Thursday, March 26, 2015

When Chaos Rules the House

Most of you, no matter your background, have probably heard that Bible story about building a house on rock versus on sand. There are so many children's songs on it, you'd think it's the most important tenet of the faith or something.

The story goes something like this: If you build a house on rock, it will stand firm when the storm hits. If you build on sand, then when the winds blow and beat against the house, it'll come a'tumbling down. Moral of the story: have a good foundation.

Stupid as kid's ditties are, the story is one everyone relates to. We all know what it's like to be a part of a group or organization we thought was unshakable. Then controversy strikes and everything falls apart. Friendships end. We eventually leave the position/group/church/office for something better (less dissension-filled and more in line with our priorities).

It happens all the time. That's why many of us aren't eager to challenge the status quo. We keep our difference of opinion to ourselves so that we don't have to deal with unnecessary drama. We aren't thrilled to jump up and say something when we think people are off-base. They can figure it out themselves. It's not my place to get involved.

But sometimes something has to be said. Or maybe someone else decides to rock the boat. Either way, storm winds howl in the distance and rattle the shutters. One day, the arguments start, scandal is revealed, or someone says something they shouldn't. The pastor promotes tenuous theology, or the CEO of the green corporation is found to have lied about everything, or one of the ladies in the middle-class housewife book club comes out as a lesbian.

The trust and homogeneity that held everyone together is broken and the community splinters into factions. You know things will never go back to the way they were.

Everything falls apart.

But what fascinates me is what we do at this juncture. We have a few choices. We can make a run for it and seek shelter elsewhere: find a new book club or new job. We can stay and try to hold together what's left, hoping that when the storm is over, we can rebuild: a new church in the ashes of the old one. Or we can stay and try to shore things up: mend the relationship and find a new normal.

It's that last one that I like. If we're talking about a literal house in a literal storm, that's generally the best course of action. When the roof starts leaking, you put up tarps and set out buckets. You don't go to your neighbor's house (unless it's really bad), and you especially don't go around making sure all the windows are closed. The freaking roof is leaking, dude.

But we're not talking about a house. When a group of people splinters--some people being dissatisfied, hurt, or angry, while others feel dissatisfied, hurt, or angry because others are hurt and angry--we might try triage in the beginning. But after that, we start clinging to the people who are like us. We stay away from the problem and hold tight to those who aren't causing the cracks. If the roof is leaking, we don't act like a tarp: we stick with the non-leaking windows. Maybe when it's over, all us windows can go build a house of glass.

Why, when issues and opinions divide us, do we stay in the camp of those who agree with us instead of trying to fix the burned bridges with those who are "against" us? Why don't we try to mend those relationships, and in so doing, maybe mend the house and put it back on its foundation?

There are lots of answers. It's easier to stick with the home team. It can be painful to cross the divide and reach out to those who are different, who you disagree with, and whose pain you think is ill-founded. Sometimes trying to fix the situation doesn't accomplish anything. The other side has made it clear they don't want a reboot: they want you to go away. You might as well give up now and find somewhere new to belong; that search can take a while.

But none of these answers is quite good enough for me. They all sound like excuses. They're a bunch of reasons not to deal with what makes us uncomfortable, reasons not to have our conceptions challenged (successfully or unsuccessfully).

Don't get me wrong, sometimes you need to walk away. You need to start over. Sometimes you have to let go, and it's as painful--maybe more--than sticking around and trying to glue old pieces back together.

But sometimes you need to suck it up and try to repair relationships with people who are inherently different from you and always will be. You have to stop waiting for them to come to you, and be the one to initiate compromise. Which sometimes feels like iiiiiiiick. Because they should be the ones coming to me, and this is the most irritating, awkward, feels-like-its-violating-my-convictions thing I've ever had to do!

But sometimes, you reaching out is exactly what needs to happen. And sometimes, all those prayers about "changing their hearts" are answered by you having a change of heart you never expected and never wanted to happen, but you're so glad of it later.

If it ends up the house was built on sand, and a storm hits and chaos takes over, it may be worth it to patch the leaks, no matter how distasteful it is.

Word count: 937.