Posts Tagged ‘liberal’

The Second Step Toward Dialogue Is a Doozy

People ask me what my book is about. I tell them it’s about how to change from the inside out so you can talk with people who drive you nuts.

They say, “Boy, do I know someone who could use your book.”

That response always makes me laugh. So I’m reluctant to admit there’s a problem with it.

I’ve seen the problem repeatedly over the past two years—ever since the 2016 presidential election changed so much about the way we talk (or rather, don’t talk) and live with one another in the U.S.

Over and over again, on social media and at family gatherings and after church and who knows where else, I hear people bemoan the state of America’s public square. We are so polarized, they say. No one talks anymore. Everyone shouts at each other. The world is filled with outrage. If only we’d listen.

This recognition of our parlous state is, I think, the first wobbly step toward dialogue. You have to know there’s a problem before you can start to resolve it, right?

The dead end comes in the (usual) second step.

Right after no one talks anymore etc., many people follow up with some version of it’s the other side’s fault.

I heard it again at a gathering of relatives recently. One person, a brilliant and ardent conservative, noted the lack of dialogue and proceeded to lay the blame on the political left. At my (liberal) church, the talk shifts from “how bad it is” to bemoaning the right’s contribution.

By the way, these folks have a point. People at the ends of the political spectrum especially, left and right, are contributing to this climate. But while the faultfinding is correct, it’s not useful. It’s a second step that takes us nowhere.

These days I’m pondering a different second step—a step my book alludes to. It asks, how am I contributing to the problem? Or, even better: how can I change so that my contribution inspires harmony rather than hostility?

Let’s be honest. This second step is a doozy. It asks people to look inside themselves, and that’s not always a pleasant view. I know because I’ve done it.

I think a framework of faith and spirit can help here. At their best and fullest, many of our faith traditions encourage us to “examine ourselves” in an effort to become better versions of ourselves. Ideally the process is gentle—not about guilt and judgment, but rather about self-discovery, a flowering of one’s deepest self in a way that makes a difference in the world.

That can be a magnificent adventure. I know because I’ve done it.

If people could take this useful second step, it might change things. But how do you take it? And how can those of us who’ve gone down that road support others as they take that step?

Those are the questions that challenge me right now. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Reading Material for the Dialogue Journey

I will be away from the laptop for a few weeks, so instead of an original post I thought I’d link you to some other food for dialogical thought. Read one a week, and it’ll be as though I never left!

  • The Abortion Stalemate: Can “I Don’t Know” Break It? In this post, I suggest that starting over again on abortion—from a position other than drop-dead certainty—might help us make some progress in dialogue where little has existed before. The comments are particularly interesting: many of them show a serious and genuine struggle to grapple with an extraordinarily difficult issue. Hearing the wisdom of others is one of the best things about writing.
  • Can Humility Change the World?  From what I can see, this misunderstood virtue is one of the indispensable “habits of the heart” that can reorient us toward dialogue. See what you think of my perspective on the term.
  • Beyond Stereotypes of “Conservative” and “Liberal” Christianity. Dialogue starts from a better place when we view our dialogue partners as individuals rather than through predetermined filters. In that spirit, I share what I’ve learned about the “liberals” and “conservatives” in my faith tradition. Again, the comments are most valuable.

As you may have picked up, I so appreciate those who take the time to read, reflect, and comment on what I write. That goes for you too. I learn a great deal from hearing your voice, and I am encouraged by your support. Thank you. I’ll be back on the blog before you know it.

Upcoming Dialogue: LGBT Issues and the Christian Church

When a pillar of our quasi-evangelical church came out in 1989, I had just started rethinking the whole issue of gender, sexuality, and the Bible. So I was not prepared for how torturous the resulting church discussion would be.

Partly because of this event, LGBT people and issues have been dear to my heart ever since.  Perhaps this was God’s way of preparing me to become an Episcopalian—a Christian denomination riven by hostility over LGBT issues. Perhaps it was God’s sense of humor that placed me in my specific corner of The Episcopal Church: a liberal (i.e., welcoming-to-LGBT-people) church in a conservative diocese in a liberal national church in a conservative worldwide church.

But wait, there’s more. Once a year, I serve as a representative from our church to the diocese’s convention—which makes me a quasi-liberal surrounded by ardent conservatives.

This is a tense and painful place to live. To be sure, I am one of many comrades in this place: a sort of no-man’s-land in the culture wars. But we are outnumbered—and surely outshouted—by those on either side.

So why would anyone in his right mind continue to live there?

Here’s why I do: Because I will not abandon my LGBT sisters and brothers to a theology I find deeply flawed. Because I believe that my conservative sisters and brothers have great gifts to contribute to the world at large. Because I believe that dialogue has power. Because God calls me to peace and compassion, not to anger and the severing of relationships.

This is why I am deeply honored to have been invited to a most exceptional dialogue. Evangelicals for Social Action has asked a dozen pastors, therapists, scholars, students, writers, and “other struggling saints”—gay, straight, liberal, conservative, what have you—to a two-day conversation about LGBT issues. We will convene in November to get to know one another, share our stories, explore our perspectives, and generally live side by side for a short while.

The dialogue will not be easy. But the very fact of it thrills me. And if the emails we’ve exchanged so far are any indication, this could be something special. No one has brought up the “clobber passages” in the Bible. No one has debated genetics or biblical literalism. Instead, we’ve explored deeper issues of sexuality and gender and personal stories. Some of the participants, at least, are well versed in bridging divides. They bring rich and eye-opening experiences to the table.

If you are the sort to pray, please pray for this gathering. If not, please think of us in November. We may not change the world. But perhaps God will make us a tipping point for reconciliation—or at least one tiny example of living in peace and compassion despite our differences.