Thursday, May 7, 2009

Why I bring my Baby to Church

I recently received a note from a parishioner who expressed their grief over my “extremely” fussy baby in church. While I was initially tempted to rush to my baby’s defense (after all, she really isn’t that fussy), or discredit the accusations in the note, I thought it might be better to spend time reflecting on why I bring my baby to church.

To be honest, having children in church with me each Sunday is a huge distraction to my own personal worship time. At this phase in my life, Sunday worship is less about my own spiritual needs than it is about fulfilling a promise I made to raise my children in the Christian faith and life. Trust me, I would love to kneel in silence and meditate upon the prayers said as the Body and Blood of Christ are consecrated. Instead, I have to instruct my children that now is not the time to be twisting their brother’s arm or smacking their gum. I would love to stand and sing a hymn without the distraction of a little one tugging on my shirt or telling me to stop singing. I would love to pass the peace without having to apologize for my four year old who decided to snarl at the lovely lady sitting in front of us. I would love to sit during the readings, listening astutely to the sacred word of God without fretting over the next squeal that will come from my joy-filled 10 month old. I rest assured that those days will one day come. But for now, my job is to sit with these restless souls as they grow familiar with the profound prayers of our liturgy, the familiar sounds of bells and hymns, and the precious community of brothers and sisters in Christ. You see, I can find silence to pray and meditate at other times. But only through our corporate worship together can I introduce my children to the elements of worship that are the cornerstone of our communion.

Please do not misunderstand me – I am a strong supporter and frequent user of our nursery. If my infant is crying because she is tired or hungry, or uncomfortable for any reason, I take her to the nursery. If my four year old has decided that he can not be kind to his brother for one hour on Sunday morning, I honor the choice that he has made and I take him to the nursery. Our nursery staff provide wonderful care for our children, and I do not hesitate for a moment to take my young children to the nursery. However, I strive to balance the convenience of the nursery with the commitments I have made to raise my children in the traditions of the Episcopal church, knowing that they can only learn reverence for our sacred worship by participating in that worship.

Next time you hear a fussy baby or a restless tot, those of us with young children would greatly appreciate your prayers and support as we train up the next generation of souls who will be entrusted to carry the great traditions that have been bestowed upon us. This commitment to raise our children in the Christian faith is far too big a commitment to do it alone. We rely on God’s grace, and we greatly need the goodwill and grace of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Whoever it was who wrote that note to me – thank you for reminding me to spend a little time reflecting on why I bring my baby to church.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Collaborative Process: A Christian Response to Conflict Resolution

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

As new creations in Christ, we have different obligations in times of conflict. Christians are called to recognize the power of conflict to transform lives. Christ himself recognized that conflict is inevitable. After all, we are fallen creatures. As such, we are broken. The remarkable thing about being a Christian is not that we are without conflict, but that we understand that our Lord and Savior can use conflict to change us, and through us to transform others. In Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen articulates that our lives are to be taken by God, blessed by God, broken by God and then given by God. It is from our brokenness and in our brokenness that most conflict emerges: whether it is the broken marriage, the lost job, the failed business, the suffering pain caused by someone else’s negligence. Physical, mental or emotional pain surrendered to God is experienced in ways radically different from physical, mental or emotional pain lived without surrendering such pain to God.[1] For the Christian, conflict stemming from brokenness becomes an opportunity for transformation. For the Christian, inter-personal conflict is almost always a spiritual issue, and sometimes a spiritual issue involving legal issues.

When the conflict involves spiritual issues with legal ramifications, many Christians turn to the judicial system to work out those issues. However, in a traditional litigation process, it is most likely that the spiritual issues will be neglected in the process. The judicial system, while very effective at creating enforceable court orders, is not effective at handling the spiritual issues underlying the conflict. However, conflicts with legal ramifications are unavoidable. Therefore, Christians must have a process for resolving conflict that does not run the risk of bankrupting their lives.

What would the dispute resolution process look like if in fact we abided by the teachings of Christ and his apostles? It is likely that such a dispute resolution process would bear fruit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22. Does the traditional litigation process leave litigants with a sense of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control? Think of the traditional litigation process in the case of divorce. The litigants are more often than not left feeling out of control, more resentful, angrier, with their lives in more turmoil than ever before.

There is, however, an alternative that is radically different than the traditional litigation process. This process is known as the Collaborative Process. The Collaborative Process is a non-adversarial dispute resolution process in which parties commit themselves to collaborate in order to reach a mutually acceptable agreement without court intervention. The Collaborative Process is attributed to Stuart Webb, a family law attorney from Minnesota who searched for a better way to resolve conflicts in divorce matters. The Collaborative Process is seen by many in the legal profession to be a “revolutionary process.”[2]

Many in the legal profession like to think of the modern litigation process as “evolving” into this revolutionary process known as the Collaborative Process. However, Christians recognize that this process is akin to the process the Apostle Paul envisioned nearly two thousand years ago when he advised the Christians in Corinth to settle their disputes without going to court. Their society had set up a legal system for disagreements to be resolved. However, according to Paul, disagreeing Christians should not have to go to secular courts to resolve their differences. “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?” 1 Corinthians 6:1. In fact, as Paul addressed his congregation in Corinth, he advised these Christians to find other Christians to assist with the resolution of their dispute.

Jesus advised his followers to “come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5:25-26. Indeed, taking matters to court runs the risk of leaving litigants bankrupt, both financially and spiritually. Even the Old Testament advised against taking matters to court: “If a wise man goes to court with a fool, the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.” Proverbs 29:9.

Therefore, a Christian model of dispute resolution would encourage parties in conflict to find resolution outside of the courtroom, with other Christians assisting in the resolution process. A Christian model of dispute resolution would yield the fruits of the Spirit. A Christian model of dispute resolution would provide Christians with an opportunity to not only resolve conflict, but to forgive wrongdoings and reconcile relationships. A Christian model of conflict resolution would result in the parties being able to move forward in peace. “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.” Proverbs 16:7. Ultimately, a Christian model of conflict resolution would result in lives that grew closer to God in the midst of conflict, instead of turning away from God out of shame and pain.

The Collaborative Process provides a Christian model for resolving disputes (though, of course, not exclusively reserved for Christians). Through the Collaborative Process, Christians are given a forum for allowing the Spirit to transform the conflict into love, joy, peace, endurance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Through the Collaborative Process, the professionals involved and the parties in conflict are given an opportunity to experience the true peace that passes all understanding. Through the Collaborative Process, we are given the opportunity to follow more nearly and dearly our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
[1] Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, p. 98
[2] Chip Rose, “The Collaborative (R)evolution” published 2003 on