Saturday, August 4, 2012

Let the Conversations Begin...

As expected, after my blogpost on Chick-Fil-A, there are some people who understand me better, some people who feel the same, some people who still dislike me, and others who just completely misunderstand where I am coming from.  I think that's pretty much gonna be the case for most of my life.  While I consider myself a fairly good communicator, I completely understand that each and every one of us looks at the world through our own lens, colored by experience and belief.  That lens often has a way of changing our viewpoint simply because of the nature of experience and belief.  I feel like my goal is to do the best that I can to allow my lens to be as objective as possible.  Not that experience and belief don't shape how I see, but I want to be able to be open to at the very least understand where someone else is coming from.

My wife received a message from a friend who seemed curious and even concerned with how we might perceive her had we known that she ate at Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday.  My heart sank when my wife told me about it because I hate to be misunderstood and I felt like that may have been the case.  But it's been stuck in my head ever since my wife shared it with me and I just keep rolling it over in my head, wondering how it is that we got here.

My week seems to have been full of short and long conversations with people who are ideologically different than me.  Someone questioned me the other day about some claimed differences within our denomination that they did not understand.  As I sat and listened to her wonder about what the differences may be, I also wondered to myself how many conversations had been entered into with others whose views differed.  I don't say that as an accusation at all, in fact, it's a two-way street that seems to have turned one-way.  I'm not completely sure when the "Two-Way Traffic" sign was removed and replaced with a "One Way" sign, but it happened.

I don't mean two-way traffic in a non-absolute way but rather in a conversational way.  Conversations need to be two-way streets, allowing both sides to travel along the path of conversation in hopes that they might be able to understand each other a little bit better by the end of the conversation.  I don't expect that the direction of traffic might change by the end of the conversation, but I do expect a level of education to have been achieved as both directions slow down long enough to explain to the other why they're going the way that they are going.

When we enter into conversation to try to convince people, it seems that we take an element of care, concern, and love out of the conversation.  When we enter into conversation to understand, it seems that our defenses come down and we actually seek to learn.  Frankly, I'm fairly tired of people who claim to be open-minded and yet when the sticks come down, they show through actions and sometimes words that they are open-minded to anything as long as it does not conflict with their own seemingly open-minded ideas.  I'm also tired of the idea of taking a stand in polarizing ways.

Back to this whole Chick-Fil-A thing, I think it says something about both sides that when one side stages an endorsement day of the company, the other side decides to "one-up" the other by staging a different type of endorsement day altogether.  Is this what it's come to, playground politics where I say, "I'll show you" and then I do my best to make sure that I somehow go a little further than you did.  It kind of reminds me of the scene in "A Christmas Story" when Ralphie and his friends are gathered around the flagpole in the middle of winter.  They taunt and tease each other and the competition escalates to a "Triple Dog Dare."  It's as if all that we want out of the situation, from both sides, is to "win," whatever that means.

I haven't hesitated in the past to verbalize my beliefs, but I do my best to try and understand that everyone does not see things the way that I do.  I have a strong sense within me of what's right and what's wrong, but I know that not everyone holds to those same beliefs.  I have found that it has been way more effective for me to graciously converse with people about our differences rather than simply tell them, "You're wrong and I'm right," whether I say it like that or not.

When we come out with generalizing statements, regardless of which "side" we claim to be on, there will inevitably be some who are not defined by such statements who will take exception to the categorization.  I'm fully aware that we're all guilty of this but it needs to stop.  If you are a Christian who holds to the teaching of Scripture as I do, maybe instead of toting signs and staging protests, you ought to get to know someone whose view differs.  Begin a conversation with them and find out what they believe and why they believe it.  If you enter the conversation because you legitimately care, they will appreciate it and may even give you the opportunity to explain what and why you believe what you believe.

Likewise, if you support a different view in which Scripture plays no part, maybe you can find someone who breaks the generalizations that our media loves to emphasize.  Find someone who holds a different view and who is willing to engage in a conversation with you, both of you might learn something in the process.

While I've learned a lot over the years, I still know that I've got a whole lot more to learn.  One thing that I do know is that amiable and intelligent conversations don't happen across picket and protest lines, but they do happen across coffee tables.  I might not be able to change all that, but I can certainly change what I do in hopes that others might follow suit.  At the very least, there will be a few of us who will engage in some beneficial conversations, and who knows, we might just learn something.

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