The ceasefire began with the sound of singing on the battlefield. It was Christmas Eve 1914, along the Western Front of the fighting in WWI. German soldiers alternated singing Christmas carols with their enemies—British, Belgian, and French soldiers. This goodwill spilled into the next day, when fighters emerged from the trenches, unarmed. They introduced themselves and exchanged small gifts. Reflecting on that experience, one veteran said, “If we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired.” A short break in hostility allowed the soldiers to see their opponents as people, not merely enemies.
After a driver lost control of his vehicle and struck some trees, injuring a passenger with him, he blamed the accident on a spider. He told police that an arachnid on the car’s visor—above his head—distracted him. Fortunately, even though he crashed due to the conflict with this tiny foe, the passenger’s injuries were minor. The damage to the vehicle, however, was not. Things could have been much different if the driver had simply hit the brakes, pulled over to the side of the road, and calmly dealt with his eight-legged enemy.
Writing in the heat of the American Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned words regarding how we must go about the work of justice: “I am concerned that Negroes achieve full status as citizens and as human beings here in the United States. But I am also concerned about our moral uprightness and the health of our souls. Therefore I must oppose any attempt to gain our freedom by the methods of malice, hate, and violence that have characterized our oppressors. Hate is just as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated. . . . Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Maybe it’s just me. But it seems like the world is hurtling out of control, and that all sorts of things are coming undone—institutions, lives, families. I wonder, Has it always been this way?
The rows of school desks would soon be filled with energetic teens. Although I was only filling in for their teacher, I took my role seriously. As the first lesson was about to start, the door was flung open and in walked a woman who announced herself as my teaching assistant. Fantastic! I thought. I need the help.
Petty differences, grudges and jealousies were affecting a church’s staff. They didn’t fellowship with one another—working secluded in their offices behind closed doors. When they had to communicate, it was short and to the point. On Sundays, however, they pasted on happy faces in front of the congregation. Their inability to deal with conflict resulted in a poisonous work environment for the entire staff and hampered effective ministry.
My wife grabbed hold of one end of the rope, and I held the other. Facing each other, we began pulling on the taut cord. Why this two-person tug of war? We were helping some couples see what conflict in marriage can be like. But then—no longer tugging—one of us took a step towards the other. Soon both of us moved to the centre of the now slackening rope until our hands met in unity.
By nearly all accounts, the founder of a prominent multinational technology company was a difficult man to work for. Early on, his abrasive tone and management style caused many employees to leave the company. But those who endured his initial rudeness often came to win their boss’ respect, and eventually developed a productive relationship with him. But that positive relationship was the fruit of a longer process; it certainly wasn’t instantaneous.
In Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Senator Cassius conspires to have Caesar killed and even gets his brother-in-law Brutus to join the assassination plot. As planned, on the Ides of March all the conspirators attack Caesar. Because he trusted Brutus, the Roman leader is most distressed by his participation. Caesar dies brokenhearted at the betrayal, crying, “Et tu, Brute?” (Even you, Brutus?)
The American Civil War involved brother fighting against brother—not only symbolically, but sometimes literally. James and William Terrill were officers who fought for the opposing armies. William broke ranks with his family when he joined the Union side. Both brothers died in battle, never to be reunited.
Sadly, in the five decades I’ve been a believer in Jesus, I’ve known of several local churches that have split due to infighting. Leaders fight, and congregation members rally behind their chosen side. Then the feuding leaders prompt their supporters to form splinter congregations.
I’ve heard it said that “the church is the only institution that shoots its wounded.” Sadly, the idea possesses a real grain of truth. It’s not unusual for local churches to botch a crisis situation, causing members to leave deeply hurt.
As I was overseeing several small groups in my local church, I experienced a painful conflict with another leader, who ultimately left my team. While I needed to face my own failings, I later heard an incomplete version of what had gone wrong between the leader and myself from one of her group members. Truth had been lost in a shadow of accusations.
Do you want me to kick you out of here?” yelled the angry operations manager at an engineer. It was late in the night, everyone was tired, and the machines in the distribution center weren’t working. The engineer, after whispering a prayer, calmly explained that the issue couldn’t be solved quickly and his team was doing their best. Thankfully, after a few hours, they fixed the problem. The maintenance manager who had witnessed the operations manager’s rage apologized for the man’s behavior and told the engineer he was impressed by his calm composure.