Archive for the ‘Dialogue and LGBTQ Issues’ Category
As you may have gleaned from the last post, the state of the U.S. is troubling me on a deep level. It has, among other things, left me with no stomach for dialogue—a very strange position for the host of a website called The Dialogue Venture.
This made more sense to me in the immediate wake of the presidential election. A seismic shift like the election of Donald Trump takes some processing. But it’s now December and I still don’t want to talk.
I may, however, be starting to figure out why. And the reasons may bump into some of America’s deepest divides like a dentist’s drill on a raw nerve.
(Warning: some of what follows may induce eyerolling and the no shit, Sherlock response. I will completely understand. More than that, you may know from experience that I’ve got some important stuff in here totally wrong. If that’s true, please tell me.)
Here’s the thing: Reaching out to others in dialogue is a vulnerable act. Just saying “I want to dialogue with you” requires that we let our guard down. This is difficult enough when we do it from a position of strength—when the balance of power is at least equal (or tips to our side), when we feel safe and stable, when we perceive no threats on the horizon.
It’s nearly impossible when those strengths are missing.
As I wrote in my last post, no one who feels disrespected—or invalidated, or invisible, or in any way marginalized—wants to talk with their disrespecters. More broadly, no one wants to talk when they sense a clear and present danger in their environment, when opening up to dialogue carries a high risk of yet another, deeper wound. Only the saintly or heroic can even think of reaching out when vulnerable.
Before November 8—as a white, suburban, straight, genderfluid person—I perceived myself as in a position of relative strength or stability. Yes, people could mock my gender identity, but they were usually strangers and their voices were few. The election of Donald Trump, with his chronic denigration of others, has changed that. Suddenly being different—or even welcoming difference—leaves one open to disrespect and, sometimes, much worse.
It feels like a dark place. And yet there is one fascinating glimmer of light. I wonder if my sense of vulnerability is a teeny-tiny glimpse into the world of so many who have been disrespected every day, all day long, for decades, even centuries.
This feels like what I’ve read about the experience of African Americans, and why many of them view white people’s efforts to reach across divides with distrust and suspicion. This feels like what I’ve read as the reasons for separatist movements. This feels like what I know personally, from my experience as a genderfluid person, as frustration with having to explain, over and over again, who I am and why I am, when people who fit the cultural mold never have to explain. (To make things even more complicated, I know that sometimes it’s really important that I do explain myself, as I wrote here.)
Now, looping back to what I wrote last week:
No one who feels disrespected wants to dialogue with their disrespecters—and we all feel disrespected.
This apparently includes supporters of Mr. Trump. We have all heard the narrative: for a sizable chunk of the U.S. population—many of them middle or working class, living in rural areas, scraping to get by—the impact of global trends has been brutal. Their wages have stagnated, at best, for decades. No one in power, according to this view, is listening to them.
So if they get approached by an affluent professor from a big city, saying, “I want to dialogue with you,” why would they want to?
Now in fact some researchers—like Katherine Cramer from the University of Wisconsin—have made this work. That doesn’t obviate the fact that, for many of us right now, curling into our own worldviews and living there awhile sounds pretty good.
I don’t know what to do with all this. One imperative seems clear: if people don’t want to dialogue right now, we need to respect the living hell out of that. They have some very good reasons. Maybe the only thing we can do now is one-half the hard work of dialogue: shut up and listen.
Note: Occasionally I write a post for this blog, set it aside to attend to something else, and forget about it. The post below came into being shortly after the landmark Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. The time references, therefore, are off, but I think the basic points still hold, so I’m offering it now.
Every now and then, a text written centuries ago speaks almost eerily to an issue right here and now.
Take this week’s Collect of the Day from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer—a brief, structured prayer that connects with the Bible readings assigned for that day. (In case you need to use the word in conversation, it’s pronounced KAHL-lekt.)
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the
foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself
being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together
in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a
holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.
Beneath the euphoria I’ve felt over last Friday’s Supreme Court decision (yes, I favor marriage equality), a line of questioning has lingered in the back of my mind. What now? What happens to our dialogue? More important, how do we—all of us, on all sides of this issue—continue to hold our “adversaries”?
This quandary has a lot of moving parts. In the present, supporters of marriage equality want to celebrate, and well they should. Opponents may want to grieve or express anger, and well they should. Doing either in the presence of one’s “adversary” is difficult at best: it could too easily lead to gloating from one side and churlishness from the other.
But maybe people don’t care that much whether their reactions come off that way, because they don’t plan to associate with the other side any longer. Maybe they read this Court decision as the permission they have long sought to ignore the other side—a fulfillment of the wish that the disagreers would just “go away.”
I wrote about this wish in a recent article. As tempting as it might be, it’s dangerous. Our Collect of the Day, read expansively (i.e., beyond the specifically Christian), gives some hints as to why.
- Ultimately, there is no other side. Note the verb tense in the first sentence: “you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Cast more universally, nothing we can say or do or argue mitigates the truth that we are all humans and will all share this planet for as long as it lasts. Yes, within our species lie significant differences and dynamics that we must address. But the other side can’t go away; ultimately, there is no place for them to go
- We are called to live that reality. That’s the essence of “grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit.”
- We need help. This is, after all, a prayer—not a declaration or a promise or a resolve, but an admission that we just can’t do this “one human family” thing on our own. Christians believe that help can only come from God. However you parse it, though, the fact that we need help remains.
So what do we do? I think, in the short term, we celebrate or rail against the Court decision with our allies. It is good and right to do so. And then we keep on going with our “adversaries.” Maybe we continue the dialogue over LGBTQIA issues; maybe we don’t. But we do keep the lines open. Who knows whether, somewhere down the road, on a different issue entirely, that adversary may become your most important ally?
Two wildly different stories from last weekend, and what they might teach us about dialogue:
The introverts’ lunch. I just spent four days in Chicago at Live It Out, the 2014 conference of the Gay Christian Network. The structure of this conference was unusual: the occasional plenary session or workshop block surrounded by large swaths of time to connect with others in the LGBTQIA community.
Something about this format played right into my limitations. My inner introvert simply couldn’t figure out how to flow with the informality of it all. I felt lost and awkward and unsure how to proceed.
Thank God for the whiteboards. Anyone could pick up a magic marker and scrawl out a message, invitation, tip, or what have you on these boards. Many established groups had posted their get-togethers.
Inspired (quite literally, I believe), I posted the suggestion of an introverts’ lunch.
Apparently it caught the eye of other introverts: when lunchtime came, and I arrived at the designated meeting place, four people were waiting. We had a wonderful time at the Rockit Bar & Grill. (Travel tip: if you like butternut squash soup, you must try Rockit’s.) Contrary to stereotypes of introversion, the conversation never flagged. And somehow, from that lunch, I gathered whatever it took to flow with the rest of the conference.
Shoeshine Ken. There’s something about Chicago’s street people that I’ve missed in other major cities: rather than beg, a number of them sell. One (may or may not have been a street person, but he approached me on the street) sold me his demo hip-hop CD. Another asked me to buy postcards to fund a mission.
And then, walking down Michigan Avenue, I heard this gravelly voice remarking on my boots and how I should clean them. Before I knew it, Shoeshine Ken had squirted some lotion on my footwear and was telling me, alternately, about his life and the need for good shoe care.
I know, I know. You’re “supposed to” ignore these folks. But if I had, I would have missed one of the richest experiences of my weekend. For about 20 minutes, Ken and I talked about the geography of being homeless in Chicago. I heard about Lower Wacker (under which many people sleep at night), social services for homeless people, the value of a good heating grate in subzero weather, and how Ken plies his trade where many wealthy people and their shine-eligible shoes pass by.
So here’s what these stories are teaching me to do:
- Talk with anyone. Everyone. The famous conference speaker has something to teach us, to be sure. But so does the hesitant introvert, the young person wrestling with gender identity, the homeless entrepreneur. Yes, there can be safety issues, and one should keep oneself safe. But if you can manage it, don’t let the opportunity pass by.
- Find a way that works for you. In many situations, it’s not just about screwing up courage to talk with people or join a group lunch or what have you. More often it’s about creating structures, like the introverts’ lunch, where dialogue can take root. These structures can be practical, like strategies, or they can be internal, like the transformation of our hearts toward curiosity and compassion.
That second point teaches me something else too: something broader. Dialogue is difficult. Life is difficult. Sometimes, like many homeless people, we can do very little on our own to improve our situations. But sometimes—as with me and my introverts’ lunch, or Ken and his shoeshine business, or adversaries in a delicate dialogue—we can do something. And that something can occasionally make a big impact.
It’s the beauty of our species: our innate ability to do things—things that foster not only dialogue, but the fruitfulness of our lives.
When I think of people who are certain of their beliefs—no possibility of compromise—certain strains of conservative come to mind. My conservative friends, however, tell me that progressives can be just as certain.
I think I’ve found a case in point: a compelling article by Candace Chellew-Hodge. In “Smashing Our Idols,” Chellew-Hodge—a pastor and editor of an online magazine for LGBT Christians—muses on her interactions with David Gushee, an evangelical and professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University.
The thinking from both parties is remarkable for its civility and nuance. Gushee makes clear that, while he is currently opposed to “all sexual acts outside of heterosexual marital acts,” the question requires a rethinking on his part, and that process is ongoing. Chellew-Hodge, meanwhile, affirms the humanity of people on the “other side,” is glad to have allies like Gushee with which to dialogue, and stresses the importance of patience.
I wish all interactions between adversaries were like this. It could easily serve as a model for the whole Church. One piece of it, though, doesn’t quite sit well with me: Chellew-Hodge’s sense of certainty—and what that might do to the dialogue. She writes:
…we must give people time and space to come to the side of full equality. Those who are making an honest effort, like Gushee, must be applauded and nurtured – not attacked. In the same manner, we who want full, unconditional inclusion in church and society need to be in relationship with people like Gushee so we can encourage them to keep whacking at the statues of exclusion and oppression until they are finally gone.
Her underlying assumption, as I read it, is that she is on the right side of the issue, and that the most gracious thing she can do is to “be in relationship with people like Gushee” until they come around.
Just for clarity’s sake, I happen to believe—passionately—that she is on the right side of the issue. I hope to God that the Church continues to move in the direction of welcoming all people. But authentic dialogue, as I see it, requires one more step than Chellew-Hodge has taken: a suspension of one’s preconceptions—however temporarily. Only with that step, I believe, can we be fully open to the other.
Suspending one’s preconceptions is a nod to one of humanity’s most fundamental realities: “I don’t know.” We may believe with passion. That passion may be enough (in some cases, it must be enough) for us to wrap our lives around the conviction and even attempt to steer the world in that direction. But especially in matters of the spirit, we know nothing. While this bedrock reality may not play a huge role in our daily lives, we can best extend compassion and a listening ear to the other if we enter dialogue with it in mind.
What would happen in a dialogue entered this way? We could create a space in which, no matter how much we disagree, we can listen for the value in the other’s perspective and for how it might make our own thinking better. It’s unlikely I will ever adopt Gushee’s current stance carte blanche, but if I am fully open to it, I might hear more about the values beneath it and how they resonate with my own thinking. Maybe what happens is that I reaffirm my current thinking on LGBT issues but reimagine the place of spiritual intimacy and commitment in it.
Dialogue rarely changes a participant’s position completely or instantly. In many cases, that’s not the point. The point is, more often, to grow together in love and reconciliation and to accumulate wisdom wherever we can find it. Goodness knows, we can all use more wisdom.
A few years ago, my wife and I had the privilege of visiting a monastery in South Africa. Like many monasteries, Mariya uMama weThemba observed the Great Silence from roughly 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. I relish this extended time of silence and was dismayed, when I awoke early one morning, to hear my wife (quietly) chatting at me.
I reminded her that we were in silence. Her response, with that impish twinkle I know so well: “I don’t care. I’m your wife. I’m going to talk at you anyway.” I couldn’t help but crack up (quietly).
Next story: From time to time, I have joined organizations that think big thoughts and do great things. They are actively seeking ways to make a profound difference in the world. And their contribution to the world is well worth the effort. Many times, however, these groups include a realist or two—someone whose role is to say, “I’d like that too, but here’s how this really works….”
I love these people. And here’s why.
On the dreamer-realist scale, I fall squarely on the dreamer side: the people who push for what could be. The realists remind me of what is. I consider silence a higher good; my wife reminds me that other people have other priorities. I love spinning lofty ideas out of not a whole lot; realists remind me that I have to start with the raw material of right here, right now.
What we miss sometimes, I think, is that we need each other.
Too often, dreamers and realists disparage those on the “other side.” Yet without the realists, the dreamers would, most likely, not make as much progress as they could. Without the dreamers, the realists would, most likely, not reach beyond current realities to envision, and therefore create, breakthrough change.
If they come together with a heart for dialogue, however—a heart oriented toward suspending preconceptions, hearing the other, welcoming a deep interplay of ideas—watch out. They could be a force for serious change.
This need for each other extends well beyond realists and dreamers. I see this in my faith tradition. Many Christians, traditionally identified as progressives, stress God’s concern for the dispossessed and for justice—God’s action in the world. Many others, traditionally identified as conservatives, stress the importance of sanctity and the joy of a personal relationship with the Divine—God’s action in each person.
These emphases often come into conflict. Progressives, for instance, see LGBTQ equality as a justice issue for a dispossessed group of people; conservatives see it as an erosion of godly personal behavior. What if they came together with a heart for dialogue—not tussling over the issue at hand, but listening and probing more deeply to understand, and appreciate, the other’s deeper beliefs? Both sets of beliefs (if the Christian scriptures are any guide) are close to the heart of God, after all.
With a heart for dialogue, we can dispense with our instinctive hostility and instead approach our adversaries with curiosity. We can be open to hear what they have to offer that we need, and vice versa. In most cases, I truly believe the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.
Hello, my friends. It’s so nice to be back with you.
A few weeks ago, I told you about an upcoming dialogue to which I’d been invited—a conversation with a dozen evangelical Christians about LGBTQ issues and the Church. As you may know, the words evangelical, LGBTQ, and dialogue do not often appear together in the public square, so this gathering promised to be extraordinary.
It was all that, and then some.
I don’t think I can describe it any better than I have in this Huffington Post piece on the dialogue. The article includes some questions that the dialogue raised in my mind: new (to me) possibilities about the way we might think about not only LGBTQ issues, but the future of the Church itself. The comments on the article, on the whole, have been more thoughtful than one sometimes sees online, so you may want to check them out—and add your response. I’d love to hear your thoughts, there or here.