Sunday, December 10, 2006

How Important is Dialogue?

The other day I had two interesting and revealing encounters. In one situation I was talking with a person about how best to decorate the church to reflect the Advent theme of "Waiting and Comfort" from Isaiah 40. She expressed her thoughts and then said, "What do you think? Would that work?" I responded with a concern about color and light and she listened and said, "What if we would do this instead?" That back-and-forth conversation typifies the way we have been going about dressing the altars each Sunday in coordination with the text of the day. The preacher sets the theme, the decorators present ideas, then we dialogue.
In another situation I was talking about some future plans and thoughts about ministry, and this person said something like; "Oh, we need to talk about this. I have thought about it and I have the plan." Period, end of discussion. This guy has the plan and the only plan. Never once in our conversation did he ask: "So what are your thoughts here? What sorts of things has God been impressing you with?"
I am attracted to genuine dialogue where what I think matters and who I am matters. When another person asks me a question and then listens, my heart warms. I had a list of college professors I deeply loved who would approach me with a genuine question and eagerly listen to my response. Mr. Zenos Hawkison and my dad were (Zenos died some years ago) the two best. My dad taught me this discerning art when he would return from meeting some important person and I'd ask how it went. If he said, "He never asked a single question about me" it meant it went badly. If dad said, "He was really interested in _______" meant that this was a good guy.
When a conversation turns into a monlogue for another's brilliannce and their forcefully held ideas, it gets old quickly. That's why I have enjoyed much of the emergent communities blogs and forums, in that they ask questions and listen to answers. Where are the forums where your voice matters and counts? Who listens to you? How does your church community listen or not llisten to you?


At 5:55 AM , Anonymous kent said...

Dialogue is rare in the polarized church culture that exists at this moment. We have fallen into absolutes. While I believe there are absolutes I also think there are far fewer ones than has been advertised. One examople would be abortion. Yes I believe abortion is wrong, but how do you go about changing the culture of abortion. To outlaw the issue pell mell would lead to other consequences that are often equally wrong.

I wish we had venues for dialogue where every voice was given a place of expression. Perhaps the only place we have rigth now is in blogosphere.

At 12:10 PM , Blogger Kevin Funkhouser said...

Man, insulated thinking can be so destructive in a church! There's this strange cocktail of American individualism and religious conviction that seems to pop up every once in a while. The church needs to be place where people can test their ideas against the direction of a faith community.

Don, have you read Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven?"

At 7:36 AM , Blogger Gary Means said...

I know a number of people who are interested in matters of faith, including some who have experienced spiritual abuse in the evangelical church, but have nowhere to go to explore these issues. They do not feel safe in a church setting, and apart from that there really isn't anything that I know of.

Perhaps it's time for me to resurrect my dream of creating an environment for dialogue about matters of faith, with the intent of pointing to hope in Christ, but without the heavy-handed evangelistic agenda. I just want to develop a community or a circle of relationships where people can explore Christian spirituality with fear or guilt, and where they feel loved and accepted precisely as they are, not as potential Christians.

On another note, I have had the privilege of an amazing friendship for about 28 years with the freedom for open and meaningful dialogue. My best friend (other than my wife) and I have met for breakfast on most Saturday's for about 17 years. During that time we have seen God drastically change our lives, our hearts, and our minds. We have felt the freedom to share the depths of our being, inlcuding our deepest flaws, our secret hopes and dreams, our fears, etc., despite the fact that we differ politically and theologically in many ways. For years we have both felt that we get more out of those times together than from any other experience within the Church. We live in different cities, but ours is a friendship that endures.

When my friend and I first began meeting together he had just resigned from fulltime professional Christian ministry and I was wondering if I was even a Christian anymore. We started meeting together, fumbling around in our fundamentalist mindset, knowing that something was terribly wrong. Eventually we both escaped from the trap of legalism, even though that destructive worldview still influences my thoughts each day. I would love to one day relate to God with my heart the way I understand Him in my theology.

At 9:39 PM , Blogger Gary Means said...

er, I meant to say, "withOUT fear or guilt" just in case anybody read what I wrote.


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