Posts Tagged ‘conversation’

Salt is a seasoning that makes things taste better through its chemical interactions with the food. And yet, in this age of health anxiety, we have started to withhold salt from our diet even though exercise could be just as effective. Have we removed salt from conversations too?

Colossians 4:6
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

When was the last time I sat around with some people and just talked? I mean talked about ideas and possibilities, spirituality or sorrow, hope or despair. When has the conversation started heading one way and my comments moved it another, giving it a new flavor, a new point of view . . . with grace.

Now, I don’t mean those times when proselytizing starts or the 4 Spiritual Laws pamphlets come out of the handbag or a litany of “Praise the Lords” drop in after every remark like a Greek chorus or HipHop melody.

I’m interested in knowing if the truth of me, Spirit-filled and intertwined with the Christ within, has acted as a true flavoring, bringing out the best in others while giving grace and acceptance to any hardened hearts around me.

So much is out there that teaches us how to control a conversation, close the deal, get to “yes,” influence, convince or convert people, win friends, or filibuster until people can’t stand it anymore.

When my daughter, new to this country at 15, went to high school with little or no English, she bemoaned how hard it was to make friends. We chalked it up to ESL (English as a Second Language) and assumed things would get better as her language skills improved. And to some degree that was true and yet, it never became easy for her. Truthfully, I am amazed teenagers have any friends at all considering that most of their conversations tend to be about themselves and rarely about the other, unless they are drilling down into the behavior, looks, attitude or boyfriend of a mutual “other” (i.e. gossiping).

I shared with her a handy book I found called How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends by Don Gabor. I encouraged her to try the author’s technique but she found it unmanageable. And why? Because the essence of his technique was to ask lots of questions about the other person and listen to the answers. It’s letting go of feeling it necessary to reciprocate data for data, fact for fact, personal story for personal story. This is the grace part of conversation.

Perhaps it’s time for me to reread this book myself. Or maybe, like here, scripture has been saying it all along: Grace and salt, kindness and joy, love and humor, forgiveness and knowledge, patience and wisdom.

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It’s one of my struggles in the church as I go through this period of change in viewpoint. I’m in process. So I edit what I say around certain people who I assume will be offended. I don’t want a confrontation, or the backing away, or the widened eyes. And yet, how else does the “conversation” begin?

Galatians 2:12
Before certain men came from James, he [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.

Actually, the key problem may be my assumptions about the “other.” Isn’t it these presumptions that keep me quiet? How can I really know what others think unless we talk about it.

But then, I hear my inner voice remind me that I’m not quite sure where I’m going with all this new information about Emergents and Missional Churches and Hipster Christianity. There is so much excitement in these frameworks as believers become more inclusive, more committed to the needs of others, more relational. A part of me enjoys confronting the “sacred cows” of the institutional church but I also don’t want to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Peter got a taste of the “new way” when Cornelius [Acts 10] called Peter to his house just after the Lord had given Peter those three visions of the sheet coming down from heaven filled with foods that Jewish law had always prevented him from eating. He was shocked. And yet, when Cornelius’s men appeared, he understood the vision and he went to the house, entered and even ate there. But that was before the gentile explosion. It was one thing to “let in” a few gentiles here and there but Paul was starting to bring them in my hundred and thousands. Maybe it was all happening too fast. I don’t really know.

Perhaps we all suffer from these fears now. The new stuff sounds good, but what about the traditions and the old ways? Haven’t those ways always worked before? Hasn’t the church always survived?

I’m not so sure. Has the church survived or has it merely continued to splinter off into a variety of cells (denominations) because of disagreements and revelations. The proliferation of denominations got so bad at one point that people thought they could solve the problem by having “non-denominational” churches. But soon, even those groups splintered and they created churches by affiliation (Vineyard, Calvary Chapel, Community Churches) and then a single church would develop “campuses” with closed circuit video of the pastor. Big was better, Megabig was best.

But that trend is now being confronted with smaller is better and may tiny (like house churches) is best.

Who knows? What is the church? What is the Body of Christ?

There cannot be only one affiliation or denomination or cell group that has the inside track of what it means to be the Body of Christ. There is but one litmus test: Christ crucified and risen, accepted by the believer as the propitiation of sin. The rest is interpretation.

I think it’s time for me to stop worrying about what people will think and just talk to them. The conversation must trust that Christ is the glue that holds us all together. The conversation opens the doors to our hearts and minds. It doesn’t have to be about “changing” someone’s mind, just connecting.

I have written before about the “sacred other;” if we entered every conversation with this in mind, our differences of opinion would not separate us. We would be free to enjoy the many colors of Christ.

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Whether it’s speaking, writing, or teaching a class, it’s critical to do so authentically and to check in with the listeners, the readers, the students. Are they getting it? Are we having a conversation? It’s one reason I’ve grown tired of traditional church services: too lopsided. I need dialogue.

I Corinthians 14:11
If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me.

I think it’s one of the reasons blogs, social networks like Facebook, Twitter, etc. are so popular. People write/talk and someone responds or leaves a comment. It’s like saying, “I hear you. I’m listening.” In some churches, this is accomplished by listener responses: “Amen” and the like, but it’s a primitive exchange. People write books and yes, we assume they love the process, but the real joy is in knowing the books are being read.

Another element is intent. Why does anyone write about God or Christ or faith (or anything else for that matter)? Why do we speak or teach? I’ve always struggled a bit with this question? I mean, there has to be a certain confidence that I have something to say. What is the balance between humility and spunk?

Teaching requires a class. Performing requires an audience. Writing requires readers. We’re back to the old Zen question, “Does a tree make a sound when it falls in the woods if no one hears it?”

Paul writes in verse 6b, “. . . what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?” What we say, what we teach, what we write, are the answers, hopefully, to the burning questions in the hearts of the people with whom we want to connect.

Mike and I encountered our favorite pastor some twenty years ago. His sermons were generally compelling but the times we liked best were Sunday nights and Wednesday nights when we could ask our questions, lots and lots of questions. We challenged him and he challenged us. The dialogue was alive and vibrant and unassuming. This was our time of greatest growth and learning.

Was it only because we were younger in our faith or was it the conversation?

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John 18:12a; 15a
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar…” …they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

Once you get a crowd started, it’s pretty hard to change its direction. Once it gets hold of a picture or a phrase, it’s next to impossible to replace with another. The phrase or picture becomes some kind of mantra and repetition breeds crowd think.

Even if Pilate had released Jesus (which he thought he could control [see vs 10]), the crowd would have carried out their judgment in one way or another. Jesus became, for the crowd, a scapegoat.

This kind of crowd think is still happening today. There are influential people who can get a crowd going with just a few buzz words or volatile images. This week, there was a huge brouhaha over the education speech President Obama offered to all schools around the country as a live feed. The reaction to this proposal was fueled by words like “brainwashing” and “socialism.” Once those words were out there, the crowd (particularly the virtual one) could not be turned.

Crowds can be manipulated for good or for evil. It just depends who gets hold of them first. In previous generations, this work was done in person: a charismatic leader would speak and arouse a crowd’s sentiments. Today, this kindling of emotions is done on the Internet and by email. It’s a stampede of messages.

Once a crowd is on the “march,” it’s only violence or time that can break through the din. This kind of crowd cannot hear logic or respond to pleading. Either the pushback is of equal intensity (think of demonstrations) or the intensity peters out because it cannot sustain itself over time.

I imagine there were a lot of people who regretted their participation in the crowd think that called for the crucifixion of Jesus. We should also take care that we aren’t getting caught up in crowd think.

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John 17:5
“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” [Jesus prayed]

Think about this! He finished the task that was laid out for him. He didn’t need more time. He didn’t ask for more time. The teaching part was finished. The community work was done. The message was sent. He was successful.

How many of us would have thought Jesus had done everything he had set out to do? Surely, if he would have stuck around another ten or fifteen years, we would have known more, understood more, accepted more. Or would we?

Apparently, the message was simple enough and the right people heard it (not too many, not too few). He finished the job.

It made me think about the “six degrees of separation.” Jesus touched the lives that needed to be touched “in the big picture.” Jesus healed the ones who needed to be healed to accomplish his overall purpose. Jesus faced each moment, checked with the Father, and acted accordingly. The miracles, the lessons, the parables, the witnesses… it was all part of the economical use of his time.

Those on the receiving end of his message, they also had a purpose: to carry the message of salvation and everlasting life to others, to tell the story of Jesus, the Son of God. It all worked quite well until some of the folks decided to mess with the message. It’s like the old game, “whisper down the lane,” where the first person whispers into the next person’s ear and by the time it gets to the end of the line, the message has changed. We hear what we want to hear. We fix what we don’t understand. This phenomenon is discussed in some detail in a wonderful book I’m reading, “Why We Make Mistakes” by Joseph Hallinan.

The point for me today is that every person I meet, every circumstance, every day is part of my story and now, ultimately, Christ’s story. I’m not saying I’m supposed to stuff the name of Jesus down everyone’s throat. But being me, an authentic me, must reflect Christ within. Anything less and I’m “whispering down the lane.”

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