6. Antagonism

Dr. Steven G. Minor
Church Politics Administrator

War is officially declared and skirmishes are intentionally sought and fought.  Hostile, malicious gossip flies with unresolved reckless abandon.  Once “those people” are in sight, or even thought about, shots are fired and snide remarks are delivered with eager planning and carnal delight.  The power struggle requires the exertion of will to dominate any other competition in the arena of their control.  Causing harm drives that dark place within the heart, but the craving can never be satisfied.

Inflicting harm upon other human beings requires some degrading transformation.  In wartime, soldiers must dehumanize the enemy in order to harm and destroy them.  The other side must be devalued to “gooks,” “krauts,” “towel heads,” “Anglo-Saxon devils” or just plain “crazies.”  Personhood must be purged from their makeup, since the assault might possibly hurt their own conscience.  Heaven forbid that an apology might be demanded later on down the road.  Reduce them to non-persons!  Label them with slanderous derision to reduce them down the ladder of civility.  Somehow they deserved this assault, so enraged antagonists will rationalize. Unless they are sociopaths, it’s the only way they can sleep at night.

An astute intervener will assure that the opposition cannot evade this scheme.  Shine the light of attention on the deviously cloaked plans and expose the poor value of the attacked.  Correct slurs or demeaning references with given names to affirm their personhood.  Don’t allow references to “the property chair” go uncontested; affirm their given name.   Re-value their personhood.  They are real people of God given value.  Defend and support God’s heart for people.

How many people does it take for antagonists to achieve their objective?  Very few, usually no more than 5% of a typical congregation.  Military strategy for guerrilla warfare only needs 10% the size of the conventional, occupying army to achieve gridlock and deprive victory.  If the few numbers are viciously determined with their agenda, as the fuel of hyper-righteousness has proven, they can gain great strides.  This is especially complicated by weak Board members who abandon their responsibility and yield to their intentions, failing to make a stand against their beleaguered tasks.  A firm and united “No” would do much to at least slow them down, but when they find no resistance to their plans the attack only builds momentum.  In fact, a typical church coup will immediately target division within the Board.  Divide them at the smallest point and the domino effect could take it from there to unfold their union.

Some level of contention and conflict will naturally arise in any worthwhile endeavor.  Dare to dabble in the fabric of “What has been” and you will awaken deep insecurities.  Any step in a new direction, even a step toward heaven will arouse selfish fears.  Conviction for right behavior always make people nervous.

2 Timothy 3:12-13, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

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The Determination to “Win”

The primary characteristic of covert-aggressive personalities is that they value winning over everything. Determined, cunning and sometimes ruthless, they use a variety of manipulative tactics, not only to get what they want, but also to avoid seeing themselves or being seen by others as the kind of people they really are.

George K. Simon, In Sheep’s Clothing, p. 39

 

“It is easy — terribly easy — to shake a man’s faith in himself.
To take advantage of that to break a man’s spirit is devil’s work.”
George Bernard Shaw
Candida, Act I.

 

Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation
can be trusted to act humanely
or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.
— Bertrand Russell

The motto of this stage may quickly feel no less than what Al Davis exhorted of the Oakland/LA Raiders, “Just win, Baby!”  When the conflict has resorted to antagonism nothing else really matters except to win; to survive.  Certainly it’s not a reasonable battle cry, but reason was discarded long ago.  The sole agenda is shifting to battle criteria and victory means more than simply edifying the institution, it’s a matter of our side being declared the victors.  Each side assumes this as their goal and mission and that nothing less will do.  However, once antagonism escalates and the egos take over, will they ever be satisfied with mere victory?

Soon, thoughts of preserving and helping the broader institution, which they are fighting to control, will no longer hold much priority.  The fury of battle blurs the bigger picture and only the dues to ego matter anymore.  Perspective is an early casualty when survival becomes a chief concern.

Antagonism: Displaced Anger

          “Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil.”
                                                  — Niccolo Machiavelli

In counseling, as in Mediation, the repressed rage must somehow be constructively “vented.”  The anger turned inward has created a congested thinking process and the result is confusion and consequently a destructive downward cycle of escalating anger.  Such raw, unprocessed emotion has no brain cells of reason guiding them; they are wild and unrestrained.  As we witness the destruction of rage, just imagine the destruction and pain occurring within the repressed antagonist.

This condition calls for a skilled agitation of the submerged conflict.  It must not be allowed to fester down in the soul hidden from sight.  Until it is surfaced and addressed it lies as a deposit of spiritual toxins ready to explode and jeopardize whatever constructive steps may be attempted.

Unfortunately, most churches are so relieved when the conflict leaves the surface of observed attention that the motivation to pursue it into its lair is not there.  “Let lying dogs lay” becomes the so called wisdom, trumping any directives Moses or St. Paul might interject.  Everyone is too exhausted and afraid to flush it out and resolve it once and for all.  The reality of its return at a later time is rejected from consideration and the illusion of pseudo-peace is embraced . . . until next time.  As long as things are nice and no one noticeably fighting (we’ll go far to collectively overlook all we can), that will be enough.  The natural fear of conflict will deceive people to believe and accept the very most improbable scenarios, as long as their anxiety is soothed.

This is how spiritual land mines get planted in churches.  Those sensitive issues have been submerged and yet their trigger buttons are still active and await an unsuspecting minister to step on it and experience the harm all over again.

Take for example the experience of the new minister stepping into her new role on Sunday morning and stepping up to the pulpit to find the intrusive and bulky pulpit Bible lying out in the open and , frankly . . . in the way.  How little she realizes the toxic emotions symbolized in this Bible and how it arrived on the pulpit, open and put forth for all to see.  Closing it and placing it on the shelf underneath is such a natural and practical step in an honest and healthy congregation.  But for the disgruntled antagonists who fought so hard for their skewered pursuit of truth that found such a frail resolution in that bulky display . . . we can only stand back in aghast at the personal harm and marring she is about to receive when the emotional IED is detonated.

The wise minister, new to their church will hold onto a healthy paranoia about such matters.  Go ahead and ask the questions.  Overlook the nuisances of things lying on the chancel. Allow others to “touch” what may or may not be holy items comparable to the Ark of the Covenant and tablets for the Ten Commandments.  For spiritual landmines just may be lying all over the chancel as well as throughout the church facility, and even the parsonage.  Find the trusted reasonable members who can identify the controversial items and declare the areas all clear and safe.  Why take chances of unforgivable harm, when mere patience with the annoyances will assure a chance for a safe start.

Don’t remain in fear forever, but with a few constructive conversations with trusted friends ask where some of those landmines might reside – just in case.  If it looks out of the ordinary, better ask.  Better yet, let the long established member move it.  Their longevity makes them immune to such hazards.

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In a church context people will form an unfortunate notion about being “nice.”  Good boys and girls don’t get mad and don’t say bad things about other people and so they stifle themselves into a straight jacket of paralysis.   This mantle of pseudo-humility is especially expected of the minister.  When he/she is attacked, they must be “nice” and not return the blows.  Remain an easy, safe target.  Counter punching is exactly what is needed, but those so frightened of conflict in any form will panic.  The minister is consequently restrained by who were supposed to be supporters, and holding their hands behind his/her back, the antagonists getting a clearer shot.  Frightening but true, some congregations are being held emotional hostage to the Power and Control exploits of desperate antagonists.  If there is a Sociopath in the house, they will reveal their   hand soon enough.  Holding the larger group in fear is their greatest delight, like extremist terrorists.

The nature of the battle devolves into guerilla warfare from the outset.  The dignity of shown forces remains in the dark where such numbers can be inflated and exploited.  Since the Antagonists want to think everyone is on their side their inner tendency will be not to look for fear of seeing their ranks somewhere less than 100%.  The ego empowered antagonist wants to believe in their omniscient power.  Anything less than total control will not satisfy their selfish imaginations.

“The really good psychopathic killers were just as Jack Koenig had described.  You couldn’t believe the stuff they got away with.  You couldn’t believe how stupid and trusting their victims were.”
Nelson Demille
The Lion’s Game, p. 181

 

The Keilah Syndrome

1 Samuel 23:12
David is on the run from King Saul, who is obsessed with killing him and his men.  Yet David still manages to perform the duties a would-be king does.  One of these is to rescue the town of Keilah from the Philistines.  His rescue efforts are a complete success and the town is saved from certain annihilation.

We would expect great expressions of gratitude for their survival.  However this is not the course of action they took.  Rather than proclaim David with a ticker parade through the streets, they are ready to sell him out.

News arrives that King Saul is on the march with news that David and his men are hiding out in Keilah.  The town’s safety and welfare are once again in jeopardy, now from the one who should have provided the protection in the first place.  How will they respond?

David does the right thing by taking the matter to God.  He asks two questions.  First, is it true that King Saul is coming against Keilah?  Second, will the people turn David over to him?

God answers the first question right away that the reports are true, but the second request goes unanswered as though God might prefer to overlook the sad truth.

So David asks the same question again, will the town sell him out?  The answer is short and true – “they will.”

Reading this story closely with a heart that place you in the story what other response could you have but disappointment and outright disgust?  How could these people do that?  If it weren’t for David they would all be buried along with the ruins of their town.  How quickly they forget.

What happened?

The people resort to typical survival instincts.  Saul will destroy them, but David will not.  Saul is dangerous and David is safe.  Better to appease the dangerous, even at the expense of the innocent; even a crusading innocent who just saved their lives moments before.  Their behavior wins them no historical acclaim for courage, and no one ever preaches sermons about their heroic stand for justice.  The only legacy they leave is one of cowardice and betrayal – total sell-out.  Note the lesson well, when fear and desperation takes hold people will sell out their principles with barely any second thoughts.

Imagine how things would have fared for Keilah if they had stood their ground?  They would have been models for doing what is right.  Keilah would have been a battle cry for people standing against the odds for what they know is the right thing to do.  But their cowardice earns them nothing through history except disgrace.

The story of Keilah still happens.  Similar plot lines are reworked again and again.  Some churches relive the story multiple times.  Regardless of the benefits a Minister may bring to a church, when the antagonists begin to intimidate the status quo, churches sell out when they should be taking a stand.  Too often they fold before any shots are fired.

Why do churches give in so quickly, and unfortunately can do so consistently?   Guy Greenfield, in The Wounded Minister, offers the following list:

1) Avoiding Conflict. Most people carry a significant fear of conflict and will resort to extreme measures to avoid it.  Risking their community status in order to risk taking a stand for a pastor in trouble is a difficult decision.  The pastor should not be too surprised when that decision works against them, even if their suffering is without just cause.  The fear of conflict is just that great.

2) Intimidated by “Facts.” Actually, they are intimidated by the assumed situation. Antagonists will go to great lengths to build their case and confirmed facts are not necessary.  They resort to the old Ku Klux Klan strategy of “smear and fear.”  They do not need to prove anything; simply to register the accusation is sufficient work for their terrorist tactics.

3) The Force of Personality. The obsessive drive of antagonists for control will quickly overwhelm passive Board members.

4) Too Busy. Let’s face reality, most of our parishioners lead busy lives; between work, family obligations and personal time not much time remains for major tasks. Combating antagonists requires more than just a scheduled once a week 60 minute meeting.  Delivering the time required, especially to meet the high stress involved is simply beyond their ability, even apart from the emotional commitment.  If the antagonists happen to be retired (which is often the case, that they are motivated by too much time on their hands), the reinforcements won’t be coming.

Betrayal

Psalm 41:9
Even my close friend, someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.

Psalm 55:11-13
Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.
12 If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me, I could hide.
13 But it is you, one like myself, my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God, as we walked about
among the worshipers.

Proverbs 18:24
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 27:6 
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

 

“It is only prudent never to place complete confidence
in that by which we have even once been deceived.”
— Rene Descartes                                                   ‘Meditations’

Antagonists – Trigger Points

What sets them off?

1) Sociopaths
(see DSMIV: Antisocial Personality Disorder)
Also see the Page in this Web Site on “Antagonists”

2) Insecurity – powerless
Thus, their desperate struggle to over-reassert themselves

3) Power & Control
to be the Minister’s boss

4) Jealousy of the Minister’s success

5) Years of displaced anger

6) Misguided crusaders
Pushing their agenda for their narrow concept of truth
Asserting their own self-will in how something should be or believed

7) Bad influence from another perceived source.
Trying to impress another.

 

Antagonist Drive: Crusader

Or: “Go ahead, make my day.”

John 16:2, “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact,
the hour is coming when those who kill you
will think they are offering a service to God.”

2 Corinthians 11:14-15, “for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as
servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”

Antagonists are always seeking a crusade.  It provides the safest and most efficient way of exerting their egotistical need to control their world, and still be seen as the unappreciated saviors of humankind.  When they ride upon a crusade they can justify any and all behavior because they are doing it for the cause.  However perverted it may be, they have found an outlet to their displaced rage in the guise of righteous justice.

But the crusade is pure illusion.  It’s their disguise they need to cloak with their pompous agenda of gaining power and control.  Although the uninformed and naïve fringe members may be sympathetically impressed, the target of their crusader schemes suffers great harm.

Ascribing their behavior to some sort of magical crusade is perhaps the only way antagonists can wield their power, especially within a religious community.

As soon as an angry antagonist discovers a fault or weakness they latch on and seize the battle with righteous indignation.  But the objective is never for the good of the whole, despite their protests and boasts.  They are not really super righteous people.  They are the most evil because they use righteous jargon to cloak deviant intentions.  Their work accurately reflects Paul’s insight that they are in fact agents of satan.  As he explains to the Corinthian church,

13 For such persons are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

 

Proverbs 25:26
“Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain
are the righteous who give way before the wicked.”

Imagine the hopes expressed in this proverb.  Where does hope most lie with springs and fountains, if not when one is thirsty and in greatest need of refreshment?   How disappointing to find mud and pollution where one had sought refreshment.  In dire situations it could mean harm and even death for a weary traveler in desolate places.

Just when they expected hope for survival terrible disappointment comes.

What a fitting picture of a church who has given up their outpost mission for the kingdom to the mean intentions of selfish antagonists.  That church has lost its vitality to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).  They have betrayed their calling by Christ and consequently betrayed those in need of their service.  Where they appear to bring life they instead bring stale pollution of spiritual toxins.

Proverbs 26:4-5
4 Do not answer fools according to their folly,
or you yourself will be just like them.
5 Answer fools according to their folly,
or they will be wise in their own eyes.

Some will dismiss this section of scripture as an obvious case of contradiction and just one more reason to dismiss the profoundness of God’s Word.  The claim is ridiculous for what redactor would allow such an obvious back to back verse contradiction as this?  Further reflection fills in the wise insight, when a contrary “fool” crosses your path your choices become terribly reduced to poor consequences or even worse consequences.

Morgan Scot Peck, “People of the Lie,” assesses the same dilemma of people with a character disorder seeking counsel.  His advice is to essentially run for cover.  There’s just not much reason to be expected from such transactions.

The dilemma of the response in verse 5 is that the fool will be “wise in their own eyes.”  On the one hand this does not represent direct danger to you since the problem is inward generated.  However, the disorder remains to harbor pride and resentment and will generate toxic results.  Give it time and if you are still around it will eventually harm you.

Solomon points out the personal harm in the first response, “you will become just like them” when you resort to their hazardous techniques.  Surrounded by angry people will finally crush your imploded spirit.  Paul expresses the same truth in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’ (From the Greek poet Menander),” how does a good hearted leader resist responding in kind?  It’s as though we are handicapped to fight with proper dignity on the battle field, while fighting devious guerilla warfare.  They hide behind trees and rocks while we have to stand upright in the open in an orderly file, to provide worthy targets.  Unfortunately no referees will pounce upon the volleys with a flag declaring a foul committed.  Do we really have to just take it?

In a simplistic black and white world, perhaps, but in real life there are alternatives to the abuse.  Solomon is not condoning sappy and pathetic strategies for ourselves, just the caution to not use the techniques poor character people use.  Come on, employ some innovation and develop your own defensive strategies with noble steps.  Why must you naively “react” to another’s rules?   Why allow your enemy to choose the weapons or the battle arena.  Be proactive!

Napoleon Bonaparte has your best wisdom for a stronger defense: “Never allow your enemy to choose the battlefield.”

“A well-established maxim of war is not to do anything which your enemy wishes and for the single reason that he does so wish. You should, therefore, avoid a field of battle which he has reconnoitered and studied. You should be still more careful to avoid one which he has fortified and where he has entrenched himself.”

The Military Maxims of Napoleon, #16

When your adversary lobs polluted volleys of wrath understand that it’s all a trap.  Rise above the demeaning volleys and play your own game.  Do not allow them to choose nor define the battlefield not how the conflict will be waged.  Keep control of your life and of the situation.  If you play according to the same petty schemes of disgruntled antagonists how will others ever discern that your heart may actually be more human than theirs.  Remember, the social prestige is the eventual prize of your battle, to preserve and enable healthy social interaction and growth.  Antagonists care nothing of such a goal.  They only seek the carnal and futile cravings of a pitiful ego.  Believe in your better agenda and reach for the higher stakes.

Expect to be baited into a war of words.  Snide comments, grumblings, insinuations, whining and whatever other sort of verbal annoyance is precisely the nature of this conflict.  These are the swords, slings, arrows, axes, spears and maces, weapons of choice on this battlefield.  Sometimes you will wish if only those were the real weapons.  When the frustration and anger runs high enough you will welcome exactly these material instruments of destruction since after all they are the means of direct combat without cloaking their harm.  Ironically the pain and destruction are just as painful.  Why not go ahead and make it official?  It would be better to have the weapons out in the open rather than secretly reeking their harm and destruction.

When the tension runs high your internal energies drain fast and reverting to childish and petty transactions will pop out of your mouth faster than you realize what happened.  The responses will erupt like involuntary reflexes.  Before you can consciously catch yourself you have slid into the game of childish name calling and petty retaliation.  Others will observe the embarrassing displays of playground groveling and will pass judgment quickly over you as well as the antagonists.  In their eyes you are no different from them.  Tragically you have just sabotaged the very link that would have been your salvation; the assurance and support of the group.  The organization you serve and support is the basis of your duty, purpose and might I add support your existence as a paid employee.  They are the audience you must assure of your character and ability as leader and servant.  Damage that link to your ultimate harm.  This is why you must rise above the cheap volleys lobbed at you, not to repulse the pettiness of the enemy or satisfy your own carnal ego, but to satisfy the trust of your congregation that you really are the servant-leader they long for and desperately need more than they may realize.  Why would you ever aspire to reach any other purpose and objective?  What other goal could ever be as noble?  It’s an exact area for conducting the meaning and purpose of your duty and “call.”

A word of caution for a fatigued soul.  Such exhaustion leaves you terribly vulnerable to the deceptive ploys of baiting.  Guard your words!  When exhausted, refraining from the war of words (AKA “bickering”) will be the strategy you will later so wish you had employed.

“To study the abnormal is the best way
of understanding the normal.”
— William James

 

Dishing and Taking

The old cliché, “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it,’ has a peculiar judgment in the quest of antagonism.  However not in its straight wisdom, but in its antithesis.   Antagonism betrays all rules of justice, in fact justice has nothing to do with its blind rage.  The antagonist is the classic schoolyard bully that intimidates every other child to cover their own sense of insecurity.  Antagonism is fueled by compensation of weaker internal inadequacies.

When the antagonist spouts their discontent and threatens anyone who they think will be intimidated they are desperately trying to assert their imagined sense of total power.

Look at the glaze in their eyes if you dare and see the intoxication of all the attention they believe they are raking in to themselves as their true worth is finally being realized.  Harming others and scaring the rest is their cheap way of proving the illusion of their greatness.

When the ranting and raving is in full expulsion, everything becomes magnified well beyond any notion of reality.  As William Shakespeare might assert, “Me thinketh he protesteth too much.”  And he would be right.  Everything is quite overstated.

So can the antagonist take it as well as dish it out?  Has anyone been brave enough to try?  When I asked this question of various church Board members and other leaders, typically their response proved their submission to fear of the threats.  But for any brave enough to try, unless the antagonist is too desperate or too delusional, the they will shrink away fast.

Rev. Mike Stalls witnessed a situation in which antagonists had gathered a poor group of inactive church members (inactive beyond anyone’s recollection) from years past angry with society in general to come and “kill” the ministers.  The typical weaklings joined the ranks from ignorance and simply upset because someone else is upset, not knowing why they are actually angry with the ministers.  The coalition formed and demanded a special meeting of those “concerned” about how the ministers are . . . “ya-da-da.”  After the meeting was over no one could state what the charges amounted to, they were just wild ramblings of obviously trumped up accusations without much warrant, but that was not the point.  The whole plan was thoroughly about power and control.

Proverbs 29:8-11
8 Mockers stir up a city (church),
but the wise turn away anger.
If a wise person goes to court with a fool,
the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.
10 The bloodthirsty hate a person of integrity
and seek to kill the upright.
11 Fools give full vent to their rage,
but the wise bring calm in the end.

However, two surprises happened against the shallow plans of this antagonistic coalition.  1) Most people did not believe their rantings.  The suspicious “members” who were barely recognized by various other participating church members, did not provide much credibility to their mysterious “concerns,” and 2) the ministers never got the memo that they were supposed to “back down” and leave in fear and trembling – they stood their ground!

One by one, the antagonists and mysterious church members from the past leveled their accusation of petty discontent.  I use the word “petty” not as a trivializing reference, but as a precise description of their charges.  For example, one woman was upset and would not be able to continue their support (c. the response of the rest of the real church members: “what support?”) because they came to church one Sunday morning and the ministers did not know their names.  Had the Pastors been under trial for clairvoyant prophesy this may have been valid, but as human beings how could they know the names of people they have never met?  The whole evening continued on this level of “pettiness.”  The charges were very obviously drawn up in a hurry and without much care.  An unrestrained ego does things like that.

Throwing everything they could at the ministers was grueling.  The only apparent plan of the antagonists was to threaten their way through the night to gain their will.  Nothing rational was ever proposed.  It’s a saving grace that people who cause such trouble are seldom known for intelligent plans. If they were intelligent, they would never resort to such childish tactics.

Result: nothing was resolved and the ruling Board of Elders issued nothing since they had nothing to decry.  So the evening ended with a prayer — Lord, forgive the trivial use of a holy devise — and everyone went home.  Although no one could have recorded the old faithful secretarial note “and a good time was had by all.”  The Pastors would be deemed “winners” of the night, simply for holding their ground.

Since the plan of “booting out” the Pastors did not work, the antagonists did what any frustrated bully does who has been resisted, they left the church in pure disgrace.  The “once-were-members” did what they had been doing for years; not attending church.  Assuming their leaving will surely cripple the church and scar everyone beyond healing.

What was the real result?  The following Sunday, attendance was down by 2% – 3% (which actually may have had more to do with the active summer schedule people maintained) and giving in the offering plate was the usual.  After one month, the results of this brutal church “split” devastated the church by a membership loss of none and the offering dropped by . . . well the offering went up – even during the summer months.  Apparently, many other people were so relieved that the bullies had left that they felt great about returning to regular worship attendance.

They could back up their discontent with nothing.  The threats were no more than idle bluffs by insecure bullies and when those threats were withstood (barely even challenged) they were shown to be pure fluff.  Was Christ honored?  Only by the way foolish scoffers were repulsed.

However, not all conflict situations may end so quickly with the bullies running for cover.  Their threats may very well be fluffy bluffs of rage, but if others believe their surge of hostility that skewered sense of perception is all that is necessary for them to achieve their objectives.  If only a group would stand united together these rambling bullies would much more often dissolve in early rant.  However, people in general have far too much fear of conflict to make their stand.  Once a few begin to flee their ranks it does not take long for the whole line of assault to crumble.

When an infantry unit attacks a siege line how many of the defending soldiers must they intimidate to leave their trenches and desert ranks to save their lives?  Not the whole line, at least not at first.  They only need to scare away a few for courage to quickly fade from the many, and the dominoes begin to topple.  The cowardice of a few is all that is necessary for an attack to succeed.  If your community is solid in unity and aligned objectives of the heart they will hold against any attack.  But only if they stay long enough to call the bluff.

“Bluffing is the last desperate act of the weak.”
Warrant Officer Paul Brenner
Nelson Demille, The General’s Daughter

 

Pleasing People

How wonderful when we can please all people, in all of their needs and desires, fulfilling every wish of their hearts.  But then the alarm clock wakes us to the reality that such a silly scenario only resides within our dreams.  In reality, we can never please everyone.  It just is not possible.  Amending Lincoln’s speech carries the wisdom:
“You can please all of the people some of the time
And you can please some of the people all the time,
But you cannot please all of the people all of the time.”

Insurance studies expose the reality that no matter how effective one might be in their service of the needs of their clientele, 5% will always be discontent.  Total satisfaction is never expected and any agent reporting 100% approval is noted for delusion.  No matter what you do, group dynamics will naturally yield at least 5% who will not like it.  It may be no more than an annoying habit that reminds them of an abusive parent.  A sideways glance that reveals an eye color just like a bully from their childhood.  Whatever the particular reason, you will never gain complete adoration.  A small group will always hold a grudge.

And bear in mind, 95% is a super ideal.  People may not have been paying attention, or you may have not been around long enough for them to notice.  (See Everett Roger’s work on Innovation in this Web Site). Jesus carried a far lower standing among the people in his final week of ministry.  St. Paul especially failed to please the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem to the point of over 40 Judaizers vowing to not eat or drink until they had assassinated him (Acts 23:12, 14).  I guess he never read Norman Vincent Peale’s book, “How to win Friends and Influence People.”

What can you do and what should you do?  The answer to both questions is a firm “nothing.”  Trying to pleasing all people, especially the contrary 5%, will eventually cost you your soul. You will need to forsake your true self and live as an imposter for the rest of your life.  Granted, flexibility is crucial in the repertoire of any good leader, but when such boundaries are stretched to the point of compromising our heart, then we have sold out on authenticity and the stigma of hypocrisy becomes our lot in life.  Are you willing to accept such a shameful mantle in the attempt to please people who will not be pleased anyway?

When Paul the Apostle faced such issues in Thessalonica, he refused to compromise his heart.  He declined the pull to please people (1 Thessalonians 2:4) by reserving such allegiance to God alone.  Thessalonica had to understand this.  Is this not in the neighborhood of Athens where being true to yourself was pillar #1 in the quest to self-actualization?  “To thyself be true.”

 

Wisdom of Voltaire

 

“Our wretched species is so made that those who walk
on the well-trodden path always throw stones
at those who are showing a new road”
— Voltaire (1694 – 1778)

 

“Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her:
but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide
how to play the cards in order to win the game.”
“It is dangerous to be right in matters
on which the established authorities are wrong.”
“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”
“Prejudices are what fools use for reason.”

 

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority,
it is time to pause and reflect.”
— Mark Twain

 

Communicating with Antagonists

Is it even possible?  Should one even attempt it?  Once an antagonist has escalated conflict, especially to this sixth stage, our best hope would seem to be damage control and even that would likely not be managed well.  We risk a dire lose/lose situation when we attempt negotiating with people who are exerting much energy toward our harm and demise.  Note carefully Jesus’ warning (Matthew 7:6),

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.
If you do, they may trample them under their feet,
and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

That last item is particularly distressing, that such violent hostility would result from sharing “pearls.”  An angry antagonist will go to such extremes, which is the sort of personality Jesus has in mind of such vindictive ingratitude.

Yet, despite Jesus using the hostile swine imagery he still engages antagonists.  The gospels are explicit in these confrontations during Holy Week.  After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem the religious authorities unleash a constant barrage from all quarters seeking ways to sabotage his credibility and undermine his perceived authority.  The public attacks are always cloaked with hazardous plans designed to humiliate and stymie.  Pharisees, Sadducees, political Herodians, Scribes, anyone with a grudge is encouraged to a fuselage of hostility.  It’s open season on the Messiah.

So how does he respond?  What are his techniques?  And are there particular strategies we might employ for situations we face?  Following are insights to his techniques.

1) The art of periphrasis.  Be indirect, never playing along with the hidden agenda of the seemingly innocent questions.  When you play along with a cloaked scheme whose code of ethics are you following?  What rule book governs such response?  Pay attention to your motives they may be fueled by no more than naiveté which opens up a whole mindless course of gullibility.  If you are to survive to have any possibility of effectiveness you must break out of this habit.  Responding with a “fine, thank you” may be a pleasant answer to “good day, how are you,” but when the stakes have risen beyond such superficial banter you must call up more thoughtful answers, to anticipate the cloaked consequences.

2) Seize control as soon as possible.  Turn the tables.  Since you are not obligated to play along with their scheme get your mind out of the stuffy, proverbial box.  Once you train your mind to think beyond narrow choices you will discover that the universe is truly a huge place and unrestrained thinking taps into a reservoir of immeasurable depth to turn around their sophistry.

3) Parables.  These short stories are powerful, even explosive.  Used with skill your opponents are inflicted with a lethal virus of reason before they know what happened to them.  They are absolutely ingenious.   In fact, one might feel like they have just delivered a “sucker punch,” striking their rhetorical opponent when they were not watching.  And the wonderful part is that it’s actually legal in the arena of conflict, even encouraged and modeled by our Lord.  If a debate official had been there Jesus just might have been flagged and penalized for illegally taking advantage of stupid pride in an opponent.

Here’s how it works.

First, ignore the flow of the opening assault, but do not leave the field of enquiry.  You still must respond to the essential gist of questioning else suffer from public impressions of being bullish and arrogant yourself.

Second, consider the broader implication.  The old quandary joke of “Hey, George are you still beating your wife” does not have a valid ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer.  ‘Yes’ admits a vile practice, but ‘No’ implicates poor George to a previous aggression.  When George stays in the box he is doomed with no way out.  But why does George have to stay in the box?  Who decides that rule?  Only George’s decision to play by the implicit rule of being a “nice” guy.  Let me say this again and please hear a loud emphatic “BOLOGNA!!”  Jesus would not fall for the scheme why should you?  If you would be wise and enduring, play be sensibility and stop allowing yourself to be duped by such poor minds.

4) Put the spotlight right back on the devious schemers.  When the Herodians tried to trap Jesus with the Temple tax question they planned a) Jesus would say “Yes” which would undermine his preaching of a new way since he was falling back on old ways of the Law in addition to coercion with Rome whose emperor was imprinted upon the coin or b) ‘No’ which would brand him a contrary rebel in violation of both Rome and Jerusalem.  With a narrow, restricted mind we are stuck with a lesser of two evils choice.

Always take the high ground whenever possible.  People will remember that.  Retake the battlefield advantage and direct the issues to your own preferences, that remain focused on the real issues at hand, not the petty ego wrangling.  Hopefully, that will reveal the hidden issues behind the accusations, not the distracting smoke screen they have manufactured.

Proverbs 25:26
“Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain
are the righteous who give way before the wicked.”

 

“There can be no existence of evil as a force
to the healthy-minded individual.”
— William James

 

Desire and Competence

Proverbs 19:2-3

2  Desire without knowledge is not good,    and one who moves too hurriedly misses the way. 3  One’s own folly leads to ruin,    yet the heart rages against the Lord.

Evaluating Potential Antagonists

1) High Competence                              2) High Desire

3) Low Competence                               4) Low Desire

A) HC + HD Admire and appreciate

B) LC + HD             Fear and danger

C) HC + LD             Patience, encouragement and pity

D) LC + LD             Cooperate, low expectations, lazy, disappointment
Without vision!

 (This paradigm will be expanded in a future essay)

__________________

Apostolic Obstinacy

Acts 16:35-37
35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”
37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”

How many victims of unjust abuse love this story?  Paul is beat up and thrown into jail, treated with total disgrace and the next morning the sniveling antagonists are caught in their own scheme with serious trouble.  And to heighten the anxiety, Paul refuses to let them off the hook.  “They made this bed, let them sleep in it,” would be the modern idiom Paul would use to explain the strategy.  But is this suitable behavior for someone who is supposed to “forgive, as the Lord forgave you” (Matthew 6:12)?  As we will see, this situation is about more than mere, passive forgiveness.

By refusing the quick and rather “cheap” cover up, Paul draws serious exposure upon the devious city officials.  Here is firm political defense for the young church just being launched.

One might draw a similar plan to deny private apology for public abuse.  When one is maligned publicly through malicious gossip does a private apology ever sufficiently rectify the extraordinary harm done on a broad social level?  Their abuse was meant for public disgrace and defamation of character, let their apology – if it be authentic – match the arena of offense.  If one comes to you in private to sheepishly rectify their public harm to you, send them back to apologize to those they have offended through their reckless gossip.  If they refuse, then you know sincerity of a repentant heart had nothing in this transaction.  They are trying to sooth a guilty conscience at the further expense of your social credibility.

Just as Paul saw more at stake than simply his wounded ego, so you must broaden your perspective to discern the protection of the church’s unity.  Hold them accountable to personal responsibility by meeting up to the full spectrum they have really offended.  Let them feel the full weight of their shameful behavior.  Whatever you require may be a saving grace from him who will require accountability in the scales of eternal fate,

Matthew 12:36-37
“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

 

Wearing Down

Conflict will take its toll upon everyone involved.  The old dare of whoever flinches first loses may have more to reveal of conflict situations than any of us want to admit.  The strain will gradually wear down the defenses and over some period of time will claim awful damage.  The flinching will not happen all on its own, but will culminate in long stretches of pressure. Stress will finally take its toll we are simply not created for it.  Pity the deranged personality who might actually thrive on it.

The key to enduring for as long as we might is found in our levels of commitment and courage, but especially in how we perceive the situation.

When a problem besieges our mind the normal human tendency is to magnify its power and create within our own mind a gigantic ogre, far beyond reasonable bounds of assessment.  It’s just a fact of our fallen humanness, unresolved problems will always magnify, always!  However you view a difficult situation which produces anxiety it will always evolve bigger than what it holds in reality.  Our minds naturally drift toward the worst case scenarios to brace for the most painful consequences.

How we deal with conflict has less to do with the problem at hand and far more to the battle being waged within our own mind in how we perceive that problem.  The magnification will escalate our own fears and rally our own unnecessary defenses to fight an enemy that exists only within the halls of our own imagination.  We end up fighting the imagined demons of our soul.

Aaron T. Beck and Gary Emery have formulated a great theorem to bolster our quest for perspective,

Where your focus goes

Your energy flows

Allow your mind to dwell on a given problem and the more energy you permit to flow to it.  If that problem is painfully carrying a specter of devastation then your energy will drain from you by the harmful toxins of hate and evil.

Albert Ellis reflects the ancient wisdom of Epictetus when he evaluates our stress in his classic A-B-C formula of good psychic health.  First we have a situation occur to us, the “Activating Event.”  We naturally tend to draw a conclusion of the problem and conclude that it is bad and will hurt us somehow, this is the “Consequence” stage.  But another stage lies between these two, dealing with what we believe about this situation, our “Belief System.”  If we suppose the situation is harmful and all bad, then we will naturally prepare ourselves for the worse decreeing what has befallen our path as an evil entity that must be overcome and hopefully destroyed.

Under prolonged stress one’s functional IQ will actually lose its affect and decrease.  One’s IQ can actually drop by as much as 40 points!  To clarify how dire this situation can become know that the average IQ in America is roughly set at 100 points.  Genius is rated at a minimum of 140 points.  This means that someone who normally functions at genius levels will lose all their gifted abilities as they shrink back to mere average.  And if one should originally be evaluated at an average score of 100, well . . . bear in mind that Forest Gump measured at 68!  You would actually welcome his counsel.

 

Epictetus, The Enchiridion (c. 135)

as translated by Elizabeth Carter

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.

With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making a proper use of it. If you see an attractive person, you will find that self-restraint is the ability you have against your desire. If you are in pain, you will find fortitude. If you hear unpleasant language, you will find patience. And thus habituated, the appearances of things will not hurry you away along with them.

 

 

 

Proverbs 26:20-28

20 Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
21 As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.
22 The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.
23 Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart.
24 Enemies disguise themselves with their lips, but in their hearts they harbor deceit.
25 Though their speech is charming, do not believe them, for seven abominations fill their hearts.
26 Their malice may be concealed by deception, but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.
27 If anyone digs a pit, they themselves will fall into it; if anyone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.
28 A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

 

The Sabotage of Gossip

Loose lips sink ships

Numbers 13:32-33
32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim  there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim).  We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Numbers 14:36-38
36 So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it —

37 these men who were responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord.
38 Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.

 

John 15:25
“They hated me without reason”

Psalm 35:19
Do not let those gloat over me who are my enemies without cause;
do not let those who hate me without reason maliciously wink the eye.

Psalm 69:4
Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal.

 

Psalm 109:3
With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.

Jesus unveils an ugly and unfortunate bit of reality; you do not necessarily have to do anything wrong in order to hated.  Whether it be displaced anger (some people just hate pastors and authority figures), transference (you like somebody who …) or you do not preach loud enough, too loud, too much humor, too dry, too lofty, too much melodrama, ad infinitum – some people will just not like you.  Nothing personal, the issue is in “their” own wounded psyche.  Proceed with ministry to the many more people needing your pastoral encouragement.  You must not allow a single contrary attitude sabotage the work of ministry.  Proceed, but with caution and awareness.

 

David’s Betrayal

Psalm 35:11-16 
11 Ruthless witnesses come forward; they question me on things I know nothing about. 12 They repay me evil for good and leave me like one bereaved. 13 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting.   When my prayers returned to me unanswered, 14  I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother.  I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother. 15 But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee; assailants gathered against me without my knowledge.  They slandered me without ceasing. 16 Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked; they gnashed their teeth at me.

 

__________

 
The War Prayer
Mark Twain
“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun-flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
“The War-Prayer”
A Pen Warmed up in Hell

 

 

___________

Toxins are in the air spreading their virus of hate and hostility.

Sides may well be ready to move onto harmful measures, although usually with a sickening “self-righteous” façade.

Negotiation is difficult, simply because egos have taken over the stage.  Feelings and paranoia rule.  Logic and reason no longer hold value.  In fact, they will be detested.  Hurt pride demands retribution and a scapegoat is required as a sacrifice.

This is often where a “new” minister is targeted as the acceptable excuse for all the discomfort and turmoil.  Get rid of this meddler and the arrogant gods of hurt pride will be appeased.

 

Antagonism Two Cents

 

 

 

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