This is about conversation, not conversion

by Kristin on February 16, 2009

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by Mark Robinson

Probably the single most gratifying thing about my blogging experience, so far, has been the wide variety of readers I have, not the number of readers.

Some of my readers are similar to me in many ways: you’re Protestant Christians, you’re women, you’re freelancers and/or moms, and maybe you’ve even come out on the other side of a divorce.

But many of you are different from me, in one or several significant ways. You live in Asia and Africa, Europe and Central America. You’re childless, single, homosexual. Some of my fans are more than 30 years older than me, and some have shared that they’re atheist or agnostic, Jewish, or simply not quite sure.

And these are just references to readers who have shared with me a bit of who they are. Just thinking about the dozens of you I haven’t yet “met,” and each of your stories—what makes you who you are—is truly thrilling to me.

Avoiding niches and trying to nail the anti-brand-brand

When I first started my blog, my biggest concern was that I would get categorized in some narrow way. I would immediately be thought of as a “mommy blog” because I have kids, and sometimes I write about them. Or I would be pegged as an “alternative Christian blog” because I have beliefs and I don’t hide them, and I’m also an Obama supporter.

Avoiding a particular blogging niche is tricky. It can make branding your blog and focusing your message nearly impossible. I often joke that I have an “anti-brand-brand.” If you’re successful in avoiding niches, it also means that you’re probably missing out on opportunities to tap huge networks and audiences.

This blog isn’t just about “stuff” in general, though. I am able to say in a sentence what it’s about: These are stories about a life that hasn’t turned out like I thought it would, and the amazing things I’ve learned about myself, grace and redemption in the process.

I can also succinctly say what my “mission” is: To spark thoughts and conversations that help bust stereotypes. Here’s another way to put it: I want to put an end to the idea of “normalcy.” I want people to stop thinking they know what a “normal” Christian thinks about the world or politics or sex. I want people to stop assuming they can define a “normal family” or a “normal community.”

Putting our fears and worries aside so we can talk

I tend to worry about things more than I should. Here’s one of the things I worry about, as a blogger: that people who don’t believe what I believe will be drawn to my blog, but then will sort of freak out when I write about my faith, thinking that this is all an elaborate ploy to convert them. They will run away, never to return.

In response to that concern, I have two thoughts—both “gifts” from people in my Twitter community.

First this reminder, which I desperately needed, was sent to me this morning from @ericcanaday (you can check out Eric’s blog here):

There aren’t too many people that have a problem with Jesus. Like Ghandi they struggle with his proclaimed followers.

Yeah, in some ways that’s frustrating. The things Christians do and say (myself included, at times) anger me to no end. But Eric’s reminder also gives me a lot of peace. It’s all about Jesus, after all, and the way he lived his life, as a model for the rest of us. It’s not my job to convince anyone of that. My job, I think, is to do what I can to bust apart the Christian stereotypes so many people hold. These stereotypes are just muddying up the waters and preventing all of us from seeing clearly (Christians, too).

And here’s a reminder for you: This blog is about conversation, not conversion.

Last week, someone else on Twitter, @Mrs_PJs, shared this link from The Friendly Atheist: A non-debate between a Christian and an atheist. The post tells about an event at Ohio State University, where a Christian pastor and an atheist, along with two moderators, simply had a conversation, answering questions from the 150 or so people in the audience. As The Friendly Atheist says in his post about the event:

It was fun, friendly, and enjoyable. Completely unscripted. Hopefully, it inspired people who saw it to engage in those types of conversations with people they know who think differently about God. Afterwards, a giant group of the skeptics and Christians went out for a late dinner. Good times were had.

I love that they all went out to dinner together (as you’ve probably noticed, I’m a huge fan of sharing conversation over meals). Yes, it’s kind of sad that we’re surprised by a Christian and an atheist having a conversation rather than a debate. But maybe we can gradually get to a place where that’s not so surprising. Maybe we can all let go of the absolutes we’re so desperate to cling to, and let go of our fear that someone might talk us into (or out of) something.

I’m not saying we can’t come to the party with some deeply-held absolutes or beliefs. I’m just saying maybe we can leave them at the door with our coats, and sit down together and just talk.

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  • jenx67

    We do have so much in common. I worry about that same things, too, and can only hope my fellow bloggers know me better than that by now. I love the title of this post. I think you’re doing a great job bringing it all together and making it work.

  • Daisy

    I love the idea of the group going out for a bite to eat afterward. I imagine some said grace, some didn’t, but all respected and enjoyed each other.

  • Kristin T.

    jenx67, you need to remind me, at some point, about all the things we have in common. Or are there so many that it starts to get strange? :) Yes, I need to get more into the mode of thinking “they better know me by now,” so I can move away from my silly worries. Thanks for affirming and supporting what I’m doing. (And can you believe I wrote that title THEN found that perfect photo, with so many layers of meaning?)

    Daisy, you and I clearly think alike when it comes to food and conversation, as well as a desire to be open and to respect differences. Thanks for being a part of this community.

  • Scott

    I’ve been reading here for a few weeks and I must say, you’re part of the “anti-brand-brand” that I want to be a part of, and I think I’m getting there. I love writing about my faith, how I have blown it in the past, how I blow it now, and how each time Jesus is there to pick me up. It is, as you say, all about Jesus.

  • Jeb Dickerson

    Very well said KT. There’s not one thing wrong with having non-negotiables in life. Things we simply wont budge on. What boggles me is when these absolute beliefs translate into intolerance.

    Believe what you will, own it, preach it. But let me do the same without maligning me for it. I understand that a strong belief comes with a certain amount of righteousness – we wouldn’t believe it so strongly if it didn’t – but nothing elevates one person over another, or gives someone dominion over ‘the truth’. Beliefs are simply opinions. Nothing more. You wouldn’t degrade another because their favorite color is different than yours. And you don’t think they’re wrong or evil because of it.

    My mother said something to me on this topic when I was maybe 14, and I never forgot it. It was in reference to some trait one of my brothers possessed that happened to irk me. She said simply, ‘We’re all different, and we must respect one another’s individuality’.

    Yes, come to the party as you are…but enjoy others for who they are, and be grateful for the ability to interact with people from different walks of life. Respect their individuality.

  • Kristin T.

    Scott, I like how you put it: “I love writing about my faith, how I have blown it in the past, how I blow it now, and how each time Jesus is there to pick me up.” You’re obviously doing a lot to dispel myths about Christians, just by being humble and open rather than self-righteous and judgmental. Keep doing what you’re doing, and thanks for being a part of the community here.

    Jeb, you nailed the problem: “when these absolute beliefs translate into intolerance.” I am so grateful to be able to interact with lots of people who are different from me. At my girls’ elementary school right now, there’s a huge bulletin board some of the kids made that says “We are all the same, we are all different.” That seems like the very healthiest way to see one another.

  • Heartsong

    Kristin, you have touched on a subject here that is dear to my heart. I especially like your statement, “This is about conversation, not conversion.” Yes! As a non-Christian (I am Pagan), I find so many of those who walk a Pagan path are quick to judge Christians by whatever attributes they personally associate with the word Christian. Christians often do the same with Pagans. But the truth is, no matter how much you know or think you know about another faith, religion, spiritual path, insert-your-word-here, each individual walks that path in their own way, with their own connection to the Divine. I like to think of all of us spiritual cookie jars; our jars may say “cookies” on the outside, but there’s a world of different kinds of cookies. (I wrote a whole ranting blog post about that if anyone’s interested.) Unless we take the lid off the jar and look inside, how do we know what’s really in there? Conversation without debate, without the need for conversion or defense, is a way of taking the lid off, looking inside, and learning what the person in front of you believes, what they struggle with, question, and doubt, as well as those things of which they are truly assured and confident. When we do that…come to each other in love and with open minds…we find common ground. We replace “tolerance” with “acceptance”…not embracing beliefs or actions we cannot embrace in good conscience, but accepting the inherent right and responsibility of each person for their own walk. I know people from many faiths and backgrounds who are shining lights in my world, and I am grateful for each of them. Keep shining you light!

  • Laura Tamayo

    OK, I admit, when I saw the first mention of religion on your blog I hesitated. The thought did in fact cross my mind that this space might have a recruiting mission that I was not going to be comfortable with; I’m glad I read on. You don’t come across like that to me at all. I respect your tolerance and the open way you talk about your views.