An unresolvable conundrum is this paradox: “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” Is the answer ‘kaboom’?

explosionThere is no answer that does not fundamentally change the nature of either or both of the entities. If the immovable object moves it is no longer immovable or if the unstoppable force stops it is no longer unstoppable. There is no answer that allows them both to remain unaffected by the encounter.

But couldn’t the unstoppable force change direction and avoid the immovable object? Yes. And sometimes we prefer to avoid and evade conflict. But the force remains unstoppable and the object remains immovable and the likelihood is that we have only postponed the inevitable.

So what if they just keep bashing against each other until one of them wins? Well, technically if they do that it looks like the immovable object has won because the unstoppable force has stopped, even if it keeps trying to move the object. The unstoppable force will not be happy that its progress has been stopped and the immovable object will not be happy at the constant buffeting. Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in a place where nobody is happy but nobody is willing to give in.

What if one of them wins? What if the force moves the object or the object stops the force? Well one of them is happy, but the other is not only defeated but loses its identity and no doubt resents the winner for enforcing their will over them. Sometimes we see a conflict situation as ‘winner takes all’.

What if both of them decided that they needed to change. The immovable object could become a solid object that was willing to move and make way for the force, if the force could become a powerful force that was willing to allow the object to remain in that location and not seek its destruction. I think its called ‘compromise’.

I have sometimes thought of compromise as a weakness: a situation where nobody is entirely happy with the outcome. And it is, if we remain in a ‘win/lose’ mentality. But what if we could listen to how the ‘other’ feels about the situation too? What if we could understand how we make them feel? What if they could listen to us and understand how they make us feel? What if we were willing to change our approach in order to accommodate the other?

“Com” as a prefix (rather than the web address suffix) means ‘with’, ‘together’, and ‘collaboratively’. Add to that the word ‘promise’ and it becomes a mutual agreement in which everyone is involved and to which they are all committed. In that case ‘compromise’ is not weakness – it increases the strength of a relationship that otherwise might be destroyed.

Yes, of course, I know that there are painful times where it is right for people to go their separate ways. But that in itself is also a com-promise – agreeing together to end the escalating conflict in that way.

And while compromise means we have to be willing to give rather than focusing on what we might lose or give if we focus on what we gain it becomes easier to do. I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on what Paul wrote in one of his letters to one of the early churches. He tried to address a conflict situation (Philippians 4:1-9):

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

In the context of the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche he did not tell them to battle it out until one of them won, he pleaded that they would “be of the same mind in the Lord” and asked the church to help them. It was their shared faith in Jesus that would be the starting point for their compromise. What was that same mind? I think it was to look at what they would gain by changing their attitude from ‘winner takes all’ to ‘com promise’ based on what they had in common. They would gain joy, gentleness, less anxiety, and prayerful peace.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

a compromising position?

You know how it is, you are having a perfectly normal day when all of a sudden, unannounced and uninvited, your mind is invaded by a song or a piece of music. It is not necessarily something you hear, but it’s been in your subconscious and chooses to surface into your conscious awareness. And you can’t get it out of your head once it has made its home there for the day.

That happened to me today, and if you don’t want it to happen to you I suggest that you stop reading this bloggage and look at another one, or do something else altogether.

You have been warned.

This song just jumped into my brain this morning. It’s by Paul Simon and was released by Simon and Garfunkel before I was born:

A winter’s day, in a deep and dark December
I am alone, gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
I am a rock, I am an island

I’ve built walls, a fortress deep and mighty that none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock, I am an island

Don’t talk of love well I’ve heard the words before
It’s sleeping in my memory
And I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died
If I never loved I never would have cried
I am a rock, I am an island

I have my books and my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor, hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock, I am an island

And a rock can feel no pain
And an island never cries

Thatcher’s Rock, Torbay

Although it is a lovely melody sung with lovely harmonies I find it an incredibly sad song. The singer has been badly hurt by someone and has decided that they are going to go it alone. They don’t want or need anyone else. They are a rock, and island.

It’s awful when someone has been hurt so badly that they cannot trust, they dare not risk becoming vulnerable again. The pain of betrayal has become too much to bear. However, at the risk of offering some amateur psychology, the problem with this approach is that the pain and hurt remain on the island with you. And if not dealt with they will grow deeper roots into you and perhaps also start to dominate the way in which you relate to other people even at a superficial level. Please forgive me if I have touched on a raw nerve, but if I have please do get some professional help. You don’t have to remain as a rock or an island.

We are created to be in relationships. We cannot exist on our own. That is why one of the cruelest punishments or tortures is solitary confinement. We need interaction with others, and perhaps that is why some people react in the way that the song describes when we are badly treated by others. We’re about to take one of my slightly unexpected twists and turns in my train of thought at this point, so if you are not ready for that feel free to leave us at this point.

I believe that the way in which we are created makes rock / island self-sufficiency a myth. If you remember the British TV series, The Good Life, Tom and Barbara decide to become self-sufficient by growing their own food, farming their own animals, making their own clothes (and awful peapod burgundy wine) and even generating their own electricity. But one of the consistent comedic themes through the show is that they were not able to be completely self-sufficient. They constantly needed the support of their neighbours Gerry and Margot. They needed to barter and trade with shops for things they could not supply themselves. They needed to interact (bizarrely) with what passed for normal suburban life. They were not a rock or an island, they needed other people (and one another).

Self-sufficiency is not only a myth for people and households, it is also a myth for churches. Baptist churches are independent – in the sense that each church has liberty under God to decide how they do things. But sometimes as churches we hold that independence as a virtue and value that trumps interdependence. We proclaim that we are a rock, and island. We don’t need anyone else.

But the danger of taking that approach is that churches can become isolated. They can become insular. They have nowhere to turn when the storm around them rages and threatens to overwhelm them. Are we actually at our weakest when we think we are being strong by asserting our independence? Yes, like for individuals, it means risking that others will disagree with us. Yes, like for individuals, it means that we will be vulnerable. Yes, like for individuals we might need to compromise* (I’ll come back to that word in a moment) for the sake of relating.

*Compromise is often seen as having negative values – if we compromise our beliefs we water them down. But if you break the word down it is about promise and ‘com’ as a prefix means ‘together’. It is about promising together where focus on what we gain more by being together rather worry about what we might lose. It is about sharing, mutuality, dependence, respect and integrity not being wishy-washy. It is a very strong activity that strengthens the participants.

Are you a rock, an island, or are you compromising?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

compromising circumstances

Inside with no fearA businessman gets on an aeroplane and sits down in the first class section of the plane. The stewardess rushes over to him and tells him he must move to standard class because he doesn’t have a first class ticket. The businessman replies, “I’m a businessman, I’m smart, I have a good job, and I’m staying in first class until we reach Jamaica.”

The disgusted stewardess gets the head stewardess who asks the businessman to leave. The businessman yet again repeats “I’m a businessman, I’m smart, I have a good job and I’m staying in first class until we reach Jamaica.” The head stewardess doesn’t even know what to do at this point because they still have to get the rest of the passengers seated to take off; the businessman is causing a problem with boarding now, so the stewardess gets the copilot.

The copilot goes up to the businessman and whispers in his ear. Immediately the businessman gets up and goes to his seat in the standard class section. The head stewardess asks the copilot in amazement what he said to get him to move to the correct seat. The copilot replies, “I told him the front half of the aeroplane wasn’t going to Jamaica.”

As a family we are starting to consider where to go for our summer holiday next year. I think it’s fairly safe to say that Jamaica is not a likely destination. One of the difficulties in deciding (within a certain budget) is that there are competing interests. One person might want to spend all day basking in sunshine on the beach, another might want to spend all day in the shade. Someone might want to go to a lively resort and another to somewhere peaceful and secluded. One person might like the idea of a self catering holiday last another might fancy and all in, full board experience. And that’s before we’ve even narrowed it down to countries. It probably sounds like there’s a big argument about this. In fact there isn’t, we just haven’t been able to make up our minds yet!

Ultimately what we choose is likely to be a compromise. That might seem like bad news. The word compromise seems to me to be tainted with negativity and the inability to reach a successful conclusion. But compromise is not necessarily a bad thing. If the ultimate goal or cause towards which we are all aiming is something that we all consider to be worthwhile then our own preferences becomes secondary to that goal or cause. In those circumstances compromise enables us to achieve something far better together than we could obtain if one of us got our own way. I think we always have to consider what is most important in any decision-making and keep that as our priority, not allowing ourselves to be distracted by things that are less important or even petty.

In our case each of us would let go of some of our preferences for the sake of having a shared family holiday.

And what about in other areas of life? Is getting our own way more important than bigger goals that we share with others?

What about church? Do we want to get our own way at all costs, or are we willing to compromise for the sake of our shared goals of worshipping Jesus Christ, following him and making him known?

Be blessed, be a blessing.