Here is the third set of reading recommendations we are compiling for any clergy person, lay person, or student interested in Conflict Transformation! Feel free to suggest books you have found useful in the comments!
The Revs. Kelly and Beth Crissman, ordained elders in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, founded Plowpoint, Inc., to facilitate transformation in the local church. Longing to Belong is the foundational text for churches struggling with unresolved conflict. Longing to Belong mines the riches of Christian Scripture to narrate unresolved conflict as a crisis of belonging. Christian Scripture also provides the resources by which belonging can be restored through healthy boundaries, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Longing to Belong can be used as a practical how-to guide as well as a Bible study or tool for personal growth.
Peter Scazzero’s lessons in emotional and spiritual maturity have been hard won. He had what appeared to be a successful ministry. He pastored a thriving church plant and was receiving invitations to speak all over the country. Yet, his life almost crumbled as his marriage began to fall apart and a staff person defected to start a rival church. Pushed to his limit, Scazzero realized that he had to attend to his emotional, inner life through the practice of the Christian spiritual disciplines. His journey into emotional health led his church into renewed life and health, as well. Emotionally healthy leaders are spiritually mature leaders. Scazzero suggests six principles in building an emotionally healthy church: (1) Look beneath the iceberg; (2) Break the power of the past; (3) Live in brokenness and vulnerability; (4) Receive the gift of limits; (5) Embrace grieving and loss; and (6) Make incarnation the model of loving well.
In what has become a classic text, Rabbi Edwin Friedman applies Bowen Family Systems Theory to the life of religious communities. Friedman interweaves stories from his decades of leadership as a rabbi with a comprehensive and thorough exegesis of how family systems operate within faith communities. When conflict arises in a community, be it a church or a synagogue, family systems theory can provide a valuable analytical tool for understanding the dynamics of the conflict. For example, “Why now? What has changed?” are the two essential evaluative questions derived from family systems theory for assessing conflict. Other family system principles such as triangling, homeostasis, and symptom-bearing, to name a few, are additional templates to assess conflict. Generation to Generation is a thick text that demands attention and introspection in order to benefit fully from the insights that it offers. Nonetheless, if I had one secular book to recommend to anyone who has a leadership position within a religious community, I would recommend Generation to Generation.
While not specifically about conflict transformation, Bourgeault’s explication of little-known metaphysical theorist G. I. Gurdjieff’s Work, specifically his positing of the Law of Three, as it applies to the Holy Trinity, offers a fresh, dynamic way to explore the creative possibilities of conflict. To quote Bourgeault, “The essence of the Law of Three is the stipulation that every phenomenon, on whatever scale (from subatomic to cosmic) and in whatever world, springs from the interaction of three forces: the first active, the second passive, and the third neutralizing. In the language of Gurdjieff Work, these are known respectively as Holy Arising, Holy Denying, and Holy Reconciling (pp. 25-26).” The interaction of the three forces results in a fourth, a creative possibility that manifests in a new dimension that did not exist before, thus, turning the triangle into a pyramid. Gurdjieff Work is very complex and this book is not for the faint of heart. Nonetheless, Bourgeault’s skillful writing and commitment to Christ (she is an Episcopal priest) make what could be dry, esoteric theory intelligible and thought-provoking.