How to Deal with Conflict.

IMG_2022Last fall, I learned something valuable about conflict from a woman named Joyce at the LA Dream Center.

Joyce is a huge character – a native Angelino, possibly in her 30’s, with tatts up her legs, basketball shorts and a hoodie. She is one of the leaders of the Dream Center’s food truck ministry and hollers out the window as she weaves her rattletrap delivery truck through LA traffic, loudly encouraging other drivers to GET THROUGH THAT LIGHT! I’ve never seen anybody who can shout in traffic, with the love of Jesus.

Joyce is compelling because she follows Jesus in her exact context, authentically and with heart. She didn’t tell me that. I witnessed it. She is my favorite kind of Christian because the love of God sprays out of her, like water from a kinked garden hose that’s riddled with holes and turned on high.

One morning as we were unpacking, sorting and loading food into the trucks, two of the fellas were bickering about who was driving what truck where. Feeding poor people every day is hard work and I sense these guys were a little worn out and cranky. It was nothing big, just the garden variety conflict that bedevils humans every day.

Joyce stepped in, straightened it out and then said, “K everybody time to go, let’s circle up and pray.”

Then rather than sending up some big, shiny prayer, Joyce just talked to God about what was happening at that moment. It wasn’t a rebuke to the bickerers, it was just an acknowledgment that we are inadequate when it comes to loving one another properly and we need help.

She said something like this:

Father God, we thank you for this day and Lord please help us to not bicker over who is taking what truck, and to remember why we are doing this, and please help us to be kind to each other and give us your strength to go feed some hungry people. Thank you that you love us even when we are cranky. Amen.

I’ve been thinking of that prayer all week because I had a small conflict I needed to confront. I didn’t want to be unkind but I also didn’t want to be phony and pretend the conflict didn’t exist. So I thought WWJD – What Would Joyce Do?

Well, she’d pray about it, then she’d be kind but blunt. So, I did that. And it wasn’t fun but now it’s over and peace rules in my land.

I’m sure Joyce doesn’t even remember me or that bickery little moment in the parking lot last fall, but I do, and that, I think, is a great truth about Christianity.

People respond to what we do as Christians, way more than what we say. When Christians do it right, by being honest, authentic, humble and kind, especially in conflict, it sprays like a garden hose on a hot day.

Conflict is certain. Our response is discretionary. Jesus helps.

It Matters to This One.

Last week, standing under a bridge in Long Beach, California with a plate of food in hand, I talked to a Vietnam veteran with two Bowie knives strapped to his legs. His tirade about the Federal Government was looping, so I interrupted him and asked his name.

“People call me Diablo,” he said.

“No sh*t,” I thought looking at the madness in his brown eyes.

Then trying to communicate something extra important, Diablo reached his index finger to touch my forehead, but I dodged it. Dream Center staff told us ahead of time, personal space is a good thing and lines are clearly drawn, so they can keep serving people who live under bridges.

Now, I’ve been as guilty as anyone for thinking snarky thoughts about homeless people who beg or are super drunk or high on the street.

“Why don’t they get a job and work like the rest of us.”

“Those people are there by choice.”

And it’s true, many people are homeless because they don’t like structure and don’t want to play by society’s rules.

But it’s also true that some are so far down, it’s impossible to get up without help, and that includes many who return from our wars with obvious and not-so-obvious damage.

According to the Center for American Progress, one in every seven homeless adults is a US Veteran; and Kaiser Health News reports the number of veterans using mental health services has jumped 34 percent since 2006. So the homeless guy you see begging at the intersection has a one in seven chance of being a US Veteran. Yikes!

Global problems seem to want global solutions, but I don’t have any. What can I do? Well, I just jumped in and Diablo scaled the problem down for me – to exactly one. I can handle one. I can feed one, I can listen to one.

starfish

(Photo credit: kevinzim)

Ever hear of the kid picking up starfish and throwing them back in the water? His father pointed out hundreds more stranded by the tide, noting how little his efforts would matter. The kid shrugged and said “well, it matters to this one” and chucked it back in the water.

I kind of imagine Jesus like that. He is the good shepherd who will leave the 99 in his flock to search for the lost one. Jesus stopped on a very busy day to heal one hemorrhaging woman; He stopped to heal a demon-possessed man living among the tombs and yet another man blind from birth.

So, I think it boils down to a choice of two paths – something I talk about a lot. Are we going to live like the kid throwing starfish back or like the Dad who, concerned about his son’s expectations, explains the futility of the effort.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

BTW – Visit Operation Dignity if you want to help out some vets for Christmas.

The Church Ought To Be Peculiar – Angelus Temple.

After hearing my stories about the LA Dream Center, people frequently say:

“That doesn’t sound like a normal church” or “how come I’ve never heard of this place?”

It isn’t a normal church and if you’d like further evidence of that, watch this 30 second video from Sunday’s service at Angelus Temple – the LA Dream Center’s church home. Mind you, this video was taken on a Sunday morning at 9am, not Friday night.

After what may have been the loudest, most fun worship service ever, Pastor Matthew spoke about Christians living in victory. That means even if your circumstances are terrible, you can live with joy because if you believe in Jesus Christ, everything he has, you have, ie: power, love, a strong mind, peace with God, a living hope, protection, confidence, and unfettered access to God.

“So walk in ridiculous faith,” Pastor Matthew said. “Don’t lose what God already gave you. Remind yourself of who you are in Christ.”

That’s how we live with joy in a messed up world.

Christian churches work hard to be relevant in order that the gospel might penetrate those who have abandoned traditional church. But Pastor Matthew doesn’t try to be relevant, he just is. After 18 years elbow-deep in the messy lives of the LA’s poor, homeless and addicted, victory in Christ is not theory. Pastor Matthew knows what he’s talking about, and when he speaks, people listen.

Dream Center service at Angelus Temple

So if you live in LA and want to check out the Angelus Temple, services are at 9 and 11 on Sundays and 7pm Thursday night at 1100 Glendale.

If you don’t live in LA, you can stream it on Sundays and Thursday nights. Remember that’s Pacific Time.