I was reading this post by Roger Saner at Future Church (Thanks Makeesha. You find the best stuff.) and it really got me thinking about the nature of postmodern dialog. One of the signature elements of the emerging church has been “the conversation”. It is the idea that we are in dialog with each other. Not a shouting match but a dialog. I really began to think about what this means. Why is it called the conversation? I’ve written about this a little bit before but Roger’s post helped me think about this a little further.
The historical church, often called Christendom, hold the idea of universal truth. I get that. I too hold that somewhere out there is fundamental truth to be found about the way the universe operates. Part of the journey is in seeking out this truth. Christendom also holds that this truth can be found in the Bible, which I also hold to be true. Two for two. We’re onto something here.
The problem is that the Bible doesn’t speak about every element of truth. It speaks nothing about the nature of mathematics or why does two plus two equal four. It’s not an extensive discussion about sex, which I’ve often wish had been available in my youth. It says nothing about what to do when you have a zit on your face the day of your first date, or how to handle your parents getting divorced so you don’t think its your fault. Yet these are very real issues in life. And so we have those things that are objective in the Bible (love your neighbor, don’t lie, etc.). These just make sense. Life proves them out to be common sense. We also have those things that are subjective (just about any esoteric theological point, the nature of end times, speaking in tongues, war, etc.)
The problem them becomes when we come to a conclusion about subjective elements that require us to make a judgment and we run into someone who doesn’t hold what we believe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to people who don’t think exactly like me. Why is that? And this is where the paths diverge. The modern (read: Christendom) feels the need to convert the other person to a certain way of believing about truth. Why is this? I don’t see Jesus spending a lot of time “converting” people through philosophical argument. He simply says come follow me. And when they don’t, he lets them leave. What if this need to convert is actually a desire to validate what we believe. How in the world could others not see truth exactly the way we do? How dare they? (I’m feigning my best indignation here). And to be honest, why would I want to be like that. I’m not interested in anger, shouting, and conflict as a model to prosper from. I want to get to love, and community, and creativity and freedom. I want to be like Jesus.
The signature trait of the emerging church conversation is the capacity to hold the tension and not feel a need to convert the other person, to live with the reality that others don’t see the world the way I do. Isn’t it possible that each person is a collective story made up of a lifetime of experiences? And that those stories shape the way we see the world and truth. There are countless things I didn’t know just last year. And yet, why do we assume that everyone should know those things when we ourselves didn’t know them at one time. But now that we do, everyone must. The conversation assumes that we are all beginner, learning along the way. And if someone doesn’t know, maybe they’ve just missed it. Or maybe they’re right and we’ve missed it.
And along the way we discover truth together. We discover that love really does work better. But to get there I have to, no we all have to, go through our junk. It’s the stuff that makes us question if we’re worth it. It’s the stuff that happened when we’re four and we had no capacity to deal with. It’s the stuff that we don’t like to admit that we hide in our closet. These are our wounds, our brokenness. Instead of arguing, let’s find a way to journey together to get through these things to what really matters, like love.
To really understand someone, we have to listen to their story? And to listen we have to lay down our objectives for a while and not speak, which requires time, and lots of coffee, and dinners and often tissue. It also doesn’t mean we not speak at all. But how often do we not speak, all the while waiting for the other person to finish talking, so we can say what we have to say, and in the process miss what they have said. Love listens.
And isn’t that what we all need, someone to listen, someone to put down their objectives and just allow the other person to be heard? Sometimes I don’t need to know the “right” answer. I just need to be “real” so I can process what it means to be human. In real community, it is those individuals in my life who listen who hold my greatest trust. I don’t really want them to listen blindly. I want to them to listen in love. And when I’m ready to hear the truth, they are the first people I go to. The conversation then becomes love. I find that those people who are willing to listen are really on my side. Those who don’t listen, usually aren’t.
I like the emerging missional conversation because I find people who are looking to learn and listen AND share what they have learned along the way. And when we disagree, it’s not the end of the world. Their value as a person doesn’t depend on me thinking the way they do.
Your thoughts are appreciated. adamlane’s Fotothing