I love this sculpture by Alexander Milov.
It reminds me that we are built for right relationship and connection with one another. It clearly shows that desire for connection is ever present—even in the middle of conflict. We feel this desire pulling us back toward one another, though sometimes we ignore it and continue living with our backs to each other. It may be difficult to live this way, but we are often too afraid of what will happen if we turn around, look the other in the eye, and begin the delicate dance of listening and speaking.
I attended a Restorative Practices conference last weekend at Sherman Street CRC that taught me what tools I need to gain in order to facilitate restorative conversations. It reminded me of the importance of story telling, of giving everyone the opportunity to speak (and listen) without interruption, of engaging difficult conversations for the benefit of the community. I left with a heavy heart and a small bud of hope. It seems there are ways for us to learn to live well together, I'm just not sure that we are interested in practicing those ways. I'm afraid that we'd rather keep our backs to one another. I'm afraid that the inner child within us might reach out for connection only to have her hand slapped away.
At this moment in our church's (and country's) history, it seems so important that we learn to pay attention to this small child that voices her desire to connect. We are a largely disconnected people for many reasons. Our growing animosity for people who are on other sides of hot-button topics is among one of the biggest reasons. Everything is us vs. them. Everyone is building bigger walls between themselves and the ones they disagree with. We slander one another with our words and actions simply because "they" believe or look or live differently than we do. I've watched this happen in my own church, family, and community. We would rather ignore the conflicts in our relationships, but doing so only creates more animosity, more conflict.
I wonder what our faith communities would look like if we chose to embrace our tension and conflict, to value relationship with others more than being "right." I wonder what transformation could take place if we chose to do the hard work of good communication, of vulnerability, and worked through hard things instead of ignoring them and letting them fester. I wonder what would happen if we chose to see the child yearning for connection within each other instead of all of the emotions that can come out sideways. Or even if we simply saw the image of God within every single human we meet.
The call is to be gracious with one another, friends, and to be gracious with yourselves. We need to cultivate a posture of curiosity and compassion in the face of difference. We are all carrying around our pain from every age we have ever been. That pain comes with us into each day even if we are not aware of it. Many of us are not great at communicating that pain. It comes out sideways. It causes hurt. It creates conflict. Fortunately, we can learn to do better. It is absolutely possible to listen to the child within. It is absolutely necessary to listen to the ones we are in conflict with. To be curious. To be compassionate. To be a restoration people.