both/and encounter with God’s presence occurs. The surprise factor is this: Although the either/or portion of this journey feels lonely, those who arrive at the other side discover that they were and are never alone. They were, unbeknownst to them, in the company of a mysterious presence – God’s presence – that has loved them from the start.

TransformationWhen the self returns to the both/and frame, conflicts between self and other now become landscapes for the discovery of the unity between self and other – even if the conflict is such that self and other cannot be in relationship with one another. Similarly, those in third party roles who carry the underlying both/and frame develop the capacity to see the goodness in self and other, to see wisdom in wildly diverse perspectives and to see grace hiding in corners previously unseen. The both/and frame, by allowing the third party intervenor to see also his/her connection to self and other and all of creation, generates a profound humility: The third party is but one player on a longer journey of life and discovery with which self and other are engaged. Perhaps most importantly, however, when third party players (and self and other) open themselves to the energy of God already present in their story, a deeper wisdom, even awe, has the possibility of emerging. They see that even in each other’s presence they are standing on holy ground.

The implications for self and other are profound. If, while deep in conflict, the polarity between self and other followed a diagonal argument, as follows:

Diagonal ArguementsNow in the both/and space, self and other see a fuller picture, as follows:

Both And SpaceBoth self and other are good, just as both self and other are broken. Together, they come into the presence of the One who calls them beloved, who sees the heart of each and even more surprisingly, who lives in the heart of each. In the end, in the both/and frame, there is only the heart of God, beating in the spirits of each self, each other and each third party intervenor.

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Betty Pries has more than 20 years of experience coaching, mediating, training and consulting in the areas of conflict resolution and change.   Betty's work with churches and church organizations is guided by her desire to enhance their spiritual and organizational health, and strengthen the capacities of leadership to discern a way forward.

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