Break the mold: Opening up dialogue

by Kristin on September 24, 2010

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by Joost J. Bakker

I often feel that our culture wants to draw lines in our politics, faith, and ideologies when most of us are stuck in the grey areas.  How do you think we can advocate opening up dialogue and more conversation in these tough areas of faith, politics, and more?

The question came from Kristen Sloan, who today published an interview with me at her blog, Break the Mold: A different way of faith and life.

It’s a good question, isn’t it? At least I tend to think the best questions are the hardest ones to answer, and this definitely fits into that category. It also happens to be one of the issues I care most about (I’ve written about it before—Kristen specifically references my post God in the subway?). If it’s an issue you care about, too, I’d love it if we could all put our heads together around it. Take a few minutes and think about how you would answer the question, before you read my response.

OK, here’s what I said:

Ah, that’s a tough one. I think blogging in such a way that invites dialogue and different viewpoints is one of the most powerful things we can do. Where else do we have access to as many different people and ideas as we do via blogs and social media?

In my “real life,” I try to do everything I can to broaden my community. I go to a church that attracts a broad range of people and opinions, which makes it a difficult community in many ways. But when we come together and have dialogue and help each other, I think we’re closer to the kingdom of God than we are when we’re isolated with a bunch of people who think and look just like us.

Finally, in our social media and real-life communities, we need to be as authentic and real as we can. It gives everyone else permission to do the same.

Here’s one thing I would have added, if I hadn’t been worried that my responses to Kristen’s questions were getting too long: My efforts to broaden community in my real life go far beyond my church community choice. Because let’s face it—even the most diverse church is only going to be able to open up the conversation to a point. Jason and I are grateful to live in (and build friendships in) a community that is surprisingly diverse in terms of religion, race and ethnicity.

- Do you think these hopes for on line and real-life community are realistic, or just wishful thinking?

- Have you experienced positive interactions in the “grey areas”, whether around faith, politics, sexuality or some other polarized area of society?

- Can you think of other specific ways we can “advocate opening up dialogue,” or any pitfalls we should avoid?

(By the way, be sure to check out Kristen’s blog Break the Mold, which she describes like this: “Our culture teaches us the norms of consumerism, individualism, and to do what is necessary to get ahead. Break the Mold believes in the values of faith, simplicity, and community to employ a radical change in your lifestyle.”)


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  • http://takingtheyoke.blogspot.com Ray Hollenbach

    Your closing questions are worth an evening’s reflection. I was struck by this one: “Do you think these hopes for on line and real-life community are realistic, or just wishful thinking?” So, since you asked: I think hopes for on-line or real-life community are always based upon wishful thinking, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If our wishes stop informing our thinking then we are in for a colorless road. I think this is true for community, for marriages, for raising kids, and just about any other aspect of life. When people settle for the merely possible the colors of life begin to fade. Our wishes are evidence of hope for something more. Most of us live in black and white, we should at least dream in color. Even if we fail to attain our wishes, we will fail in the right direction.

    As to the possibilities of on-line “community,” I think the real story needs twenty more years to be told. The idea of on-line community needs another generation. On-line community will be a “first language” for our children; for us it will always be a second language, an adaptation to “real-life.” I hope to live to see what the next generation makes of all this.

    Peace!

  • http://www.kristensloan.com Kristen Sloan

    Some of the most positive open conversations I’ve had regarding grey areas in faith were in a Sunday School class at my old church in North Carolina. The conversations always surprised me because at first glance, the church seems to be a pretty homogenous group of people. However, the group of adults had a range of backgrounds and ideologies and they also were open to listen and hear different views. I often left that class challenged to think differently as I’m sure others did. I wonder how common this experience is in churches these days.

    Thanks for the interview, post and more! Kristen

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Ray, this is powerful stuff: “If our wishes stop informing our thinking then we are in for a colorless road…. Our wishes are evidence of hope for something more…. Even if we fail to attain our wishes, we will fail in the right direction.” As far as online community goes, I suppose it’s just like real-life community, in that there are so many different permeations, expressions and experiences of it. For some, it will always be little more than an entertaining diversion, while for others it will be a powerful force in their lives.

    Kristen, it worries me that these “grey area” discussions in churches are becoming increasingly rare. I guess that comes from this sense that everything is becoming more polarized—that people feel the need to put a stake in the ground and even be extreme in their views, in order to make a point and compensate for the people on the other side of the equation. It seems like a situation that can snowball so quickly and dangerously. Someone has to give—to stop being reactive.

  • Tanya

    I think you’re right, Kristin, with regard to online community being much like real-life community in the ways and depths at which it shapes people. What’s interesting is that online community provides a place for people who are longing for connection to go, 24/7 if they want to, and “connect” in ways that aren’t necessarily healthy or helpful in their real-life communities. In online community, I think there can be a lack of accountability that’s present in real-life, immediate interactions. I can write something that gets horribly misunderstood, or is just plain mean, and log off. Those on the receiving end are left to cope with what I’ve written, and may never have the opportunity to have a real hurt or misunderstanding redressed or reconciled in the same way that face-to-face conversations allow.

    Although most online relationships seem to be pretty respectful and careful, I do wonder sometimes whether the rise in online ways of relating doesn’t contribute to less-healthy conflict resolution skills. Words are such fragile vehicles for meaning—and so much gets communicated through body language and tone of voice in conversation (for better and worse!). That said, I also think that online community encourages us to choose our words carefully.

    As far as how we can be advocates for open dialogue, I think you’re spot-on: the best way to advocate for it is to do it.

    I feel pretty fortunate to live and work amongst a wide breadth of perspectives. In our village (I live in England), there are three churches: one Anglican, one Roman Catholic, and one United Reformed. Needless to say, the perspectives are all quite different—especially in a country where one of the churches represents the “established church”. For years before I arrived here, the churches had the custom of meeting for joint worship once a month. The gathering is typically small (12-15), but a handful from each congregation come and demonstrate a commitment to working with the other communions, and that makes a statement. We need to work on going a bit deeper than just joining together in an act of worship, but those conversations can be challenging and deeply threatening to some. So we’re taking those slowly—but moving in that direction.

    My congregation has a very active adult Christian education program, and in the spring, we’re organizing a series of talks with leaders from different faith traditions—Muslim, Jewish, Seikh, and Orthodox. Each speaker will talk about what’s most meaningful to them about their faith tradition; what they see as commonalities and differences between our faiths; and what they think we might do to deepen our understanding of the Holy Other and each other in mutual ways. And then we’ll talk.

    I’m also working with a para-church organization that’s much more theologically conservative than I am personally. Some of the ways they express their understanding of God/Jesus makes me cringe. Similarly, I’m sure they worry that my progressive Christian positions have me (and the church I pastor) on a “slippery slope” to nowhere good—and I suspect they’re sometimes fearful that we fit the description in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (sacrificing “sound doctrine” for teachings that suit personal desires). But still, we have devoted ourselves to talking with each other. We’ve had several very honest and challenging conversations—but we always begin and end with prayer, and we are always respectful and mindful that the same Spirit is at work within us, even though we wonder how we could arrive at such different points of view. I just returned from a meeting with them to continue planning a new joint venture: would you believe that we’re collaborating to initiate a new worshiping community, to take place in a “neutral spot”—the village primary school! This joint venture is going to stretch us all, but it’s exciting.

    Okay. This is one reason I’ve never posted on your blog before. . . I knew that if I started writing, I’d need a page and a half to answer. Brevity was never my strong suit. Anyways, I’m grateful for your ministry of “nudging” through your consistently thoughtful observations and thought-provoking questions.

  • http://themoderngal.com The Modern Gal

    Something I’m guilty of is being dismissive of people’s beliefs that are completely opposite of my own. If they were to thoughtfully comment on my blog, I might not be so dismissive, but if I’m just reading an article about an opposing viewpoint or chatting with friends (who have similar views as I), I’m quick to say something snarky or dismissive. I need to stop that and hold everyone else to the same standard in real life as I might on my blog.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Tanya, this is really interesting: “I do wonder sometimes whether the rise in online ways of relating doesn’t contribute to less-healthy conflict resolution skills.” We have been talking a lot about conflict resolution at our church, as something we need to learn to do better if we are going to live life in what we like to call a “third way.” The leadership has also decided to place a new focus on communication. As I mentioned to my husband, being intentional and careful about how we communicate will go a long way towards preventing (or at least softening) conflicts. Sure, we need to get better at working through conflicts, but we can also strive to not have as many, while still speaking truth in love. Thanks for sharing some of your personal experiences around this topic—very interesting and encouraging. I wish we could sit down over several cups of coffee and really talk!

    The Modern Gal, that’s really true—when someone takes the time to comment thoughtfully on my blog, it holds a lot of weight, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye. Of course, someone could easily drop a short, rude comment—it’s not as if blogs are immune to that. Somehow, though, a tone is set and people seem to mostly respect and follow it. Now I need to dissect how the tone is set on my blog, and figure out how to emulate it in life.