“What comes out of a person is what defiles them.For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23
I’ve been reading The Anatomy of Peace, a publication of the Arbinger Institute and an absolute must-read for every peacemaker. I’ve also been reading (along with my church) the gospel of Mark. As so often happens to me, both lessons converged for me this week.
By far the most difficult task before me in any mediation of any conflict (church or otherwise) is getting a conflicted party to quit pointing to all the flaws in the other party and to look inward, at his/her own heart and how he/she has contributed to the conflict. So difficult is it, in fact, that when it does happen it almost always represents an important “a-ha” moment in the peace process.
I think that, for people who value the Holy Scripture, it has the power to bring about that kind of reflection. Words like Jesus’ in Mark 7 can cause us to reflect a little deeper than just our surface “position” on a given issue, and rather consider our “heart” and how we have chosen to express that position. The writers of The Anatomy of Peace refer to it as our “way of being” or as a “heart at war” as opposed to a “heart at peace”.
I see it in every conflict. It is not so much a party’s position or stance on an issue which causes conflict to escalate. Our position is external to us. What escalates the conflict (what “defiles” us) is our heart…our “otherization” or even demonization of the opposing parties. When we speak to or of the other parties as something other than human…when we categorize them as a nameless, faceless, impersonal collective…when our expressions ignore the humanity of the other party…THAT is what escalates the conflict, making it nearly impossible to discuss solutions which may actually honor the Lord.
It seems pretty clear to me that, among believers, NO SOLUTION will honor the Lord if it comes from a heart at war with other believers. Again, it is not the position in and of itself which is the problem. Indeed, the position is itself just a thing. It has no good nor evil value in and of itself. Rather, it is the heart beneath the position which determines its value in the eyes of God.
I am going to remember this lesson, mostly for my own life. I am going to learn the process of examining my heart (rather than just rehearsing my position). I am going to be wary of my own propensity toward a heart at war…my own tendency to have an attitude which escalates the very conflict I am cursing. I am going to rely more and more on Christ’s Spirit within me to dictate my heart’s response. It may change my external position…it may not. But I have no doubt it will change the life of the conflict.
What about you and your conflict? Are you interested in calming the waters and actually discerning God’s path? You have that choice. It comes from within you…the heart of your conflict.