Conflict resolution is not appeasement.
I find myself repeating this phrase frequently, battling the stereotype that portrays mediators and peacemakers as appeasers who demand we capitulate to the whims of more aggressive or deceptive parties.
People often walk away from an opportunity to mediate, fearing they will be called upon to jettison legitimate concerns, fearing they will be called upon, unilaterally, to be a loving and giving soul. Rarely are they ready to forfeit their concerns and needs so easily. They turn away.
But mediation is not a call to appeasement. It is a robust process that calls for collaboration and mutual satisfaction of needs. Its success usually rests on a profound transformation of hearts.
To better understand the counter intuitive nature of a process that gets to peace through toughness and discipline, consider the following passage from scripture…
I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already ablaze. There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great my anguish until it is accomplished.” Luke 12:49,50
This passage presents Jesus as considerably more aggressive than our more common image of the peace-loving teacher. Christ setting the world on fire? I hesitated when I first read Luke 12… What could Jesus possibly mean?
After further contemplation, I concluded Jesus was speaking of a rite of cleansing in which impurities (sins) were burned off. He appeared to be speaking of a baptism of fire that would purify the entirety of mankind. The image of earth set ablaze could be a vision of a time when the darkness of humanity’s sins would be transformed through fiery purification, leaving the world glowing with a heavenly light.
The parallel to mediation is striking. The process is challenging: the darkness that shrouds past events is dissipated; falsehoods and deception are brought into the light; parties energize powerful inner resources that enable them to accomplish difficult transitions; the process purifies hearts, bringing about transformation of individuals and relationships. People who mediate may feel they are going through a fiery trial; in such moments, the image of Christ setting the world ablaze is no longer foreign.
Later in the passage from Luke additional statements contradict common views of Christ…
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Luke 12:51-53
This is not the Christ we usually imagine. Was Jesus having a bad day that would eventually pass? Had the pressure of his ministry caused him to crack and become a divisive troublemaker? I don’t think so.
The passage from Luke most likely means Jesus would bring the tasks of repentance that lead to salvation to humankind, and those tasks would be met unevenly; some would move quickly, others slowly, while yet others would dig in their heels. The uneven response to the call to salvation would stir up division and conflict.
The promised (and anticipated) “trial by fire” will be uncomfortable. In such trials, surface civility, the false smiles and postured glee we use to maintain separation, drop away and we face the difficult task of seeking the deeper love Christ teaches. In order to make the transition we must incinerate impediments shrouding us in darkness and isolation.
This scenario is not unlike mediation. Social pressure may guide parties to mediation but then the masks we use to cover our true feelings must be discarded as we expose our true interests and admit our transgressions. The intensity of mediation becomes a spiritual fire, purifying sins of the past and cauterizing unhealed wounds.
If humankind were to consistently “tame the wolf” on a broad scale, there would be thousands, perhaps even millions, of small spiritual fires lighting the darkness across the planet. The blaze Christ envisioned would become reality. Perhaps He is simply waiting for us to recognize it is time to begin…
You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time? Luke 12:56
The present divisive and quarrelsome time calls for reconciliation efforts on a grand scale. We are called to repent our past ways and step into the soul-purifying fire that leads to a world on fire with love.
This interpretation seems to be confirmed when Luke 12 takes a turn to Christ’s advice regarding personal disputes mediation is designed to address…
If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate, make an effort to settle the matter on the way; otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison. Luke 12:58
If we make a concerted and widespread effort to “tame the wolf,” if thousands of Franciscans train in conflict resolution and venture into the woods to meet the wolves, it be possible to fuel the spiritual fires that will set earth ablaze. Perhaps this is what Francis has in mind.