Fertile For Conflict by Bill Pike


Our youngest daughter is a graduate of East Carolina University located in Greenville, North Carolina. The school’s mascot is a pirate. As a parent, I can officially say the tuition for our out of state student made me feel like I had been robbed by a band of pirates. But, she did earn her degree, and she was happy.

On our initial drives to Greenville, I was captured by the flatness of the coastal plain in that part of North Carolina. That table top flatness led to clear views of acres  of farmland. 

These drives gave us the opportunity to watch the seasonal transitions for these fields, and I marveled at the dark richness of the soil. Clearly, this soil was very fertile as the planted seeds seemingly always sprouted into lush green fields.

Other travels through the Northern Neck of Virginia, the Delmarva peninsula, the flatlands of northern Indiana and central Illinois, and rolling sections of Pennsylvania along I-81 reveal farms with that same rich, dark fertile soil.

But the robust appearance of these farmlands aren’t immune from conflict. I suppose one of the biggest challenges farmers face is the whims of weather patterns. Additionally, certain pests can impact those plants, and woven into this would be fertilizers and assorted chemicals used to promote growth and reduce pests.

Just like these stunning fields are not immune from conflict, nor are human beings. In fact, at times,  we appear to be fittingly fertile for conflict too.

Families are a proven test ground for conflict. 

On that first scan of the family field everything might appear lush and green, void of any upsetting intrusion. But families, no matter how hard they attempt to project a healthy image are not immune from rattled nerves, stinging words, and bruised egos.

Could be as simple as the name chosen for a new grandchild. I just knew they were going to name that child after me, why didn’t they? I am going to give my niece an earful the first chance I have.

Who is on the wedding guest list? You’re not inviting our friends that we haven’t corresponded with for thirty years, how could you be so inconsiderate? Because of your thoughtless decision, we will not attend the wedding.

Even planning a funeral can be challenging. Who is going to sit by momma during the service? I was her favorite, I think it should be me. Now, wait, a second, I was momma’s favorite. Everyone knows that. You both are wrong, I was the favorite, you will both be sitting on the pew behind us.

And if you really, really want to spice up family gatherings  just bring up the “p” word, you know, I’ll whisper and shrink it— politics.

But, ranked up there in the fertileness of conflict with families is an unassuming, quietly reserved, tranquil place— the church.  Bill, are you kidding me, a church. God’s holy house ripe for conflict, no way, this is absurd. 

Churches are supposed to be about loving, caring, giving, supporting, nurturing, comforting, and the Golden Rule. 

Bill, I’m not buying that a church can be just as fertile for conflict as families. No sir, that is a flawed observation. You are way off target on that one.

Well, I am no great historian, but I’m pretty sure many examples exist that would validate my claim. But put history aside for a minute, and let’s move to present time.

Since my baptism, rightly or wrongly I’ve been a Methodist. Without question, this is not the same world that raised me into who I am today 65 years later. The world has changed.

This week, the United Methodist Church decided to “tighten its ban on same-sex marriage and gay clergy.”(NY Times)

Yes, churches are fertile for conflict.

I’m sure much will be written and discussed about this decision by experts and non-experts like me. 

The turmoil in this decision has the potential to hurt and impact many people from lots of different angles.

We live in a world loaded with hurts. Sadly, that might be one of our best attributes, intentionally and unintentionally hurting people.

The future of the Methodist church is tangled in that hurt. 

Whether the Methodist church can untangle itself from this hurtful policy remains to be seen. Perhaps, that depends on how fertile we are inside to wrestle with this position.

One question I keep coming back to is this—how am I supposed to love someone that I disagree with on any significant social issue? Maybe my inability to love that person is grounded in fear.

Fear drives lots of decisions. Fear drives emotions. Fear drives the unknown.

I wonder what can we learn from fear? I wonder what we are willing to learn from our fears? From my fears can I learn to love those with whom I disagree?

On Tuesday, February 26, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a column by David Brooks of the New York Times.

I found the column— Social Fabric:  A nation of weavers to be very interesting.

Mr. Brooks also gives speeches a couple of times a week in various parts of America. His topic is about social isolation and social fragmentation. The topic and travel has allowed interaction with all kinds of Americans, and his take away from these encounters is “They share a common thread:  our lack of healthy connection to each other, our inability to see the full dignity of each other, and resulting culture of fear, distrust, tribalism, and strife.”

That shared “common thread” is full of negatives— lack, inability fear, distrust, tribalism, and strife. Sadly, I think these words match pretty well with the United Methodist decision that was made this week. They are in sharp contrast to words that I often associate with a church— loving, caring, giving, supporting, nurturing, comforting, and the Golden Rule.

On my Saturday morning run, I noted at the corner of Beechwood and Westham Parkway the same house empty lot that I pass whenever I take this route. The lot is filled with weeds and an assortment of trees. I note the beech trees on this lot. Beech trees are the last to drop their leaves. 

Today is the second day of March, and the beech leaves colored like sun baked newsprint for whatever reason are stubbornly committed to their DNA—they are not leaving the tree.  

Seems like the United Methodist church has a similar stubborn grip on its past DNA, hanging on no matter how much it will potentially hurt the present and future of the church.

The brand promise of the United Methodist church open hearts, open minds, and open doors isn’t going to work with this week’s decision. But maybe, we have an opportunity to shore up that branding with one faithful word—hope.

I hope Methodist congregations are willing to search and find the fertileness inside our hearts and souls to think deeply about the impact of this decision. 

I hope we are willing to talk, share,  and explore how to convey that we do have open hearts, minds, and doors to those who now think we don’t.

 I hope we are willing to learn and to use our learning to bring about inclusive change. 

I hope we will be risk seekers by understanding silence is not an option. 

And, I hope our discernment will move us to hold these words from Esther 4:14 in our hearts:  Perhaps, this is the moment for which you were created.

Church, there is no perhaps, this is the moment.

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