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3 Ways to Escape Your Tribe

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I love ya. I gotta go.

You’ve started to entertain the notion that keeping identity with your tribe makes less sense than ever before. And you wonder at your own sanity because the facts before you do not match the story your tribe keeps telling:

  • Maybe your tribe believes one person in your office has nothing good to say, but you think otherwise.
  • Maybe your tribe is willing to look the other way as the elected official—whom the tribe helped elect—continues to lie, goes against the sacred center of your tribe’s beliefs and behaves increasingly erratically.
  • Maybe your tribe shuts down alternate readings of your sacred text because those readings don’t suit the current ideological goals of the people calling the shots.manysigns-2-20170126

For these and any number of other reasons, it may be time to leave your tribe. But how? It’s tricky, because most of your friends and your family friends and friends of your friends are in the tribe. Maybe you spend all your time with these people. Maybe you live with these people. But here are three starting points:

  1. Check in with soul-friends. You know people who are like-minded and are driven less by ideology and more by relationship and caring. Find these folks and build trust with them. Spend time with them and share your concerns. Ask questions together and see if a new story emerges.
  2. Read and talk widely. Get different opinions from diverse people. Look for ways to read books that challenge the orthodoxy. The good news about challenge is that what is true remains while what is false slips away. But reading is best when you share points of interest with others—especially with those soul-friends. Look for opportunities to step outside your tribe: the person at work or in class who is clearly coming from a different perspective. Who knows where friendship and insight might come from? Actively seek others with questions, remember that you are not alone with your questions.
  3. Have Faith and Take Courage. Hold your core your beliefs firmly and ask questions of the periphery. This is the time-honored way of artists, writers, thinkers, activists and leaders. See where the questions lead—this is the way of sanity and art. Turning a blind eye to inconsistencies and discontinuities leads to a very bad place, a place where reality differs from tribal knowledge.

There is a way forward and you will find it.

Good luck and God-speed.

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Image: Kirk Livingston

The Lies We Love

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How to Believe the Preacher’s Story

Let us now name this category of lie: The Preacher’s Story.

We’ve all been here: sitting in church or a political meeting or even in class. The preacher/politician/professor behind the lectern tells a story that illustrates her or his point perfectly.

Too perfectly. And we think:

Wait-that sounds almost too good to be true. So then it must be… false. But who cares? I agree with the point and I’m in agreement with that way of looking at the world. I’ll just check the “true” box for that story.

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The Preacher’s Story is a quasi-factual tale the congregation wants to believe and will believe. The point of the story isn’t whether or not it is true, but whether the story advances our cause. We’ve gathered to stoke our fires and that semi-truthy story works just fine for that purpose.

I’m putting most Trump talk in the category of “The Preacher’s Story”: though demonstrably false, still believed because it stokes the tribe’s purposes. Trump’s not alone in this, of course, his preacher’s stories are just the most recent potent poison.

Writers continue to try to make sense of evangelical support for Trump.  The last few days have produced several articles citing similarities between the current batch of authoritarian presidential candidates and the authoritarian leadership style many megachurch pastors exhibit (for instance, Katelyn Beaty’s opinion piece from The New York Times). Authoritarian leaders depend on the willing to turn off their fact-meters as they absorb the preacher’s stories. Evangelicals are possibly more willing because of close familiarity with this rhetorical tool.

Can we now name the downside of “The Preacher’s Story”? It appears we’ve been groomed to be gullible.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

How to Talk with a Republican

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Break with Talking Points: Talk about fears one by one

The Donald Trump phenomenon is fueled by fear—this we know.

Now that the Wait-This-Is-A-Joke period is over and the Fascists-In-Training period has begun, would we be better served addressing those fears head-on rather than pointing again and again to the incoherence of the candidate?

Mano a mano, as it were.Republican-20160304

What are the fears lodged in the Republican brain? We hear them from all the candidates: out of control immigration, an economic and political system rigged to benefit plutocrats, Christendom (as a geopolitical/cultural/social power) gasping for breath, whites are on their way toward being just another race if not minority status, the list goes on, of course.

One of the great early proponents of Christianity—a man not in favor with today’s Evangelical base—talked a lot about caring for the neighbor. Jesus said that after loving God with all your passion, the second most important thing was to love your neighbor. Could this thing Jesus said actually address fear without playing into the hand of an inchoate, would-be strongman?

A discussion about gut-level fears will descend into jobs and what it means to be treated fairly and irrational fever dreams about those we don’t know. It’s likely such talk would be politically incorrect—and we need to welcome that. On the other side of published Talking Points is a smoke-filled room where personal decisions get made even as friends and family hash out details. That’s where citizens need to hang out: telling truth as best we know it, from our perspective, not from the perspective of party bosses or mercenary haters, but from a hope-filled vision of people filled with neighborly love for all.

Naïve? Yes, of course. But sometimes naïve wins—just ask that pariah Jesus.

But look—this is gonna be messy. Let’s do this before we all start wearing yellow badges to stand with whatever group is in the crosshairs of Trump In Chief.

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

The State of Conversation is Strong

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Despite the stupid stuff we keep saying

My fellow humans, the state of our conversation is strong—though “strong” may not the first word that comes to mind.

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I’ve spent the last few weeks in a funk. Given Trump’s call for banning Muslim entry into the U.S, and Franklin Graham’s approval of that plan (never mind that Graham’s inherited salvation-industry hinges on reaching out to the very people he wants to ban, which is bad for his business model); and given Jerry Falwell Jr.’s call to arm his student body; and given what seems to be tacit agreement with these lunacies by a too-large percentage of my nation’s population, it seems the voices calling us to act on fear are winning.

But here are two hopeful signs:

  • A poll out today suggests that the majority of Americans do not agree with Trump’s fear-mongering.
  • An open letter from Wheaton College students to Jerry Falwell Jr. rejecting his strange twist on Christianity and reminding him that the religion he espouses has little in common with the hostility he voices.

Beyond those signs, the inflammatory rhetoric flying about can at times serve to stimulate solid conversation. For me those conversations have come out of a pit of despair, but they can still be productive. Just saying aloud what we really think can be like draining the pus from a wound: ugly but necessary. Maybe our conversations can start a long-term suturing that can help us heal. But we’ll need to listen to each other and not respond out of our instinctual fear.

All this fear-rhetoric is pivoting me away from the rabid voices and back toward seeking conversations with people who are different. At our best we welcome people even as we trust. We start by engaging in conversation.

Fie on the fear-mongerers.

 

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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What about those hard conversations? (DGtC #27)

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Are explosive words better from an authority or friend?

I am convinced that where people gather: a classroom, a department, a congregation, discussion is a more effective use of time than all of us listening to monologue. Many teachers explore the flipped classroom, where their time together is in discussion and the preachy monologues and lectures slide to a different time, place and pace. In general I am attracted to collaboration and many voices speaking. I keep hoping coherence will show up.

We may want to collaborate, but obstacles arise. We may want to be walking catalysts, but something stands in the way. Unsaid obstacles can block collaboration. And sometimes we need to have hard conversations, the kind where we not only disagree, but our different positions are emotionally charged. To assert my position will cut at my conversation partner’s position and vice versa. There may be anger. There may be tears. There may be power-plays. This conversation could be explosive.

Demonstrating the explosive past for Minneapolis flour mills.

Demonstrating the explosive past for Minneapolis flour mills.

The late Wayne Booth advocated a kind of listening-rhetoric: listen intently enough to your conversation partner to faithfully tell their position (without denigration) while still holding to your own. This would not be the place for win-rhetoric, where your goal is to beat your message into someone else. Emmanuel Levinas might say we have an obligation to watch out for the person before us—this conversation partner. In fact, he might advocate that this person before us is our first priority. Martin Buber might say we continue to hold that person in high regard as a person, inviting them to consider this different perspective rather than trying to force our viewpoint. Even Jesus modified the law with love and compassion (he actually said love was the fulfillment of the law).

So…

  • Say we take the listening seriously as we approach the hard conversation.
  • Say we take seriously our commitment to the growth and personhood of this conversation partner (stay with me here). And we recognize this person as a person (versus an employee or student or lesser-being).

Given a kind of love for the person before us, we say the hard thing. And the explosion happens. No guarantees, but that blow up can be a worthwhile communication event. Good things can come from that, hard as they are.

Personally, I shy away from these explosive conversations.

But is shying away from a potentially explosive conversation doing a disservice to the thing that needs to happen between us?

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

God-Talk and Other BS

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Do Communication and Spirituality Connect?

I say “Yes.”

And I say it manifests in the ordinary conversations of everyday life.

Let me prove it: deep down in your brain-pan, where you instantly recoil from people who snap at you; back down there where your inner child says snarky, politically incorrect, frankly obscene, stuff that your adult, outer-self edits and translates to “Hmm. I see….”

Deep down there in the hidden recesses—that’s part of the connection.

Your immediate responses to the stuff of everyday life can tip you off that things are not right—deep down in the soul. Yes—I’m talking about weird stuff. But you have an inner life, right? A place where no one visits but you.

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If that inner place is full of doubt, while your outer self—the adult self in tie and loafers, who edits and translates the inner child’s voice so the rest of the world remains unaware what a low-life that kid is—if that outer self proclaims stable faith in God and corporation and the upright institutions (ha ha) that surround us—that’s where the cognitive dissonance starts. That’s the precise locus of hypocrisy.

Mind you: I’m big on doubt. Questions are good. Questioning institutions and the quick answers to life’s hard questions—I’m all for that. Talking unbelief to God makes perfect sense to me (Just read Job, my patron saint of doubt honestly-processed).

It’s the saying one thing while believing another I’m not for. It is that very place where God-talk becomes BS. And I believe most of us have sixth-sense/BS detector that goes off when outer words don’t match inner life—even if we cannot put our finger on exactly why. I am most certainly talking to myself here as well.

We need to process our bouts of cognitive dissonance together to keep our God-talk from becoming BS—rudderless words without the ballast of belief and action a life-lived.

If you don’t have a friend to be honest with, find one.

This is important.

Today is Good Friday—a day when the Christian Church celebrates (is that even the right word?) Jesus’ death. Three days later we celebrate that this dead guy is dead no longer.

I appreciate this time of year for processing doubts together with others. Quite often we come away rejoicing. And somehow more whole.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

By the way: I’ve written ListenTalk: Is Conversation an Act of God? to explore this connection. Pre-order here.

“Thou Art a Cad, Sir.”

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May You Have Interesting Colleagues

This is the time of year when people refer to that old Irish blessing (about the road rising up and so on). But here—stuck in the middle of the work week—I want to offer you a more contextual blessing: the people around you.

Well, maybe not everyone.

But often there is someone you come in contact with who is, well, delightful. Their sense of humor, the wacko things they say over the cubicle wall, the inappropriate things they do in department meetings. The fact that they will trim your hair in the back room when the director is out of the office or dump Vaseline in the bigshot’s duffle bag or instigate rebellion at the slightest provocation. [Am I sounding like a bad employee?]

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In fact, it is typically the people around (the fun and interesting ones, anyway) who make work enjoyable.

Martin Buber made a point of differentiating between how we treat objects (“I-it”) versus the way we treat people (“I-thou”). One of his points was that we should never treat people as objects: ordering them about as if they had no will of their own. Instead we should engage with each other. That’s what humans do.

Of course that very object-treatment is one of the primary sins in many of our corporations, where people become known as “human capital.” Churches are not so different when they refer to congregants as “giving units.” Hey—we even take cues from our cultural bosses and call ourselves “consumers.” Our language makes no attempt to mask this object-laden perspective.

But no so with interesting colleagues, because of our connection with them. Because of conversations you’ve had with them (some even soul-baring), because you’ve talked shop and lamented death and rejoiced in birth together, you get to know each other as fully-human. Trust and connection fit in here. And the ability to say anything.

The ability to say anything and still be heard and respected, that is the fullness of connection with another Thou.

May the “Thous” rise up to meet you today and this week.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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