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Conflict and a Christian Life
By Sam Portaro
Publisher: Cowley Publications
A Review by psychologist Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. B.L.T.

Conflict.  Conflict?  Conflict!!! The very word can galvanize all of the elements of the nervous system in preparation for a flight or fight response. Psychologists are not immune from the daunting effects of conflict. Neither are we necessarily any less likely than the average person, to respond to conflict in ways that are downright dysfunctional.

I try to avoid conflict whenever I see it coming, but to no avail.  It always manages to creep up on me.  As the Meatloaf song suggests, "Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Be Closer than they Seem." When conflict is right on my heels, I have no choice but to turn around and face it.  When I do, it can easily turn into the scene of an ugly accident that's been waiting to happen-a head-on collision with reality.

Conflict demands our undivided attention, and it won't give up until that attention is secured.  So the temporary comfort associated with conflict avoidance may seem like a victory, but it is only a Pyrrhic one at best.

Any temporary reward that comes with prolonging the conflict is offset by a huge price tag.  The conflict is often compounded when it is deferred, so instead of hitting you like a brick, it hits you like a ton of bricks. Music is a metaphor for conflict and/or conflict resolution.   Punk, "screamo," heavy metal, and hardcore songs often introduce conflict without ushering in any conflict resolution or closure.  This reflects the fatalistic element inherent in much of the punk and neo-punk musical styles. Most other musical styles begin with conflict and end with a satisfying, gratifying conflict resolution.  The same can be said for most story lines, plays, and the like.  The works of William Shakespeare represent a prime example.

Sigmund Freud, Carl G. Jung, Alfred Adler, Rollo May, and scores of other seminal psychological theorists have built their respective theories around the issue of conflict and its resolution.  The same could be said of philosophers and theological pioneers.  Before The Beatles ever started their Revolution, there was Martin.  Martin Luther started a revolution when he started the reformation, and he did it by articulating the inherent conflict between our desire to glorify God and our sinful nature, which is in direct opposition to the God-glorifying desire.  Hence, the conflict.Grace was Martin's revolutionary resolution to conflict.

Following in the footsteps of Martin Luther is Sam Portaro, Episcopal Chaplain to the University of Chicago.  Grace is at the center of Portaro's treatise on conflict, and in his book, _Conflict and a Christian Life-, he offers graceful resolutions that can be applied to virtually any form of conflict.

Portaro portrays conflict within the context of human relationships. When we become obdurately hardened in our approaches to problem solving and conflict resolution, our conflicts can turn us into weather-beaten ships on a turbulent sea of discontent.  Without interpersonal flexibility to serve as an anchor, we are destined to become soulless and spiritually shipwrecked. By allowing ourselves to be divinely transformed within the context of these relationships, and by allowing our spirits to be softened by the massaging, nail-scarred hands of the master, we allow conflicts to be transformed into "opportunities."

Portaro provides the reader with palpable parameters or points of reference that allow us to determine if our approaches to conflict are balanced. Never does Portaro suggest that anyone abandon conflict-avoidance strategies in favor of rash, reckless and imprudently bold actions aimed at confronting conflict.  To brutishly bolt into uncharted waters where even angels fear to
tread is to intensify the conflict.   You may have every right to sneak up on a beehive and attack it, but expect your right to be met by a bite. We do not attack conflict, but attach ourselves to it.  When we embrace it for the opportunity it presents, we participate in its transformation.

Portaro teaches church leaders how to make glue from the residue that is left behind when conflict comes to town.  Then he teaches those same church leaders how to use that glue to establish an impenetrable bond between the church's governing body, and its members.

Every word of Portaro's wisdom is scripturally-grounded and based upon the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.  The woman at the well was deeply conflicted between a drive to prostitute herself, and an angry, vengeful mob of self-righteous men who wanted to stone her.  Jesus played the role of conflict mediator, a role Portalo is obviously fond of.  Jesus didn't attack the men, the woman, or the conflict.  He attached himself to the conflict and became part of the solution-or should I say all of the solution? All it took was a thought provoking, gently confrontational utterance directed at the would-be "stoners," and a few words of compassion and exhortation directed at the woman.  Jesus did not go against the grain of the pain. He applied a graceful resolution through compassionate mediation.

Portalo leaves no stone unturned as he follows every footprint that Christ left on his way to ameliorate the greatest conflict of all-the  conflict that lies between a sinful world and a God who demands righteous perfection. The resolution can be found between "The Rock," and a "heart" place. When a humble, repentant heart meets The Rock of Ages, and accepts His unconditional forgiveness, the mother of all conflicts is divinely transformed into a lush garden that is sure to produce a bumper crop of beautiful fruit.  Portaro's book is the best map to the orchard that I've seen in a long time.  I'd give it...

Psychologist Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT, The Shrink-rappin' Rock Doc

 

 
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