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Peacemaking from the inside

Dear Folks,
I’ve been talking about peacemaking, and peacemaking starts in our own hearts. As
Christians, we are commanded to forgive, but often we are not taught how.
I had trouble learning forgiveness because it seemed to me to mean that other people could
torment me without limit and without consequence and I was supposed to accept it
passively and pretend that it was okay. It took a long time to understand that it was
something very different. Forgiveness is a form of healing and involves taking seriously
how we were hurt and how we were wronged.
“Don’t Forgive Too Soon” by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn, gives
a lot of practical thought about what to do and what stages one might go through in the
process of forgiveness. They talk about “denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and
acceptance.” They also talk about taking steps to prevent future hurt from those who have
hurt you.
“No Future Without Forgiveness” by Desmond Tutu talks about the experience of apartheid
and the Truth and Reconciliation committee. I had known that apartheid was bad, but I was
amazed just how horrible things were, the magnitude of the evil and cruelty. Then the new
government came, and the challenge of dealing with the past and all those who had
committed crimes in the previous regime, many of them heinous beyond belief. The
decision was made that the people who had committed crimes in the past could come before
the committee, admit what they had done, and receive immediate amnesty. Obviously, this
was highly controversial, but he explains how they decided it was the better way to go and
would leave them with a better outcome. It is mightily inspiring.
“The Book of Forgiving” by Desmond and Mpho Tutu continues with practical advice on
how to forgive, giving four steps:

  1. Tell your story
  2. Name the pain
  3. Grant forgiveness
  4. Renew or release (end) the relationship.
    They emphasize that it “takes as long as it takes.” Consider that granting forgiveness may
    begin with desire to forgive, and only later comes the ability to forgive from the heart. It
    may not ever start there; we may first have to decide to seek the desire to forgive, being
    currently full of desire to destroy the other person. The process may or may not involve the
    other person, having no guarantee they will even agree they did anything wrong.
    Sometimes forgiveness is not something that happens between people, but within oneself. If
    we have no one else to tell our story to, we can always tell it to God.
    “Remembering God’s Mercy” by Dawn Eden describes her journey from being abused to
    being healed, and how her journey to Catholicism had helped her. She talks a lot about
    memory, and says that we don’t ask God to take away painful memories, but to help us
    remember them in a new way, as part of our journey with him.
    Once again, as we seek to be peacemakers, we start with our own hearts.
    Blessings
    Fr Jim

More Peacemaking

Dear Folks,
Last week I talked a bit about peacemaking, and I mentioned Dale Carnegie’s book “How to
Win Friends and Influence People” and Ann Garrido’s “Redeeming Conflict.”
George Thompson’s book “Verbal Judo.” is about deescalating tense situations, and many
police and other first responders are trained in this method. When someone gets belligerent to
us, the temptation is to respond in kind. As the anger wells up in is, we can be like a pressure
cooker without a safety valve until it bursts out. If we have an alternate response at the ready,
we can treat this as another task to be done, and approach it deliberately. The difficult
question is how to deescalate. It involves receiving the other persons energy and directing the
conversation toward a more useful direction. One important feature of this approach is that it
does not require the other person to have the same good intentions. A lot of Christianity is
treating people better than they treat us (See, for example Romans 12:9-21).
“Thanks for the Feedback” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen involves the dynamics of
getting and giving feedback, whether it is “affirmation, coaching, or evaluation.” It tried to do
a one paged summary of the book but failed miserably because there are so many facets to
this. I think the central takeaway is that how we see and hear ourselves is very often quite
different from the way that other people see and hear us. What we intend and what the other
perceives can be very different, and that disparity can doom a conversation if we are not
attentive to it.
One fascinating point they make is that there is a part of the brain “dedicated to taking in
language and reading tone and meaning (called the ‘superior temporal sulcus’ for those who
are curious).” Then this is critical: “When we ourselves speak, the STS turns off.” We don’t
hear our tone like we hear other’s tones. We do not naturally hear how angry we sound, or
how condescending, or how harsh. We hear it in the other person though, hear it very
clearly. C. S. Lewis noticed this tendency and included it in his “Screwtape Letters (Letter 3.).” Screwtape, a senior devil, is giving advice to his nephew Wormwood about how to lead a soul to hell. He shared a trick for encouraging his “patient” to quarrel with his mother:
“Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and
judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances
with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the
suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him.”
It is my observation that communicating well is harder than we think. That means first that
we tend (strongly tend) to overestimate how well we are communicating based on how hard
we are trying. It also means that we underestimate how hard the other person is trying to
communicate based on the results of their efforts. It has been a common observation that we
tend to judge ourselves by our best intentions, and other people by the consequences of their
actions.
I would emphasize once again that I do not speak as someone who has all this mastered, but
as one who has made significant progress from where I used to be. It has made a huge
difference in my life, and I believe I am better able to serve God because of it. I plan to
continue to work on this until I die. I believe that striving to interact with others more
peacefully and more productively will help the world get better, and it is desperately needed. I
believe it will also please Jesus.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Breaking Down Barriers

Dear Folks,In our Gospel today (Mark 7:31-37) Jesus heals a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment, thus enabling him to connect to other people. I would suggest that the biggest barrier to people connecting nowadays is not a problem with the ears but a problem between the ears. We have people talking at each other but not making sense to each other, and the more they talk the more alienated they become. This is a huge problem for the world, and it seems to be getting worse.As someone who has spent a large part of his life talking to people without connecting, I have worked very hard on this problem for a long time. While I have a long way to go, I can state confidently that I have made a great deal of progress from where I used to be (trust me, you are lucky you don’t have to deal with who I was in my teens and twenties). Things can get better if we want them to.I started with Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It was eye opening, for the first time introducing me to the idea of focusing on what the other person wants and what the other person is thinking instead of just what I want and what I’m thinking. This alone would be a huge improvement in a lot of conversations we are seeing today.If I could recommend one book for people, I would emphasize “Redeeming Conflict” by Ann Garrido. I have mentioned it before, but it is time to mention it again. It is about twelve habits that can transform conflict and make it a spiritual journey. The twelve habits are 1. Sidestep the triangle (go directly to the person with which you have the problem). 2. Be curious (what is happening with the other person? What is that person thinking? What is that person seeking? What might this person see that I don’t? Is there more to the situation than either of us sees?) That is related to 3. Listen to understand (We usually listen to refute their point of view, but remember their beliefs make sense to them, so how do they fit together in their mind?). 4. Undo the knot of intention (we tend to judge ourselves on our intentions and others on their results, but good intentions don’t guarantee good consequences, and we need to keep that in mind for both parties). 5 Welcome emotion (our emotions give us clues to what is really happening inside us, and what this situation means to us). 6. Speak your voice (while we emphasize hearing and understanding the other, the situation cannot truly be resolved without your side of the story being articulated). 7. Know and steady thyself (some issues trip our triggers, and we can go off and say things we will regret. It is good to know and compensate for such tendencies). 8. Pray to forgive (Forgiveness is essential to dealing with conflict, and the ability to do so is a gift from God, so we need to pray for it). 9. Repent (very often, both sides have contributed to the problem, at least somewhat, and we need to own our part). 10. Problem solve (It really helps to develop creative solutions where both sides win).11. Be trustworthy, not necessarily trusting (not everyone is trustworthy, but we need to be, and Christians are called to do right no matter how much others do wrong). 12. Practice prudence (knowing which of these habits to exercise and when is more art than science). It is a very Catholic book, but I don’t think there is anything there to offend our non-Catholic brothers and sisters.Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9). Jesus took a whole beatitude to emphasize this point (I have a lot to say about how important the beatitudes are in the teaching of Jesus). If we want to follow Jesus’ teaching (we do, don’t we?) and we want to be called “children of God” (we do, don’t we), would we not be intentional about increasing our ability to be peacemakers?Blessings,Fr. Jim