From time to time I listen to my favorite song by one of the more obscure winners of American Idol over the course of its existence, “Battlefield” by Jordin Sparks. Over and over again in the song, she asks herself and her putative partner why it is that love always feels like a battlefield, why fights and arguments start without warning or intention. It is a question admittedly that I ask myself often, and I imagine it is a question that other people wrestle with as well. When I listen to the song I am tempted to give Ms. Sparks some points for effort. It is clear that she is well equipped for struggle, with a sharp tongue, but that she is not someone who seems to relish or enjoy conflict with others . I tend to judge myself as the same sort of person–others may disagree–in that I do not consider myself to enjoy quarreling and fighting all that much but at the same time consider myself the sort of person that no sane person and few insane people would want as their enemy. And yet warfare of some kind has been a continual facet of my life. I would venture to say that many people feel as I do, in that we do not relish the continual struggle of our existence and long for a time when it is no longer necessary, but that we know of no other way to live.
If I had to point to the period in my life where it became clear that warfare was to be my lot in life, I would have to go back to the beginning. There were basically two fronts of warfare that were opened on me nearly as soon as I drew breathe and entered this world. One of those fronts was the civil war that comes from those of us who come from broken families, a type of conflict I have seen all too often not only as an unhappy participant, but also as an equally unhappy observer about the struggles of others. The second front was on the spiritual side. From very early on it became clear that whether or not I had any interest in fighting that I would be engaged in warfare against the forces of darkness. It was not determined how I would fight, but it was determined that I would have to fight, if only to survive.
Nor did the fighting cease at all as I was growing up. Being a timid and nervous and anxious child, extremely bookish and nerdy and awkward, I must have seemed an easy target to the world of rural Central Florida where I grew up. It took quite a few years–at least into my teenage years–before those I grew up around realized that my timidity and awkwardness did not imply a lack of fierce determination, and as I specialized in taking on multiple people at once, it gradually became apparent even to my not particularly bright neighbors that I was not the sort of person who made a pleasant or easy fight for anyone. With this realization came a certain grudging respect, and a tendency over time for fighting to cease being done with fists and more about words, a sort of fighting that has continued long after it has no longer been necessary for me to engage in fisticuffs in order to defend my status as a gentleman willing to defend myself in the honor-bound world of Southern hotheads.
Seven years ago one of the darkest and most unpleasant periods of my rather dark and unpleasant life began when I was spending some weeks for work in the Milwaukee area. It just so happened by an accident of bad timing that I was in town for a sermon that would begin one of the nastier civil wars of my existence, and one that has caused me to do a lot of soul searching about the sort of person I am and the way that I engage in conflict and disagreement. During that time, for a period of months, I was involved in a prolonged period of intensely ferocious combat with other believers whom I considered brethren, many of whom shared the same beliefs but were worked up over illusory fears and ferocious insecurities about their own power and honor. Admittedly, I did not handle myself as well as I could have, and to be sure others did not either. There was little glory to be found in the way that many of us dealt with the disagreements. I was recently reminded of this time by a photo appearing in social media as a timeline and by the marriage of a young woman in Chile I knew during that time, and my thoughts are somewhat melancholy in nature given the circumstances of what went down.
In looking back over the long history of conflict in my own life, I have to say that the beings involved in this combat were not those I considered necessarily implacable enemies. My estranged relatives were not my enemies–in many cases they were and are people much like me, people whose resemblance to me I recognize and sometimes celebrate and sometimes lament. My neighbors, ignorant and opportunistic as they may have been, were not my enemies either. They were people who wanted to prove themselves as people of strength and picked the wrong target. This sort of thing, regrettably, happens in a fallen world such as we live in. Those brethren with whom I fought so fiercely seven years ago were not my enemies either. They were fellow believers, people who I would hope repent and strive for reconciliation and forgiveness from those who they wronged with their false accusations. So long as we live, there is hope that things might get better, that what was broken can be restored. Not even the forces of darkness that have tormented my life are necessarily enemies–they too are fallen beings who live in fear and misery and spread that misery to others, beings who were seduced or deceived or bullied from a state of grace and who fear that they will never be at peace with their Creator ever again.
It is perhaps only natural that I would think of the issue of reconciliation at this time of year. Paul himself pled for reconciliation to the brethren of Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21: “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Our acceptance of God’s call is a sign of our desire to be reconciled to God, with whom we have become estranged because of the common fallen state of mankind as well as our own sins and wrongs. So too we are estranged from other people as a result of misunderstandings and as a result of our wrongs and their wrongs and our responses to each other. And yet we are to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, who paid the death penalty we owed for sin, and who also paid for the sins of other people, so that we may be reconciled with each other as well. Someday, God willing, not all aspects of our lives will feel like battlefields, but rather places of parley and peace and unity. May we be fortunate enough to see this peace, and to be people of peace ourselves in our own lives. While we live and breathe, there is yet hope for us all.
 See, for example: