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As a pastor, I often encounter conflict. Sometimes it’s spiritual conflict, sometimes it’s moral conflict, and sometimes it’s simply normal every day mundane conflict like deciding what news broadcast to watch in the morning. In most cases, the conflict I encounter is minor and can eventually lead to creative outcomes. Conflict can generate hearty discussions, it can motivate us to be more productive, and conflicts managed well can even inspire positive self-reflection.
Then again, conflict can also be unsettling. My mind immediately goes to the recent commotion over Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Video Music awards. No matter where you come down on her performance, one thing is clear: everyone seems to have an opinion about it! Some may applaud her performance, coming to the conclusion that she bravely stepped out of an artistic box that she had been trapped in because of her age, gender or past. Some may jeer her performance, believing that she took it too far. Then there are those who seek to learn something out of this public display, like why young women are so over sexualized in the media, what qualities make for a good role model or what role self-esteem plays in our decision making.
However uncomfortable or challenging conversations around conflict might be, the silver lining is that these conversations can engage both our hearts and minds. Not only can we become more self-reflective, we can also become more aware of our values, our place in the world, and our perception of others. Conflict is not always synonymous with arguing, fighting, judging, or at worst berating.
In fact, there are many religious teachings that suggest the worst possible way to navigate conflict is by way of anger or ill will. In Buddhism, a collection of sayings known as the Dhammapada suggests that, “hostilities are never appeased by hostility.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, Proverbs 15:1 claims that, “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” While teaching what we now call the beatitudes, Jesus says, “ blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
These sayings are connected by a common theme: conflict is a reality for humankind, but we can choose how we respond to it when it arises. Miley Cyrus’ performance is a small conflict that will soon pass but there will still be larger conflicts like hunger, poverty, prejudice, and war that desperately need our attention. When faced with injustices like these, I pray that the commotion we make helps alleviate hostility, turns away wrath and inspires us all to be peacemakers.
(Shayanna Jolly is the pastor at Crittenden Christian Church. She can be reached at 859-428-2210. Facebook page is www.facebook.com/CrittendenChristianChurch and website is www.critttendenchrisitian.com)