Some years ago, John Paul Lederach, international peacebuilder, received good advice from his young daughter before he went to a meeting to discuss his work in conciliation and peacebuilding: “Daddy, just tell stories and forget the rest.”
Lederach took his daughter’s advice as he wrote this book. His stories from many experiences in dealing with conflict form a significant part of it. These stories create the space that allows the reader to reflect on the nature of conflict, recognize the process necessary to move toward reconciliation and to look within at one’s own way of dealing with conflict.
The book is a revised edition of one that was published in 1999, The Journey Toward Reconciliation. I wish “journey” was still part of the title. Lederach makes the case at the beginning of the book — using the biblical story of Jacob and Esau — that reconciliation is complex and that the concept of journey is an apt description of the process.
The revised edition adds some restructuring of chapters and includes a new chapter, “The Reconciliation Arts: Jesus.” In addition, the revised book provides resources that include a variety of tools for understanding conflict, worship resources, resources for further study and invitations to action. These new resources provide excellent ways to make the book’s content meaningful in everyday life.
Lederach approaches his topic as a sociologist, not as a theologian. This view, with the addition of his personal stories, provides a view of conflict from a biblical perspective that is unique and insightful. Lederach seeks to see the face of God in people he has intersected with, just as Jacob exclaimed to Esau after his reconciliation years after he deeply wronged his brother. His stories are compelling, particularly the one where his daughter was threatened by the “Three-Letter Boys.” His insights into international life-threatening conflicts, church conflicts and personal conflicts are instructive.
By releasing this book in a new edition, the publisher recognizes Lederach’s thoughts are valuable to a much larger audience than Mennonites, the target of the first edition. The book still oozes Mennonite in a variety of directions. The 10 unspoken commandments in church conflict — which accurately describe what happens in a Mennonite church — have been relegated to the resources section, but the church conflicts described still seemed very Mennonite.
The Christological focus, seen in the new chapter examining Jesus, is also very Anabaptist. It reminds us that Anabaptists have a theology of peace with something to say to a world full of violence.
Though a historic peace church, Mennonites have historically had difficulty settling disputes and resolving conflicts with collaboration and compromise. This book suggests useful ways to work at conflict in our churches.
If Mennonites believe in modeling Jesus, we would do well to take seriously the chapter where Lederach examines the nature of Jesus. Jesus was compassionate, nurtured self-reflection and was present in the community.
Jesus told us how to deal with conflict in Matt. 18:15-20. Lederach notes this process is eminently practical but rarely practiced. Lederach identifies three parts that make this all-important step more feasible: prayerful vulnerability, responsible discernment and interactive engagement. As Lederach describes each of these spiritual practices, we get a sense of the possibilities. We can see what makes this step vital in all conflict situations.
In a chapter on “Keep Silent and Listen: Acts 15,” Lederach suggests we pay attention to how the early church dealt with conflict. He introduces “the spiritual discipline of listening.” He underscores the value of listening in any conflict. He suggests prayer is the closest biblical and spiritual phenomenon to listening. Listening well to someone with whom we have conflict reflects the compassion and care required for the journey of reconciliation.
As a teacher, I can require students to read material for a grade. This book should be required reading in Mennonite Church USA, particularly for those going to the convention in Kansas City this summer. Instead of blasting those with whom we disagree in periodicals or blogs and clumping around only with like-minded folks, we would do well to heed the way Jesus dealt with conflict: moving toward those we disagree with, developing compassion, approaching with prayerful vulnerability and engaging in ways that show the spiritual discipline of listening. This process begins the journey of reconciliation.
Ron Hertzler teaches social studies, Bible and conflict resolution courses at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Lansdale, Pa.
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