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I feel a bit awkward in writing this post. It is probably because I feel insufficient to be the one writing on this topic. I hold views about which I could easily get polemical…but I don’t, or at least I try not to. I am committed to speaking my truth as through my experience in this world and in conversation with the Word of God (this is what I call self-responsibility). I am committed to voice. Voice meaning the proclamation and bearing witness of God experienced through my sense of agency. I give myself permission to take up space in this world. My feminist lens reminds me that many women and people of color often do not feel empowered to take up space because the dominate voice controls the landscape. In some sense I am aware that my very, נֶפֶש – nephesh (body, soul, mind), can initiate conflict by my mere presence.
Speaking Your Truth
I yearn for people to offer their truth and experiences in the public discourse just as much as I expect it from me. When people offer themselves there is bound to be tension, disagreement, and a difference of opinion. It can be uncomfortable and sometimes we don’t know what to do when we feel uncomfortable. Thus when someone offers their perspective that differs from ours we internalize this as someone attacking us thus we sometimes fight back with words that are quite mean and downright degrading of the image of God in the community around us.
An easy example of these mean spirited words (I won’t even say conversation) is often found in our political discourse. Our politicians sometimes act like hungry predators tearing apart their prey but they have forgotten that they are neither predator nor prey but people exchanging public policy in the efforts to better care and govern our nation. So the political arena, which is supposed to be filled with elected officials who care about the shaping of the city, often look more like a bunch of apes beating their chests to show they are the more powerful one. Politicians, who we elect to speak their truth because it resonates with our truth, end up spending more time, than I like to see, berating and belittling those who think differently than them.
What has happened to our discourse? Why is civility so damn difficult? How do we recover civility?
Every week I listen to Krista Tippett and her podcast On Being. On August 18, 2011 Ms. Tippett interviewed the president of Fuller Seminary, Richard Mouw. I sat captivated to their conversation as Mr. Mouw and Ms. Tippett engaged the topic of restoring political civility. His words and his composure were beautiful and refreshing. I offer the podcast to you here as I wonder with you all, how do we recover civility while being committed to speaking our truth? I am not interested in a watered down “niceness”. I am not interested in finding the lowest common denominator to unite us. I am, however, interested in people who hold different opinions coming together in civil conversation. How do we do this?
"How do we do this?"
First, it seems to me, we have to decide to do it. Which means that we need to be on guard, not for the hidden agendas of others, but of ourselves. That is often difficult, but necessary, imho.
Second, we need to listen well enough to the truth of others so that we can go beyond merely parroting their positions, but actually feeling them, sensing their inner logic, not just their superstructures.
So much more……. but I do think we start there.
With what some might call "repentance" and a form of "kenosis"
I agree with the first part of your first point, Paul, we have to decide to do it. I'm not sure our civil or ecclesiological culture has decided to to commit to civility…yet.
I'm going to offer a slight revision to the second part of your first point. I don't believe there is anything wrong with having agendas in this world. Were you at RCA Conversations? I heard over and over that we need to put our personal agendas aside. Nope, I'm sorry, I disagree. My personal agenda add to the communities agenda. I want someone to bring their agenda just as much as I want to bring mine – that's agency. Which leads me to say I really don't like the word agenda. I also think it's pretty ridiculous that people have to hide their agenda — be honest about your agenda, because I'm going to be honest about mine, I'll respect someone much more (even if I drastically disagree)!
Your second point is beautiful. That is called empathy and that might be the heartbeat of recovering civility.
Actually, I agree, Jes. My point wasn't that a person not HAVE an agenda, but that a person needs to be self-aware enough to recognize that he/she brings an agenda to the table, not that he/she is simply a 'neutral actor' simply trying to be a mouthpiece for God. It's perfectly fine to have an agenda — just not a hidden one; hidden from myself, or from the group. In my experience, it can take a lot of self-work just to get at what my agenda actually is.
Very much agree with your clarification here – thanks for expanding!
People can be very harmful when they feel they are bringing God's agenda, God's "T"ruth to the table. IMO we often mistake the small 't' truths for Big "T' Truth and people that should be embraced by the church get pushed out for the sake of someone who rarely see's over their own ego to see the damage they have done.
Truth is very subjective. If two people sit across a table, both believing they speak the Truth of God yet neither agreeing with the other, logic dictates, they cannot both be right but the can both be wrong.
Thanks for weighing in. People certainly do have the ability to be harmful when they feel they are bringing "God's agenda". I have been the recipient of that hurt in different circles. It is for that reason, in my personal and pastoral discourse, I rarely claim something as absolute "T"ruth. I'm too post-modern and too empathetic to claim something that has been true for me is also true for you. "God is love" is probably the only universal absolute theological statement I will claim as Truth and from there I will claim that we are called to love God and love our neighbors. This is Truth. I certainly have my personal leanings and theological experiences that color how I understand the world. This aids in how I experience and know truth.
I know I may sound a bit more Wesleyan here than Reformed but I do believe experience warrants my reality of truth. I cannot expect you to feel the same truths that I feel unless you have experienced it yourself or have come to believe it yourself.
Yet, I am comfortable saying that two things that look seemingly antonymic might both be true. I know you say that logic would believe that they both can't be true but I guess I'm comfortable holding the tension of multiple "t"ruths. Here I think of Walt Whitman's quote "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." I think my apophatic theological leanings also help me hold multiple truths (i.e., God is light and God is dark).
Grace and Peace,