At this point, you're probably wanting to know how the story turns out (if you don't already). You're probably thinking that taking God's path to conflict resolution, engaging relationally the real human beings involved in every situation, and knowing that at the very least, the worst that can happen is that you unfortunately might have to cut someone out of community, that magical, wonderful things then just happen and everything is hunky-dory.
Well, life doesn't work that way.
Because for every conflict, there are at least two parties. And although one party may take God's road and make every attempt to settle a dispute without sacrificing brotherhood, it still depends equally so upon the other party to have the same interest. If he does not, then there is not a lot that even the God-loving, God-fearing, God-honoring party can do to resolve the conflict well on her own.
So this particular story doesn't end well. It doesn't end with reconciliation or with apologies or even with things ending up right. It ends with bitterness and back-peddling and burned bridges.
Finally confessing that they were unable, despite having been for two months quite willing (or at least pretending to be), to solve the problem at hand for which I had contracted their services in the first place, the guy with whom I had been engaged for so long over the same situation offered a partial refund of the monies I had paid them for their efforts. I accepted the offer of a refund, but having realized the man must be treated as a tax collector, disagreed with his math. Not by a lot, but just by enough.
We hashed out the details, with him offering far less and me standing firm on a reasonable more until finally, a few weeks after he had called it quits on the project (remember, he is the one who threw in the towel and said he couldn't do it), he called and offered me a check. It came in the amount I had firmly requested, but it also came with a caveat.
It required a signature saying that not only would I never step foot on their premises again, but also that I would not hold them responsible for anything they had done less-than-well or any trouble that resulted for me because of their efforts.
That was a tough pill to swallow, for two reasons. First, if someone has truly given you their best, then they ought to stand by it, even when it has not accomplished its intended purposes. The fact that he wanted me to sign a document saying I would not hold them responsible if their work had been subpar made me question whether their work, to this point, had actually be subpar. Remember that at this point, I already know I am dealing with a tax collector; is he also a pagan? (See yesterday.) Was he never in my community at all?
Second, it's more than a bit strange that a person who owns his own failure would then push the blame off on me. It is not my fault that he was unable to fix the problem that he should have been able to fix. After all, that is the service that he provides - fixing exactly these sorts of problems. I had respectfully given him every chance to try again until he got it right. I had provided the funding for his efforts. And yet, when it all fell apart, he felt it necessary to banish me.
Which probably, for whatever it's worth, had more to do with my treating him like a tax collector than anything else, but Jesus said to.
But I took the money and signed the paper, and then, he burned the bridge.
It's just the way it happens sometimes. And I think it's important to say that. Because I don't think there was a better way that I could have handled the conflict. I don't think there was a more God-honoring way that I could have handled it. At the end of the day, I stand on this side of the ashes knowing that I never let the business get in the way of the human, that I never let the transactional overtake the relational, that I inconvenienced myself for the sake of maintaining community, and that I did everything I could to keep this man as my brother. It wasn't enough, but it was all I could do, and I can stand confident in that.
If I had it to do all over again, I'd do it the same way. In fact, I know that something similar will happen again, and I'll say right now - I'll do it again. Despite the sleepless nights, despite the inconvenience, despite the emotional investment and the long road, this is how I'd do it, how I will do it, again. Because I think it's the way that God wants us to do it.
Even if it all ends up in ashes.