I Still Want To Talk

Our dinner party turned uproarious for a little while the other night when we all realized we had something to say about our divided up country and churches.

We were having an easy time talking (and shouting), but, in general, it is hard to talk these days.

I have been struggling this past week over what to do about that situation. I am a talker. I am writing again right now. My message last night was all about dialogue. But I am increasingly puzzled about how to talk to anyone about anything substantial. For me, “substantial” is all about Jesus; I have a whole Bible that delineates what I am talking about. The place I live seems increasingly hostile to Jesus. While that is unnerving, I think I can handle it. But I am not sure how to talk about it. I keep encountering a strong set of assumptions with which I am at odds. But I’m not sure the “regular Joes and Janes” I talk to are aware of their underpinnings, they are just pinned. They don’t have a “bible” but they have some strong beliefs. We have substantial things to talk about.

So let me test my perceived differences out with you. In general (admitting that nobody is likely to be doctrinaire), the young people of our country are taught three basic things: 1) science is God, 2) profit rules, 3) meaning is all personal, individual. On the other hand, followers of Jesus say: 1) God is creator, 2) Jesus rules, 3) meaning is all related.

Now let’s talk.

At our dinner party we were testing out some of these differences. We agreed we were working out Ephesians 4, where Paul says:

“Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built upuntil we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

not actual dinner guest

We all felt we were getting blown all over the map by the strong winds of teaching from our postmodern and postChristian world and the deceitful scheming that is coming with it. We were all committed to speaking the truth in love and we all had some issues where that was a difficult thing to do.

For instance, one of us was particularly interested in the area of sexuality, where science is God. An argument about so-called homosexuality uses debatable science to form the basis of a political movement, so one friend said. This led us further into the teaching of evolutionary psychology that influences people to understand humans as, essentially, very adaptable animals whose choices are all about what helps them survive.

Then another friend brought up the school system, where, increasingly, profit rules. Children are supposed to be motivated by a competition with the Chinese for economic hegemony. Poor people are shamed and told they should learn how to profit and not be a drain on society. For-profit corporations are being invited into the school system to exploit the failing situation of inner city education. Huge corporations have invented the “teach for the test” approach that has sapped the creativity of many good teachers.

Then came the Brethren in Christ, where meaning seems inexplicably personal, individual. This was my main topic. I have been talking, a little, about the practical theology of being a denomination. I even wrote a piece for the BIC List commenting on an explanation a leader wrote about what has been going on. What struck me in the replies to my post was that they were mainly individual anecdotes about how people took care of the issues themselves. I was reminded that DIY is now also a communal activity; we are that completely atomized. The deepest response I have received from my leaders about what is happening in our community has been a carefully worded, noncommittal, cable-newslike, two-sided rendition of what individuals might possibly be thinking.

It is very difficult to talk.

Today I am trying to shore up my hope for speaking the truth in love. When it comes to shouting into the big wind coming from the world, I think I want to get better at insisting that people voice their assumptions about how the world works, rather than just resisting the fruit of their unacknowleged/unknown assumptions or just avoiding the dialogue altogether. If science is the fountain of truth, then admit that and defend it; don’t just assume it. If profit is the goal, if that means the invisible hand is guiding our choices, then say that; at least when you are talking to me, don’t assume I believe that. If you believe that the only thing you can really know comes from your own experience, that even when you are listening to me you can only respond with your own experience of the topic, then admit that up front. We can meet in our love.

On my side of the dialogue I will be revealing God as the beginning and end of reality as we know it. That is God who is made fully known in Jesus, who demonstrates how to choose and makes us able to follow him. I will be assuming that we not only all relate to God, we are designed to work out our meaning together in love, speaking the truth in love and growing up into our full maturity. We may not immediately understand each other. But I still want to talk, no matter how hard it is.

7 thoughts on “I Still Want To Talk

  1. Well said. I think it takes spiritual moxy to step into the blustering talk matches and stay committed to dialoguing in love. And it takes spiritual humility to step back from one’s own blustering and to come back to dialoguing in love. I’m reminded that our Circle of Hope proverbs are one of the ways that we shape a common voice with the Spirit against the winds of the world, and own our assumptions about how the world works.

  2. Just out of curiosity – what do you mean by “so-called homosexuality”? Does that mean you believe that homosexuality isn’t real?

    1. I’m not sure people should be labeled in “either or” ways, like I am a so-called “caucasian.” The term “homosexuality” is a relatively recent invention. It was coined in 1869 by a Hungarian physician/psychologist named Karoly Maria Benkert from the Greek homos and the Latin sexus, meaning same sex. It entered the English language in 1892 through C. G. Chaddock’s translation of Krafft-Ebings Psychopathia Sexualis. The term first appeared in US medical journals in the 1890s, and began appearing in general usage in the 1920s. When I object to the way people label others, I often say “so-called” out of respect for their true selves that probably don’t fit into the label.

  3. “What struck me in the replies to my post was that they were mainly individual anecdotes about how people took care of the issues themselves. I was reminded that DIY is now also a communal activity; we are that completely atomized.”

    I have seen/can relate to this recognition quite a bit over the last couple of years. As I have been trying to learn how to speak the truth in love more effectively (all the while being intentional about speaking to them about what they are actually talking about and not just throwing some “loving words” their way), I have on many occasions been taken aback when I realize that even within a community of people who are trying to move forward with what the Holy Spirit is doing, so many people seem to have internalized the atomized/atomizing individuality that is our culture’s given m.o.

    Rod, I really appreciate the request that people be upfront with their world-views so that dialogue can be a real, generative thing. Whenever I hear phrases like “I have to do what’s best for me…” or “I don’t know where life will bring me” I always get a little jolt. The jolt is a desire for the person I’m talking to to explain to me why they would say something like that since, to my mind, those phrases lack an amount of Christ-centeredness that I assume we are all trying to live out.

    I think a valuable thing for me to remember would be to approach the conversation I have with the same advice that I was given to help me write “good” papers for my English Literature B.A.: “Don’t ever assume that the reader (friend/acquaintance, in this case) knows what you are talking about. Before making an argument of providing supporting examples, explain everything necessary to make the argument stick.” Although this sounds like a lot to expect of people – especially those who don’t spend as much time in their heads as people like me- I take people seriously and, as a result, I tend to assume that they know where they are coming from, that they know why they say what they say and why they believe what they believe. I try to not be afraid of asking people what they mean when they say things that might be “culturally ok” but that I have a hard time relating to within a context of love for one another.

    Even if they don’t know the answers to these questions – and in the various times that I don’t know the answers for myself- if we can talk honestly and openly with one another I believe that our relationships will be strengthened, that we can and will grow closer to one another, that we will know each other that much more. Most importantly I believe it to be true that in the “good” conversations as well as in the conflict-addled and tense ones, we can continue to “meet in our love” and that in working out or mutual love for one another we will come to see and know the transformative power of Christ in our lives.

    (Apologies for the rant-y nature of this comment…I’m a few cups of coffee into my day.)

  4. I’m wondering, though, how we strike a balance between not being toppled over by these ‘winds,’ but validating Spirit-given experiences that I would even wager to say God moves us to share at times. If we cannot accept one another’s experiences as some form of Truth, while discerning of course, without qualifying them all as merely experiential and/or assumptions, then where is there room for sharing about genuinely Spirit-ual happenings in our innerlives?

    1. I agree. You are talking about something related to God. I am protesting against personal expriences that are the only source of meaning someone thinks they can offer. Our personal stories of our relationship with God are the best “blow back” we can provide to the “wind” don’t yo think? I think we should collect at least 100 of them.

  5. I made the argument last night as our public meetings that not having good dialogue, good conflict, and good relationships ultimately results in further atomization, division, and even sectarianism.

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