Levels of Conflict with Introduction

Order of the Ascension – Shaping the Parish Resources



At the heart of the story of the prodigal son, is his change of heart. His father never, ever stops loving him, continually searching the horizon for a trace of his errant son’s return. As the father picks up his robes and runs towards him, the younger son tries to mutter his well-rehearsed words and is overwhelmed by the grace of the father.

It was Leo Tolstoy who once said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” It is only when the younger son comes to change inwardly, that he can begin to contemplate returning home, finding himself enveloped in embrace and forgiveness.

In times of a changing Church, we will increasingly face conflict situations.

Within us and between us.

Whether in conversations at a congregational coffee morning or on the floor of the General Assembly, the ‘noise’ of conflict, at times, suppressed by good manners, does leak out through a spectrum of behaviours – the tongue-in-cheek response, “LOL” and all that, to the fraying of friendships and broken relationships.

In such times, we all lose, no-one wins, and every emotion is felt deeply, intensified by our sense of rightness.

In my early days of teaching, it was considered that you required a ‘good voice’, a voice that could rise above the noise of the room, shout above the loudest, to bring control and order back so that the learning could begin. It took me a while to realise that by joining the cacophony of sound, it was me who was left strained and angry, with little energy to encourage my young charges. The heart would begin beating faster, the mind overwhelmed with indignation, and words would stutter out with little sense of reason, with only my need for power and control exerted. It was when I changed my behaviour and responded differently to those within the room, standing back from the fracas, that I could affect the atmosphere required to invite learning.

It was Thomas Merton, the writer and theologian, who said “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them”. In times of challenge, there can be a deep urge to seek out those who are, or we deem to have the potential, to be like us. We gather our gangs of support, ready to shout above all others.  The costs evolve, spiralling through Speed Leas’ five levels of conflict, to a place of no return. We are no longer Henry Nouwen’s ‘Wounded Healer’, ministering to the deeply hurt from our own place and experiencing God’s love and grace, but the unhealed wounder, who throws out indignation and injury, sulking like the older son, refusing to join the party.

We cannot instil change within another; we only can change ourselves, whether it is the young teacher lowering her voice to a whisper or stepping more gently towards the person with whom we disagree. We need to release ourselves from the corners of self-righteous conspiracy, becoming people who are all the more ready to listen, understand, to discern. There we find that in changing ourselves, the world changes around us. We allow God in, and His grace takes over. We begin to live differently, more generously, like the prodigal reunited with the love of the Father.