Posts Tagged ‘Episcopal’

Dialogue, Marriage Equality, and an Ancient Text

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.

  1. 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
  2. We are called to live that reality. That’s the essence of “grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit.”
  3. 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?

 

Singing the Lord’s Song to the “Other Side”

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song on alien soil?”  —Psalm 137:4

This haunting question—asked by the psalmist after the people of Israel had been swept into captivity, hundreds of miles from home—formed the theme of an address by the Bishop of Central New York, Gladstone (Skip) Adams, to the annual meeting of Albany Via Media (AVM) this past Saturday.

But it was a different question, asked immediately after the address, that revealed another potential way into dialogue across divides.

Alas, there are divides aplenty around these parts. AVM describes itself as “Episcopalians striving for a middle way of diversity and tolerance in the Episcopal Diocese of Albany.” I think of AVM as the loyal but progressive opposition in a conservative diocese. This, as you might expect, carries with it a great deal of tension and occasional rancor on every side.

On Saturday, Bishop Skip addressed the psalmist’s quote on several levels in a talk that was remarkable for its depth of thought and spirit. Then, during the Q&A, one priest noted that the “other (conservative) side” uses the exact same verse from the Psalms to mean something entirely different: how to be faithful to God in a rapidly secularizing society—of which many conservatives consider AVM to be a part.

That would seem to be a conversation stopper right there. How can we talk with one another when we can’t even agree on language?

But maybe it can be a conversation opener—if we use the language difference to probe gently for specific meanings.

Let’s say I fall into a dialogue with a conservative in the diocese, and she quotes that verse. What happens if I say something like “I love that verse, and I’m curious: when you refer to ‘alien soil,’ what are you thinking of? What does that phrase mean to you?”

I may not like what I hear in return, but the question opens an opportunity for me to understand my dialogue partner on a deeper level. Moreover, asking the question can prompt a dialogic question in return: “Why, what do you think of when you read ‘alien soil’?” This gives me the encouragement to share my thoughts in a nonthreatening way.

Several good things can happen from there. We might, for instance, discover how much common ground we share. We might also see how our respective viewpoints can inform and even change each other. For instance, I share my conservative colleagues’ concern about the secularizing of society, but I know very well that AVM members are not part of that problem. This kind of mutual questioning enables me to share that. Perhaps it helps my dialogue partner dispense with stereotypes about the “other side.”

And maybe, because we now see each other more clearly, the next conversation becomes easier, we go deeper, and our bond across divides grows stronger.

What about you? Have you noticed a word or phrase that means something different on the “other side”? What happens if you ask someone who uses it to explain its meaning?

Speak or Shut Up?

Three situations and a question.

This past Sunday I was enjoying a lively dinner with dear old friends when someone raised the firestorm over same-sex issues in The Episcopal Church. One friend, an associate pastor in another denomination, made some claims about the actions of the U.S. church that I (being an Episcopalian and way too familiar with the controversy) found somewhat inaccurate. Keep in mind, there’s exactly six people in the room, no response from me will change the course of the issue, and we’ll all continue to love one another regardless.

Speak or shut up?

Another old friend and I were sharing our approaches to depression. Her case was far more severe but now largely in the past, thanks to her brand of faith; mine is more or less chronic, and I’ve picked up some wisdom on living with it. During an email exchange, she expressed her concern that my way is less than best. I shared the lessons I’ve learned and the benefits I’ve reaped. She persisted. We reached an impasse.

Continue the dialogue or shut up?

In my other blog, I posted some thoughts on the “Ground Zero mosque” conflict. It took me forever to do so, because my convictions on this are strong: I had difficulty even considering the other side—and considering the other side is pretty much the job description for a guy who writes about dialogue. The post ended up suggesting a way forward for both sides to find common ground.

Did I do well to speak up (or “write up,” as it were)? Should I have spoken up sooner, when my emotions were hot?

This, for me, is perhaps the most daunting aspect of living the way of dialogue. The decisions are somewhat clearer in formal dialogue, when you gather with others for the same expressed purpose. Far murkier are the everyday situations—especially when, in conversation, decisions have to be made quickly, and it’s unclear what the others expect from the exchange.

There probably are principles we can use. For one thing, it really helps to be mindful: fully present to the conversation/situation at all times, gauging where it’s headed, listening for relationship dynamics, paying total attention to others’ words. That’s a key to turning conversation into dialogue. As for other principles, I’m really not sure.

I can tell you what I did in each of these situations, but I’m way more interested in what you would have done—or how you’ve handled similar situations. Thoughts?