Tag Archives: Conflict

Quick Review: Unoffendable

On our family drive to Colorado recently I read Brant Hansen’s Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better.  

I was drawn to read it because the summary fits the general realm of self-differentiation that I enjoy looking at, but also because it had potential relevance to some of the shame and conflict research I’ve been working on this past year.

This turned out to be a more “popular Christian” book than I expected, but it wasn’t all bad in that regard as there were some unexpected nuggets in parts of the book that did not fit my expectations. The book is written by a guy who works in Christian radio. That fact might have scared me off before I read the book, but turned out to add some fascinating insights.

The premise is clear – giving up the right to be angry makes all the difference in relationships, leadership, ministry, and all of life. The author unpacks how a lot of people spiritualize anger, especially toxic anger under the vernacular as “righteous anger.” This was the most important part of the book – a prophetic word to angry Christians about how their anger is not righteous, but self-serving.

I expected most of the book to relate to conflict, but there was helpful exploration of how anger and “offendability” impacts evangelism and many other things, including a good discussion about dying to anger as it relates to forgiveness.

An interesting discussion is to compare/contrast this book with Bill Hybel’s Holy Discontent, which speaks to some measure of righteous anger as a fuel for passion.  Hanson argues pretty clearly that anger has no place in motivation for justice because our motivation is love.  Jeff VanVonderan in Families Where Grace is in Place (which I am reading now) has a really helpful chapter where he unpacks a discussion on anger which echoes some of Hanson’s arguments but frames a more robust argument around the original Greek language used for “anger.” There are different words and concepts.  VanVonderan offers the most satisfying explanation of the verse “Be angry, but do not sin….”  Hanson though includes great insight that justice work need not be driven by anger and how research shows the most outraged and offended are often those who do least to be part of the solution.

I had not thought much of what it would be like to work in Christian radio because I don’t listen to Christian radio. But what a sad and sobering picture to hear what kind of stuff Christian radio folk personnel have to deal with. It’s not shocking actually, but what a mirror to the heart conditions of many Christians – the legalistic, the spiritualizers, and especially the Christian watchdogs that feel like it’s their responsibility to correct or judge every person or action they disapprove of or disagree with (including matters of doctrine).

I’ve found many popular Christian books cover the same ground – not judging, forgiving, building relationships, grace, general gospel overview, and more.  They also just tend to use a different lens to share a vision of what life with Christ can or should be.  The particular lens in this issue is the idea of “unoffendability” and dying to anger in all its forms.

To summarize – I like the concept of “unoffendability” and appreciated some of the more prophetic challenges this book includes even though I may quibble with some of the arguments or statements at points.  But – I like the lens of unoffendability because it’s true that offendability, outrage, and anger are to be the exact opposite of what the church is known for, yet it’s another area where the church seems to often look exactly like the world.



Quick Review: How to Have That Difficult Conversation

Over the last few days I had a chance to read Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s How to Have That Difficult Conversation: Gaining the Skills for Honest and Meaningful Communication.  This book formerly used to be called Boundaries: Face to Face but adjusted some things for a more practical application and marketing effort. And it’s a good move because this book is really about how to plan and prepare and execute plans in difficult conversations.

I have had this book for a while and wish I’d gone through it a long time ago. I found it very helpful.  The focus on it isn’t as much conflict resolution and reconciliation, but more on how to be an adult and have grown up conversations.

There’s immense practical value in this book and I’m thinking about adding it to the interpersonal relationships class I teach as a supplement to the other resources and books I use that deal with the heart and theology of relationships.

The book has some great sections related to dealing with your own self first, making a plan to have a conversation, helpful ways to talk through difficult issues, and how to be prepared for immature or other difficult responses to speaking the truth in love. It provides a lot of “how to’s” that are needed because most people are paralyzed in these situations – part because of heart issues and part because of being overwhelmed by the lack of knowledge and ability.  This book addresses the former in part but does a good job on the latter.

The examples are sometimes very clinical in nature or extreme, but they illustrate the principles well. One of the issues that is not addressed very clearly is the role of culture and context as most of the examples and contexts are Western and “white” for lack of a better word.  But it doesn’t mean the principles don’t apply, but they may be harder for people of a non-white, western context to take in and envision for their lives.  But I believe much of what is in the book is just as needed for the majority world and non-white communities and cultures.

The audio book is also good and pretty affordable, but it’s somewhat abridged.  The e-book has additional examples and Scripture foundations throughout the book while the audio book is more focused on the core content.  The e-book includes several appendix chapters that focus on specific relationships:  marriage, dating, kids, parents, and work.  These sections are like abridged versions of some of their other books like boundaries in marriage, boundaries in dating, boundaries, and others. But it’s a great compilation of insight and wisdom in these different relationships.

This is a needed resource for many, if not all of us and I recommend it.  I’m reading through books in the similar genre related to conflict management and this has offered some of the best practical advice on all the emotional/developmental/adulthood dynamics that make or break whether a good conversation can take place where reconciliation is experienced and healthy relationships are built.


Butt Friction

Matako ghawi ghaleka cha ku kwenthana

(Two buttocks cannot avoid friction)

—Malawian Proverb

Niyi Gbade and John Becker start off their article “Buttocks, Bridges, and Kola Nuts”with this Malawian proverb in the most recent Missio Nexus Anthology (Vol 4 No 2 October 2016) on Conflict.

It is now my favorite African proverb.

My first take on this was that the proverb is prophetically or tongue in cheek using the metaphor of butt cheeks to connote how people in conflict can be, pardon my language, asses. But that is not the emphasis of this saying. Gbade and Becker reinforce that this speaks to the dynamics that proximity leads to inevitable conflict. Closeness leads to tension, to friction.

I’ve never thought about this reality through the metaphor of friction producing buttocks, but it’s hard for me to imagine a more memorable metaphor that normalizes conflict in relationships.

The article also includes the following Nigerian proverb as well:

In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges
and the foolish build dams.

In my PhD cohort I have the privilege to study with a couple others from Nigeria and there’s an abundance of storytelling and these types of sayings that provide such a grounded way of thinking about social wisdom.

If you have access to Missio Nexus I recommend checking out the latest Anthology on Conflict as there are great cross-cultural and north-south intercultural insights for conflict resolution and partnership.

But what’s most important now is that as you go about your day taking stride after stride, you now can reflect deeply about conflict through the gentle reminder of your own butt friction.

Quick Review: Smiling Tiger Hidden Dragon

I’ve read Dr. John Ng’s book on conflict management Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon over the past month and want to share some thoughts on it.  I also had the opportunity to do a couple day training with Dr. Ng covering the ideas in the book.

Over the last decade, as I’ve been in mostly Asian ministry contexts, the topic of conflict resolution for Asians has been a very challenging and difficult one  – in part because of honor/shame dynamics, saving face, and indirect communication preferences.  Most Asian believers I know readily admit that this is a difficult area of discipleship and skill for them because of the ways conflict can challenge cultural norms and behaviors. It’s also readily clear that many approaches to conflict resolution are blatantly western in assumptions and prescriptions, thus creating significant tension for Asian believers when so much out there on this topic challenges culture (which is not always a bad thing either).

Dr. Ng was educated in the West (Northwestern) and is currently in Singapore and works as a mediator and consultant throughout Asia. This book primarily focuses on describing the things that undermine healthy relationships in the Asian context and provides ideas and strategies for managing that conflict. So he dives into themes like saving face among other things to illustrate how conflict can start and escalate. The book is full of Asian anecdotes and examples which is helpful as a Westerner to just get a feel on a broad level how conflict escalates among Asians in different ways and for different reasons contextually.

He provides a lot of strategies for managing conflict, some based on a conflict style assessment tool he developed for Asia. He highlights about 12 different conflict styles that can lead to escalating conflict including the title, “smiling tiger, hidden dragon.” This was helpful just to really look at a wide range of conflict approaches (negative ones) that do not always get treatment in other books or resources on conflict.

He also highlights a lot of ideas for just managing conflict and keeping yourself in a good emotional space to have a constructive conversation.  He draws from the HeartMath institute. I read The Heartmath Solution as part of a book club way back in the day and you see a brief review here, but he gives a lot of attention to breathing exercises and efforts to keep the heart rate under 100. That’s helpful and in the past I’ve utilized that in some mediation situations and it has helped me maintain mental sharpness.  Dr. Ng also is passionate about the dynamics of the brain and the amygdala as I have often written about from the family and congregational systems theorists and practitioners like Edwin Friedman and Peter Steinke. The big takeaway – we have to be mindful of what’s going on in our bodies or else we may lost control of the situation and start escalating and reacting.

An additional area is the area of bidding.  Dr. Ng studied under John Gottman who introduced the notion of relational bidding as a key for understanding the health and future of marriage relationships. Basically – relationships need a 5 to 1 positive to negative bidding ratio or problems and eventual separation are likely to occur. Dr. Ng uses this idea really well in the context of general conflict management to keep the relationship the central focus and not the issues.

The areas that are weaker in the book are those relating to forgiveness and reconciliation. The forgiveness aspect is viewed as important – but follows some of current psychology trends in reinforcing that forgiveness is about us releasing and letting go. There really is not much attention to reconciliation.   The book is written with a secular packaging, yet the treatment of forgiveness and reconciliation was still light if not non-existent at points.  However, if the book is seen and experienced as a focus on the catalysts for conflict in Asian contexts and tools for having the conflict conversations – there’s some great ideas and tools. But there is not much here that will paint a vision or picture of what relationships will look like after conflict management to get a sense of what reconciliation in relationship looks like.

There are several ideas in the books I want to pursue more and explore, concepts that are very Asian, but even so – the book is relevant far beyond the Asian context.  They key thing that feels Asian besides the metaphors, illustrations, and marketing is that the focus is on preserving relationship which is a high value for Asians.  That’s something westerners can really benefit from as they think about conflict.


Quick Review: Resolving Everyday Conflict

Sande and Johnson’s Resolving Everyday Conflict is essentially an abridged version of Sande’s more well known The Peacemaker.  It’s a great summary of Sande’s approach to resolving conflict and it’s very manageable and framed in a very accessible and smooth way.

I did this book via audio book despite already having the e-book. It took me less than 3 hours to listen to it so it wasn’t long at all.  I covered all of Resolving Everday Conflict to and from a hospital visit to a friend (Manila traffic!)

It includes chapters on Sande’s “4 G’s” as well as the “7 A’s of Confession/Apologies.” If you don’t know what those are – get one of these books or google summaries of the Peacemaker and you can probably find a good summary out there. I have no doubt there are fantastic summaries online out there for free.

This would be a great and manageable resource to do conflict resolution training because it’s concise and clear and easy to go through. The ebook version is only 2 –  3 $ less than the full version of The Peacemaker which goes into a lot of the content on a much deeper level so if you had to pick one book I’d suggest The Peacemaker, but if you know you only can manageable a smaller dose of content that covers the essence – this is a great option.

If you have not read either, I highly recommend going through it. It’s great content on conflict resolution, forgiveness, and essentially the gospel as well since that is the foundation of Christian reconciliation.


Quick Review: Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge

I recently read Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace and wanted to post a few thoughts as I found it a really rich book on several levels.

The book is dividing into two sections.  As the title suggests – the first half focuses on giving and the second half focuses on forgiveness.  I would say first of all – the first 3 chapters as a theology of giving is one of the best and maybe the best Scriptural and theological grounding of giving that I’ve come across.

The dynamics of giving, receiving, taking, and exchanging are covered in this section in a way that explores giving through the overall Biblical narrative.  So Volf grounds giving and receiving in the doctrine of creation and the image of God. He also explores the depth of how sin and the fall corrupts loving giving and receiving in ways that provide a strong critique of the many ways we manipulate each other in community and even seek dominance as one community over an other.

The forgiveness section is also very well done and is framed on top of Volf’s work in the 1st half of the book on giving.  I had not thought about forgiveness through this lens before, but I found it powerful for reflection and thought.  Understanding the giving and receiving dynamics and sides of forgiveness are crucial to developing an ethical practice of peace and reconciliation and restoration.

Volf’s personal background and history as one who has experienced great loss and has had to struggle through these themes at the deepest of levels brings credibility and power to the reading.  This is a book I’ll keep coming back to in the future both personally and for teaching.  The kindle version is only $5 too 🙂



Quick Review: 13 Hours

Over the weekend I read 13 Hours by Michael Zuchoff, which I had wanted to read since seeing the “13 Hours” movie that came out in the fall.  The book and the movie shine a spotlight on the political backdrop, but they really both focus on the actual events of what transpired as opposed to all the political implications (though I know there remains a lot of debate and controversy over what happened).

This is similar in its detail and feel to the Black Hawk Down account.  It’s a survival story, but there’s some dimensions to this one that make it unique and more personally compelling in some ways.  While Black Hawk Down events involved military personnel, these events involved former military who functioned as operators in high risk situations.  The heroes here are contracted workers often on the line between staying in this dangerous life or making a clean break in favor of a domestic life focused on family.

These events or crisis situations all seem to have some common themes – leadership failures, paralyzing bureaucracy that puts lives at risk, and incredible heroism in the face of greater danger.

Some of what stood out to me were the ways in which advanced preparation helped the operators in their defense of the compound – whether it was in reconnoissance or first aid.  In crisis – these operators relied on a lot of instincts and knowledge and there was no time to do much reflective though.  It affirms that there are things we need to have ready to go at a moments notice.  Daniel Kahneman speaks to some of this in Thinking, Fast and Slow where only through a lot of intentional practice do some things transfer from “slow thinking” to “fast thinking.”

It also affirms  what can happen when there is a failure of preparation.  The death of the ambassador in the account was done in part because a lack of preparedness that was accentuated by a lack of resources.

Finally – the book and the film leave you on the note that the real heroes did not get a lot of reward or credit in contrast to many of the CIA operatives and people that they were protecting.  Some of this is because they were contracted, but it’s interesting how power and politics can so often taint the narrative.

So not everyone is into these types of books or movies, but they are helpful in that they bring a healthy dose of reality to you that unsettles you and it takes you into the human condition – both the best of it and the worst.

New Review – Relationships: A Mess Worth Making

I just finished reading Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp’s Relationships: A Mess Worth Making.  I got this for free on Amazon last year and thought I’d read it to see if I wanted to use it in a class I’m teaching on interpersonal relationships.  I took a look at several books and this one won out for my purposes so I’ll be using this as a resource and as a text in the near future.

There’s a couple things I was looking for.  First, I wanted a resource that covered the fundamental areas involved in relationships.  I wanted content on forgiveness, communicating value, identity, serving, conflict, anxiety, and a host of other things.  This book addressed most every area I wanted and did so really well.

Secondly, I wanted something that would elevate an average person’s theology and ability to understand how all of those things listed above only make since in a larger theological framework and foundation with Christ and the Scriptures at the center. Not only does this book provide a “Biblical basis” for their writing (which is important but not sufficient to me), they also inform and elevate people’s theology in the process of discussing these things from Scripture.  Someone will walk away from reading the book not just with the biblically “right” perspectives, but more importantly they will walk away more theologically sound so they can understand how their everyday tiny actions in community connect to a larger theology that is bringing glory to God through everything.  This is important – to help people become theological thinkers in the context of everyday relationships. The book does an excellent job here.

Third, I also look at books with a view towards how it would apply cross culturally.  Not only do I have experience in ethnic minority contexts in the U.S., but I’m not teaching in an international contexts amidst students from over 20 countries all over Asia.  It’s important that texts be able to have the same impact in different contexts.  The book does not address cross-cultural relationships specifically – but there is great content on general diversity and difference.  However, while there is no explicit cross-cultural content I think the content is written in a way where the typical cultural barriers that show up when books get used in different contexts are not really an issue.  The content is taught in a way that I believe would allow everyone to really be impacted similarly, leaving room for each person to contextualize the truths and content to their situation.

It still has a North American flavor, but it’s not full of stumbling blocks and barriers to other perspectives.  I think they could have included some additional content on shame, cross-cultural communication, and culture in general.  However. I think most readers from other contexts can easily contextualize to their situations which is better than most books in this genre typically allow for.

I highly recommend this as a foundational resource for development in relationships.  If you run training programs in a ministry or church – this is what I would propose as a book to help create a healthy and theological foundations for your people.



I Want to Hear You and See What You See

This continues to be one of my favorite expressions of human connection.

“I want to hear you,
see what you see,
feel what you feel
I want to be heard.
Hear me as I hear you,
Listen, I’m listening to you.
So I will speak simply
with clear word windows
that let you see
all the way into where I live
cry.” (pg. 24)

Augsburger’s book Caring Enough to Confront was the third of my “sabbatical book list”. It’s an older book, but I found it to be really good. His style is interesting. There’s a poetic or rhythmic vibe to a lot that he writes even in addition to the many poems that he includes in his writing. The above excerpt stood out to me as a powerful picture of the deep inner desires of someone who wants a moment of conflict or difficulty to become an opportunity for greater intimacy and connection.


Originally posted June 8th 2007