Friday, March 30, 2012

The Susanna Heatwole Brunk Story

Each year as a part of my JMU Lifelong Learning Institute class, "Mennonites in the Valley," Ruth Stoltzfus Jost joins us at the grave site of two-year-old John Brunk at the Bank Mennonite Church cemetery, where she sings the following piece written by her sister Helen about their great-grandmother Susanna Heatwole Brunk. It is printed here with Helen's kind permission:

by Helen Stoltzfus

In the valley of Virginia,
my great-grandmother Susanna
met and married Henry Brunk.

They had a son.

But not long thereafter the Civil War broke out.

Henry felt he could not stay true to Christ and be a soldier.
He, along with 69 other young men, rode out
of the war zone
hoping to escape.

They were captured by Confederate soldiers who demanded that they surrender their arms.

They surrendered their Bibles.

The Confederate soldiers took their horses and put the men in prison.  They gave them three choices

One: Put on uniforms and take up arms; Two: haul supplies as non-combatants, or Three: stay in prison.

I have a young wife and a baby son.  I will haul supplies as a non-combatant.

But Henry's conscience still bothered him.  He felt that he was still a part of this machinery of war.  One day he simply left his team of horses in the field and walked out through the orchard and the woods, a deserter, with a price on his head.

He hid in attics of kind strangers, weaving willow baskets to earn money, while Susanna, pregnant, cared for their son John. One day, one day, one day - she gave birth to a daughter, Sarah.  But not long thereafter their son John died.

Henry heard the news.  At the funeral, he knew the Confederate spies were there to track him down.  So he had to hide at his own son's funeral.  Standing in the back like a stranger, leaving before the last hymn was sung.

And Susanna stood alone at her son's grave.

Henry and 17 young men managed to escape to the North.  Henry sent a message to Susanna:   Meet me in Hagerstown!

She put her possessions in a spring wagon and set out with her baby and her sister.  They rode northward into war territory.

Suddenly they were surrounded by Confederate soldiers who seized Susanna's horse.  At the same moment, the Union army began to close in on them.

"Yanks, the Yanks are coming!  Follow us!!!"

(as Susanna)  "I'll do no such thing!"

And since the Confederates were fleeing from the Union Army, they had no time to force her to  follow them.  So she rode on, continuing northward.

She was almost at Hagerstown.  She only had to cross the Shenandoah River.

But when she reached Harper's Ferry the bridge was burning.

Behind her were Confederate soldiers,  before her a burning bridge, a baby in her arms.

A miller appeared.  He showed her a place where others had managed to cross.  She plunged her spring wagon into the Shenandoah and  crossed safely.

She arrived in Hagerstown.

"But will I find Henry?"

She rode down the street.  She looked from left to right.  She passed a store front, glanced in the window at a shoemaker repairing shoes.  Henry looked up.  Their eyes met.

The story doesn't end there.  They moved to Illinois. Susanna, age 26, bore five more children in  the next eight years.  Then, like many others, they decided to move west to Kansas in a covered wagon.

Even though the Civil War had ended, the feelings of resentment were still very strong between the North and the South.  Missouri was a slave state.  Kansas, a free state.  The Missourians refused to let settlers, on their way to the "free" state of Kansas, drink water from their wells.

So Susanna, pregnant, Henry, and their six children drank from the streams and the ponds.

When they arrived in Kansas, Henry unhitched the horse, turned them out to graze, built a wigwam shelter made of boards, and lay beneath it.  He never got up again.  He died of typhoid fever. 

In the next six months, three of Susanna's seven children died of typhoid fever.

My grandfather remembers his mother, my great-grandmother Susanna.  She is leaning over the kitchen table, tears streaming down her face.  Silently she cuts up her husband's suit to make clothes for her children.

Her ten-year-old son took work in a mill.  Then in the middle of the night, men came knocking on her door.  "Mother, mother, your son has been hurt.  He fell asleep, his arm got caught in the wheel."

They brought him in from town and laid him on that same kitchen table and cut off his arm.

It is told how near the end of her life, she ironed a dress, but left the ruffles, the beautiful ruffles... unironed.

The following is an additional stanza written by Ruth Soltzfus Jost:

In later years, she told these stories to her grandchildren.
They remember many Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners at her prairie home.
They remember the little cakes she sent home with them after a visit.
And though they could never remember her singing before,
When the end came, she sang.
She asked her family to sing.
She asked her doctor to help sing.
And they all sang her favorite song,

"Oh happy day that fixed my choice
On thee, my Savior and my God."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Out and About!

One of the pleasures of having our grandchildren over is to watch them play in our tree house and dig around in our back yard for earth worms, slugs, centipedes, and other wild creatures. I’m delighted to see their fascination with nature in light of the fact that most of today's children spend twice as much time indoors as their parents did, missing out on the simple pleasures and lasting health benefits of daily outdoor activity.

I know I harp on this a lot, that today's young spend an average of only four to seven minutes outside each day and more than seven hours in front of electronic media, but there’s little doubt that this kind of sedentary lifestyle is contributing to childhood obesity and depression, as well as limiting children's creativity, concentration and social skills. That makes me sad.

When I was growing up, we had little choice about being outdoors, in that all hands were needed on our family farm to help with daily chores and with the growing, harvesting and preserving food for a large family. But all of that helped make us more productive persons, and I’m glad to see that our local three grandkids recently got two laying hens to take care of in their back yard and to offer them some hands on experience in taking care of chickens and to appreciate where some of their food comes from.

The National Wildlife Federation’s “Be Out There” initiative promotes the following commitment for children and their parents: "I pledge to spend time outdoors every day for the health and happiness of the kids in my life."

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why I'm Already Against The Next Violent Hollywood Movie

Most of you are probably aware of a sure-to-be blockbuster movie called “The Hunger Games” that was just released this weekend, a film based on Suzanne Collins’s extremely popular book series (30 million copies) about children and teens forced to hunt and kill other kids for sport.

In Collin's fictional trilogy about a post-apocalyptic North American nation of Panem, the sadistic powers-that-be require each of their twelve districts to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 each year to take part in The Hunger Games, a fight to the death that is portrayed on the nation’s live television, and which all citizens are forced to watch.  The victor of the competition gets to enjoy, as his or her reward, a life of relative ease that’s free of poverty and starvation, hence the name The Hunger Games.

The movie has a PG-13 rating, meaning that teens will have no trouble getting into theaters to watch it, which millions of them will almost certainly do. What they will see, some will argue, is the teen heroine as victim of a brutal and oppressive system she is bent on combating with every means possible, including countering with violence.

Meanwhile, another recently released movie, "Bully,” a documentary by producer Lee Hirsch and the Bully Project, is about kids sadistically hurting each other in everyday real life, right in our own schools and neighborhoods. This one has been given an R rating, meaning that the very teens and children portrayed in it are not supposed to see it.

Is this ironic or what? And is there a link between our children being exposed to unremitting violent entertainment in theaters--and on their home computer and television screens--and their treating each other in sadistic and cruel ways?

When will we all just rise up and say “enough already” to all forms of brutality?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why I'm Already Against the Next War

The world was shocked at the news of the alleged shooting of 17 Afghan civilians recently by Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. What doesn’t get equal press is the almost routine “collateral damage” inflicted on innocent civilians through drone strikes, artillery attacks, land mines and other inevitable outcomes of war.  Victims suffer in unimaginably horrific ways, with limbs, bones and body parts shattered, burned, severed and mingled with the precious blood of human victims, all of them God’s children.

It’s time we declare war itself as the enemy and every kind of violence as evil, no matter for what cause or under whose flag. The devastation done to victim and perpetrator alike is profound and simply unacceptable by any standard of civilized society. Killing is just wrong, period, whether of civilians or combatants.

In a January 16, 2012 interview in Time magazine, Navy SEAL Chris Hyle, recipient of two Silver Stars in Iraq, and author of the book “American Sniper,”  admits that his combat experience still makes him easily startled when he is awakened at night or hears loud sounds that remind him of his time in active duty. Hyle holds the dubious record for the highest confirmed number of enemy killed in that conflict, 160 in all, and states, “The first time, you’re not even sure you can do it. But I’m not over there looking at those people as people. I’m not wondering if he has a family. I’m just trying to keep my guys safe.”

In one case he admits he shot a woman with a toddler because she had a grenade in her hand, but drew a line at shooting a child holding an RPG launcher. “I just couldn’t kill the kid,” he admitted. “He’ll probably grow up to fight us, but I just didn’t want to do it.” “(But) every time I kill someone (a combatant), he can’t plant an IED. You don’t think twice about it.”

As much  as I want to respect service men and women who are putting their lives at risk every day in military service, there’s something chilling about the institution of war itself and the way it brainwashes people into behaving in ways that are directly counter to the values most of us have been taught all of our lives. Like never initiating violence against another human being, and using preventive force only in those rare instances when your own life or those of others are in imminent danger.

If civilization is to survive, we must all promote the supreme value of loving every human neighbor everywhere as ourselves. Otherwise, the more we resort to war as a necessary evil, the more necessary it becomes and the less evil it seems.

That’s is why I chose the bumper sticker “I’m already against the next war” for the back of my pickup.

P. S. In an earlier piece, "Saying No To War," I share more of my views on the Biblical case against violence.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Retirement Investing With Better Returns

The March, 2012, issue of "Everyday Stewardship,” a publication of Everence (formerly Mennonite Mutual Aid) features an article, "Unique Retirement Investing," about some of our thinking about, and planning for, our retirement investments. We initially had some mixed feelings about being interviewed for the piece, but saw it as an opportunity to share some of the reasons we've chosen to invest most of our retirement in microlending programs rather than in Wall Street traded stocks.

An earlier post "How Microlending Could Revolutionize how we Help the Poor," gives some background on this, and the November 26, 2011, post, "Is it Time To De-Occupy Wall Street?" offers some additional perspective.

P. S. The picture accompanying the article (in "Everyday Stewardship") of Alma Jean and me at our house church is taken at the home of the members who hosted the meeeting that Sunday, Guy and Margie Vlasits, who operate a bed and breakfast near Keezletown.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Little Hope Goes a Long Way

I remember as a child going on a mountain hike one hot summer day with some of my older siblings and their friends. It didn't take long for me to get so tired I began to lag behind the rest. And the further behind I got, the more exhausted and terrible I felt, yet I didn’t want to admit I needed help.

Finally someone noticed and suggested the group pause to let me catch up. Then that kind person took my hand and walked with me for the rest of the climb. I can’t even remember who it was, but I’ll never forget how much better it made me feel. Even though we continued to move at a good pace, I actually experienced new physical as well as emotional energy to reach the top with the rest.

A little help and a little hope goes a long way.

I sometimes ask my clients to rate their emotional state on a scale of 0-10, a ten meaning they feel euphoric or ecstatic (something we rarely experience), zero meaning they are suicidally depressed (which most of us, thankfully, also rarely experience), and five feeling just average or so-so, neither really bad nor especially good. Distressed clients often report a current mood range of about 2-4, as compared to a wished for 6-8.

Being mentally healthy has as much to do with our level of functioning as it does with the state of our feelings, but our mood levels are an indicator of our general state of well being. So what can we do to stay up, feel reasonably positive, more of the time?

A key factor, I believe, is to restore a greater sense of hope. No matter how bad things are in the present, or have been in the past, if we can borrow--from the good Bank of Hope--some evidence-based belief that things will get better, then we will be able, with God’s help and the help of other good people, to feel and to function better, and to keep up the fight. The Bible actually defines faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not (yet) seen."

Being suicidal, by definition, is to experience the loss of all hope, to believe that there is absolutely nothing to look forward to but more despair. This means that unless my clients are actively suicidal, I assume they still have at least some hope, if only through believing that seeing a therapist might help them get better.

It is this kernel of faith, even if its only the size of a grain of mustard seed, that I want to build on to help them deal with the mountain of distress they feel stands in the way, and either to have that mountain removed or to be able to find a way around or over it.

Not surprisingly, in drug trials that are done for testing the effects of antidepressants, there is always a control group that is given a placebo, a so called sugar pill. Amazingly, that group often experiences nearly as much relief from depression as do the ones actually taking the drug. This isn’t just because they trick themselves into believing they are less depressed, but because the very hope of getting better releases good endorphins in their brains, a natural drug, if you please, that makes a real difference in their well being.

A helpful web site I discovered recently for individuals dealing with mental illness is called, appropriately,

Monday, March 12, 2012

Is This For Here, or to Go?

In our house church yesterday (we meet at four), Skip and Carol Tobin shared their vision of a church being less about trying to attract others to come to us, and more about preparing and sending us out to wherever we are needed.

At the close of our service, as we prepared for our usual evening meal together, we shared the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper as a metaphor for the poured out and broken life of Jesus. Since one of our members has a gluten allergy, we used rice crackers as our bread. It was brittle fare, nothing like the bland texture of leavened bread, and a fitting sign of a life broken for others.

As we poured grape juice into cups for everyone around the table, we invited each to share what they needed from God for the week ahead. Blood is a sign of life, we reminded ourselves, not just of death, so we expressed, by turn, our need for renewed life from a God who freely offers life to all.

It was a moment of clarity for me, that in the partaking of an ordinary, life-giving meal, that we not only celebrate our coming together, broken and in need of new life for ourselves, but that in communion we prepare for going out, ready and able to share with others the life we receive in the Eucharist.

In order to live in the world in the imitation of Christ, we need all of the spiritual energy we can get--energizing, life giving bread, life enhancing drink.

As this food gives up its life for us,
may we follow that pattern of
self surrender for each other.
May we be life for one another.

from “Prayers for the Domestic Church” by Edward Hays

Click on "Home" above for recent posts on Harvspot.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mennonites in the Valley LLI Class XV

Here is a copy of the outline for the fifteenth (and my last) class for JMU's Lifelong Learning Institute (for persons 50 and older), along with a list of some local Mennonite church services. I have thoroughly enjoyed this annual experience with around thirty of the finest students one could imagine. The class is full for this year, but we're hoping to see it offered in future years for those who are interested. I've provided some links to some of the sites below:

Mennonites in the Shenandoah Valley 
Spring 2012 Lifelong Learning Institute Class, Harvey Yoder, Instructor 

I. Some Course Goals
A. To become better acquainted with members of a diverse religious group in our area. 
B. To understand some of the similarities and differences among Mennonite subgroups. 
C. To un-learn some common myths and stereotypes about Mennonites.
D. To increase participants’ appreciation of their own faith history and traditions. 

II. Course Outline (classes meet from 9-11 am, except 9-11:45 on 3/26 and 9-12:45 on 4/2)
A. 3/12 Introduction/Overview
(Park View Mennonite Church Fireplace Room, ground floor)
1. Survey of Valley Mennonite roots and branches
2. Introductory slide show on Valley Mennonites

B. 3/19 Virginia Conference Mennonites
(at Eastern Mennonite School, rear entrance)
1. Meet in Choral room (Rm. 115, east end of new addition) at 9
2. EMHS Chamber Choir with Jay Hartzler 9:15-9:45 (Choral room)
3. WVPT documentary on area Mennonites: “Silent Grace” 9:50-10:30
4. Menno Simons Historical Library with Lois Bowman (3rd floor, EMU Library) 

C. 3/26 Old Order Conference Mennonites (gather at Weavers Mennonite Church, west 33) 
1. Brief orientation at historic Weavers Mennonite
2. Car pool to Mountain View Old Order School and/or the Burkholder Buggy Shop 

 (up to eight persons may visit the school during classes)
3. Pleasant View Old Order Church,11-11:30 am, meet with minister Lewis Martin

D. 4/2 Southeastern Conference Mennonites (meet at the Bank Mennonite Church)
1. Tour of Historic Bank Church Cemetery
2. “Susanna Heatwole Brunk Ballad,” sung by great-granddaughter Ruth Stoltzfus Jost 
3. Interview with Southeastern Conference minister James Goering, and introduction to book, "Vera's Journey"
4. Conversation about my own Augusta County Beachy Amish community
5. Home cooked noon meal ($17, tax included) with Old Order Mennonite Janet Shank 

E. 4/9 Crossroads Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center, 711 Garbers Church Rd. 
1. Report of church visits and other enrichment activities, writing thank you notes
2. Question/answer period, review and final “exam” 

III. Suggested Enrichment Activities
A. Attend a Mennonite worship service or tune in to Park View’s service at WEMC 91.7 FM. B. Visit Southeastern Mennonite Conference’s Berea Christian School (432-0007).
C. Tour Christian Light Publication and book store (Mt. Clinton Pike and Chicago Avenue). D. Visit other Mennonite-related enterprises at Shenandoah Heritage Farmers Market, Dayton

Farmers Market, Gift and Thrift Shop, Dry River Hay Auction (2nd, 4th and 5th Wed mornings on Rushville Rd), Rocky Cedar Enterprises (2156 Country Store Lane), Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction (Tue & Fri at 2839 Lumber Mill Rd), Riverside Plants (6377 W. Dry River Rd), Onyx Hill Fruit & Plants (6918 Onyx Hill Rd), or Mistimorne Plants (723 Pike Church Rd).
E. Check out Mennonite Church USA website <>.
F. Visit EMU’s Menno Simons Historical Library and/or Campus Book Store.
G. Attend Harmonia Sacra Hymn Sing at Harrisonburg Mennonite at 7 pm April 8. 

A Guide to Local Mennonite Services
All of these churches welcome you to join them for worship.

Old Order Mennonites  (worship services from 10-11:45 a.m., no Sunday School)
Pleasant View Church (take Eberly Road west at Hair Corral just north of Dayton, turn left on         Silver Lake Road, right on Bowman Road, go two miles, turn left on Rushville road)
     “Showalter” (or “Cline”) group meets here on 1st and 3rd Sundays of each month.
    “Wenger” (more conservative) group meets here on 2nd, 4th and 5th Sundays.
Oak Grove Church (take Pike Church Road between Rt. 11 and Dayton, then south on Liskey Rd)
    “Showalter” (or “Cline”) group meets here on 2nd, 4th and 5th Sundays.
    “Wenger” group meets here on 1st and 3rd Sundays.
Riverdale Church (Ottobine Road [257] west of Dayton, turn right on Old Dry River Road about         one mile to church--behind Valley Structures)
    Members of Showalter group only meet here each Sunday.
Mt. Pleasant Church (south side of Pike Church Road between Rt. 11 and Dayton)
    “Horning” (Weaverland [PA] Conference) group meets here (members use black cars).

Calvary Mennonite Church (Biblical Anabaptist Fellowship) meets in the former Mt. Clinton         Elementary School  (S.S. 9:30 a.m. worship 10:30 a.m.)

Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church (member of an association called “Fellowship Churches”)      meets at Old Whitesell Church Road  (9:30 a.m. Sunday School, worship at 10:30).

Beachy Amish (or “Amish Mennonite”) Churches, Augusta County  (9:30 a.m. Sunday School, worship service at 11)
Pilgrim Fellowship Church (largest and most progressive) (take White Hill Road two miles east of Exit 217 off I-81)
Mt. Zion Church (more conservative)  (take same exit, take White Hill Road east one mile, turn left and go one mile on Guthrie Road)

Southeastern Conference Mennonites
(Sunday School at 9:30 a.m., worship at 10:30)
    These are some of their churches near Harrisonburg:
Bank Mennonite Church (take Rt. 33 west, turn left on Bank Church Road just west of Dale  Enterprise)
Pike Mennonite Church (on Rt. 11 just south of Harrisonburg)
Rawley Springs Mennonite (about 10 miles west of Harrisonburg on Rt. 33)
McGaheysville Mennonite (about 12 miles east of Harrisonburg off Rt. 33)

Dayton Mennonite (Mountain Valley Mennonite group) (S.S. at 9:30, worship at 10:30)

Virginia Conference Mennonite Churches (times of services vary)
    There are dozens of area Valley churches belonging to this, the largest and oldest (but least “plain”), group of Mennonites in the Valley. As of the past several decades, most of their worship styles, lifestyles and manner of dress and appearance have become almost indistinguishable from that of members of other denominations in the community.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Some Reflections on Tuesday’s Forum (updated and revised)

WHO: Some fifty concerned citizens, including attorneys, social workers and mental health professionals and three panelists: Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson, Sarah Albrecht, licensed professional counselor at the Community Services Board and David Rawls, psychologist at Western State's 45-bed forensic unit (serving persons convicted of some crime).

WHAT: A forum on the treatment of mentally ill and suicidally depressed inmates at our local jail.

WHEN: Tuesday, March 6, from 12-1:30 pm.

WHERE: Massanutten Regional Library meeting room.

WHY: To consider humane alternatives to the use of the restraint chair or the padded isolation cell for suicidally depressed inmates (see blog on this topic), including the use of volunteer mental health professionals to be available to be with such persons on a rotating, round the clock basis if necessary.

Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson agreed that the restraint chair should be used only in cases where an inmate is out of control and in danger of harming him or herself or others, and that being confined to the padded cell (where suicidally depressed inmates are stripped of their clothing and given only a paper gown to wear, and are without any reading material, bed, mattress or blanket, and with a hole in the floor for a toilet) should only be an option of last resort. However, he stressed that jail security and the protection of inmates is his first priority, along with the need to follow strict Commonwealth of Virginia guidelines and to avoid the risk of liability if any volunteers assisting such individuals were injured.

Sarah Albrecht, LPC, reported that the CSB is able to provide the equivalent of about 1.5 mental health counselors or psychiatric nurses (a full time equivalent number that was only her estimate, so it could be higher) for an overcrowded facility which houses 345 inmates who have little or no outside human contact or access to any other mental health resources. This is no fault of the CSB, of course, which also offers several educational groups led by the five part time CSB persons who make up that 1.5 or more number (including the psychiatric nurse practitioner who oversees the use of meds) but little counseling is offered.

Psychologist David Rawls reported that at Western State padded cells are no longer used for the patients from other jails and prisons housed there, but suicidal inmates are given one-on-one oversight, and the restraint chair is used only when there is an incorrigible patient. He also reported the use of trained peer support persons assigned to suicidal inmates in some prisons, but offered no details.

In summary, given the perceived risks, I left the meeting with little hope for any significant change in the near future in how our local jail deals with mentally ill inmates. However, Sheriff Hutcheson did say he is always open to at least meeting with any concerned citizens to hear their concerns, and stated that more training of jail personnel is a priority, with one deputy already being specifically assigned and trained to work at coordinating services to inmates with mental health needs.

I remain interested in generating a list of people who would be willing to further investigate workable and humane options that would not strain already stretched personnel and resources at the jail. My goal would be to both offer support to our new sheriff and promote better services to those citizens to our community who are behind bars.

Meanwhile, it would be interesting to know how many of our local inmates are actually being confined because they are guilty of violent crimes, and what percentage are in fact being detained for no crimes at all, but for technical parole violations, failure to pay child support, etc. I would also like actual statistics on the number of unarmed persons holding Sunday services or offering classes at the jail who have ever been threatened or harmed.

Your ideas are welcome, and please let me know if you are interested in being a part of further conversations with the Sheriff on this and other jail related concerns.

Monday, March 5, 2012

If I Have Learned to Live

In one of I. Merle Good’s musical plays there is a song with the line, “It hardly matters what I know or where I’ve been or where I go, if I have learned to live,” with the refrain, “If  I have learned to live, then I have learned to die. It hardly matters how I die, or who I am remembered by, if I have learned to live.”

What makes death feel so tragic, especially that of a young person, is when a life hasn’t had a chance to be lived out, or in some case has been wasted or misspent.

Maybe we’ll never feel a life has been long enough to really be complete in the way one New Testament writer affirms, “I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith.” With that sense of completion, one might be more nearly ready to die as one would retire at night after a full, satisfying and well spent day--tired, finished, ready to lie down and rest.

In our case, my wife and my remains are to go into an inexpensive casket and vault and buried in the cemetery of the Zion Mennonite Church south of Broadway, where I served as pastor for 20 years. But the simple memorial stone that will mark our burial site will not be our legacy. That we will be in whatever love we have managed to live, celebrate and leave behind for our children and whoever else’s lives we have been able to touch.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Underlying Needs in Conflictual Relationships

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from the desires that battle within you? You want something, and when you don’t get it, you quarrel and fight. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. And when you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives...”                                        (James 4:1-3)

One of the things we'll focus on in the four Wednesday evening Conflict Management Class I'm leading at the Family Life Resource Center starting next week is that the issues we fight over in a conflict may be less important than the feelings and needs behind them.

The following five identified needs are from a handout I use based on the work of psychologist Rudolph Dreikurs (adapted from his work on underlying needs in misbehaving children!). The italicized phrases suggest how we can often tell what the underlying needs are that are really driving the conflict:

1. The Need For Recognition, Belonging

    Conflict may result from someone simply trying to gain attention, respect, love or closeness. Feeling ignored is painful, so negative interaction (through conflict) may seem better than having little or no interaction with another one really cares about. Persons operating from this need typically create feelings of annoyance in others that may drive them even further away. Creative and healthy ways of being noticed, heard and taken seriously need to be found.

2. The Need For Power, Control

    Conflict also results from a person perceiving that his or her needs to have a fair say, to be reckoned with as someone of value and worth, and to be considered a vital player in a group’s process are not being met. Persons with this need may provoke others into feeling threatened, challenged or intimidated. It is important to avoid being drawn into power struggles with such individuals (to see who can win), but to offer opportunities for shared power and control.

3. The Need For Vengeance, Ventilation of Anger
    When the first two needs are not met, the need for direct or indirect retaliation (sometimes at inappropriate targets) may begin to be in evidence. Persons with this need often cause feelings of hurt in others. It is important to resist being drawn into a revenge cycle, and to try to understand the hurt behind another person’s actions, to provide for cooling off periods, and to work at trying to resolve the underlying problems in the relationship.

4. The Need For Withdrawal, Retreat
    This tends to be the result when all of the above efforts by an individual trying to have his or her needs met seem to them to have failed. Such persons may become passive and uncommunicative, respond only in indirect, non-verbal ways, or simply avoid those with whom they are in conflict. Persons with this need tend to evoke feelings of sympathy, frustration and/or helplessness in others. Our response should not be to show pity, but to provide support, understanding and encouragement, and to help provide for healthy ways to get some needed relief from stress.

5. The Need For Challenge, Change
    Conflict may also result from simply feeling stifled, bored or in a rut in a relationship. Persons operating from this need may trigger uneasy and anxious feelings in others, especially in those who want to maintain the status quo. Our response should be to encourage reasonable risk-taking in achieving positive goals.