Unstoppable Force vs Immoveable Object

 

I love a good argument.tweet

Mind you, I would run away from a fight as fast as I could in real life. But, while I flee in haste when any type of confrontation arises, it’s a different story on Twitter.

This hit me when I was scrolling through my Twitter feed the other day. I had chosen to argue with a well-known controversial Australian political figure. He sided with Aussie Rugby start Israel Folau and argued that we must have legal protection so people like Izzy could safely tell every LGBT person that they’ll burn in hell forever without threat of reprisal (in his case his multi-million dollar contract being torn up).

I asked him if he would afford the same freedom of speech to a Muslim person who advocated jihad against Australian ‘infidels.’

His response to me: ‘You’re an idiot.’

I looked at his feed and saw that several hundred tweets had protested his false logic and I was so tempted to strike back with some smart, well-thought-out response.

But it was then that I realised that here was an immoveable object and our collective tweet-attack was like an unstoppable force.

He wouldn’t budge an inch.

We wouldn’t let up.

Stalemate.

So what good is Twitter anyway?

I concluded that Twitter is great to let off steam and offers a chance to find like-minded haters in the fight for right. But, as far as actual change goes, it is a rather ineffective and useless tool.

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Contrast that with the work of David Fleischer of the Los Angeles LGBT Center whose work has been to change people’s minds regarding LGBT inclusion. His work method has exploded on to the scene since his appearance on the public radio broadcast This American Life.

He comes from a place of awareness that it is a very rare thing to change someone’s mind simply by a well-crafted argument or by logical thinking.

I recently listened to an interveiw he did with HumanizeMe’s Bart Campolo. Using the Californian Prop 8 referendum as an example, he demonstrated how all manner of logic and emotion was thrown at the people of the state to convince them that marriage equality was a proposition worthy of their ‘Yes’ vote.

The proposition failed.

He and his team went back to the drawing board.

In their work of evaluating what went wrong, they studied on their method of canvssing the general population and revisited electoral districts that had overwhelmingly voted against marriage equality–this time using a different strategy: one of connection. Rather than bombard the resident with facts and appeal to their sense of justice, the canvassers tried a different approach: having a comnversation with the person and drawing out from them their story, building trust, and then sharing their own story in such a way that it relates to that person’s own emotional connections and relationships.

It worked.

Using the new technque, they were actually able to convince far more people that marriage equality was something worth considering based on the new relationship they had formed.

Essentially, Fleischer discovered that prejudice can be overcome with relationship built in a non-threatening way using conversation.

I have read accounts of the same thing working in conversatons between African-American folks and KKK members, between youth and the elderly, between Christians and Muslims, and between Israeli and Palestinian people.

What Israel Folau, Mark Latham, Lyle Shelton, Pauline Hanson and others like them must come to realise is that it’s only in the context of relationship and connection with others that trust can be built in such a way that people begin to understand you and your message. No bashing-over-the-head-with-a-Bible can build consensus in anywhere near the same way as a heartfelt, sincere comnversation that addresses underlying feelings, emotions and experience. Our stories are so different, but in them is a point of intersection where we can agree and connect and understand each other.

I’m all for dialogue. And yet I let my need to be right get in the way too many times. My first thought was to delete my Twitter account and start again. But when I had time to collect my thoughts, I realised that I don’t need to be part of that unstoppable force that expends its energy trying to shift that immovable object. I can back away from the comments section. I can refuse to scroll. I can, instead, ask sinecer questions about folks and their closely-guarded beliefes and, somehow, I may be able to make some small difference. Twitter is full of angry people. Maybe we need to become an unstoppable force of kindness that, as kindness often does, breaks down piece-by-piece seemingly-immovable objects.

The Sacrament of Beer with Friends

I belong to a pub group.

I say ‘belong’ loosely since there is no membership as such, just a few mates who get together every other week to have a beer and talk about anything and everything.

We’re all bruised and battered from bad religion and could collectively talk your ear off about how some church or church leader failed us and those close to us in the past. Overall, I think we’re pretty much on the level now and are optimistic about our individual places within our own worshiping communities. (You would correctly assume that we all are professing Christians, though I would suggest that we are all in different places on our journey and across the conservative-progressive spectrum.)

I also listen religiously to Homebrewed Christianity and love Chad’s and Trip’s take on things.

That’s where I came across Michael Camp’s great new book Confessions of a Bible Thumper. Conversational. Nostalgic. Relational. Straightforward. Michael takes us down his own path from being a somewhat-reluctant Jesus-freak to following a more progressive spiritual path. And how could I relate to his experience!

One thing that stood out to me in the podcast where Michael is interviewed [listen to it on iTunes] was the phrase he used ‘The sacrament of beer with friends.’ That use of the word ‘sacament’ bounced around in my head for a while. It often seems not quite right to put a deliberately ‘sanctified’ word alongside something that, in some of our growing-up stories, was presented as being so unholy and demon-like.

In reflection, I came to see how what we do every few weeks truly is a sacrament.

The word ‘sacrament’ has several similar definitions, some of which are outright religious in nature, and refer to observances such as Holy Communion or Baptism. But there is an underlying meaning along the lines of ‘Something regarded as possessing a sacred character or mysterious significance; a sign, token, or symbol.’

That is our pub group. It’s not, as our partners may think, some sort of male-bonding time or mutual back-slapping and high-five-giving session. No, we’re not even out to make our get-together a religious experience. Rather than a deep conversation about the nature of the trinity or the theories of atonement, you’re more likely to hear talk of interest rates, new building designs, or how bad the Crows are playing. But yet there is a sacred character to it (beyond the holy ‘spirit’ of a good brew!) It is a place that has a degree of significance in our own lives. It is a sign or a token which says that we see the need for sharing our journeys, unloading our hurts, and encouraging one another. It is sharing the sacrament of beer (preferably a Toohey’s Extra Dry) with friends.

And, while we don’t consciously remember Jesus in bread and wine, it is Communion in the truest sense of the word–a sharing of our time, our stories and our lives, even if it is only for an hour or so on a Tuesday night in a room full of pool-players and dart-throwers.

I’m really enjoying Michael Camp’s new book and I’m sure you would too. You can read an excerpt here, or check out Michael Camp’s book website here. But most of all, I’m gaining a new appreciation of the everyday joy of sharing with friends. As Bryan Berghoef writes in his (also excellent) book Pub Theology:

“. . . good things happen when we sit down at the same table together and talk honestly about things that matter–and frankly, having a beer doesn’t hurt.”

Amen!

We Hold Each Other’s Lives

I came across this today from MINEmergent, a poem-prayer that affirms the possibility of forgiveness and the resulting restoration of broken relationships. (Why is it that poetry speaks into our lives in a deeper, more meaningful way than prose ever could?)

We hold each other’s lives
in our hands
What fragility and responsibility
Earthen vessels formed
from loving hands
So easily crushed
by clumsy words and actions
and only forgiveness can reassemble the parts
according to the Maker’s instructions.

Lord of all life
grant us forgiveness
for our judgmental thoughts
and wrong attitudes
for the poverty of our actions
and the words
with which we wound.

–Liz Babbs, fromThe Celtic Heart: Reflections for Life’s Journey
(as quoted in MinEmergent: A Daily Communique)

Secrets

Everyone has secrets.

Everyone is keeping secrets.

Some are brave enough to tell one now and then, but the decision to do so is weighed and internally debated, sometimes in great angst and anguish, before the revelation.

Some, like Wikileaks, become top headlines and cause international concern and criticism. Others–most–lie deep within the hidden parts of our own minds and hearts, shut away in a dark room where they are not likely to be disturbed, or remembered. . . .

Everyone has secrets. Whether or not we choose to tell them is another story.

Anonymity is a great friend of secret-telling, especially if the revelation could split your world apart.

TellingSecrets.org is one of many sites on the Internet that survive on anonymous confessions. Things like a secret hatred of someone else, office gossip, affairs and sexual encounters, thoughts of revenge, suicide, deeds of deepest personal shame or betrayal . . . the list goes on and on. (And it makes for interesting reading.)

What is the great fear in revealing the truth that is hidden inside of me?

I think that the greatest fear is that, if I let my secret out, people will think less of me–or shun me altogether. And (most of the time) I would rather hide my truth than risk my relationships and support structures falling apart.

Another reason for clamming up is that I don’t want to disappoint others, especially those close to me.

Imagine the teenager who comes home and reveals to her mother, ‘I’m pregnant.’ Or the young man who opens up to his family with, ‘I’m gay.’ Then there’s the pastor who tells his congregation, ‘I don’t believe this anymore.’ The politician who decides that enough is enough and forsakes the party line. Whether it’s family, friends, our community or constituency, we as people created for relationship, do not want to disappoint.

I also think there is an element of ‘I don’t want to rock the boat,’ or, ‘I just want to keep the peace.’ This is prevalent in community groups, workplaces, schools, churches, or other organisations. I realise that if I tell my secret, it will ‘open a can of worms’ in the organisation. It will stir the status quo and may result in rumours, innuendo, judgement, criticism, and potentially me being ostracised from the group.

You just need to look at Facebook to see numerous examples of people being ‘defriended’ (or in Twitter, ‘unfollowed’) over a statemnet that was made or over the misunderstanding of a post. Or a group may be created over a common dislike of a ‘traitor’ or betrayer of trust. The judgement falls quickly in any social media circle, but usually without so much as a phone call or email to ask what the real intent was.

I remember hearing Bill Hybels say that in community we have many needs that need to be met. Two of these needs are to know and be known, and to love and be loved. I think these two are mutually inclusive. We can’t truly love unless we truly know and we can’t truly know unless we understand that we are truly (and unconditionally) loved.

Perhaps this is a dream, but it is one worth chasing. Imagine what a weight would be lifted off of our hearts if we knew that, regardless of how we felt, believed, understood, experienced, or how we hurt, those alongside of us would openly, confidently, and sincerely support, validate, and be agents of healing as we laid bare the secrets held so close.

Until that time, places like TellingSecrets.org will be filled with dark pieces of people’s lives, regrets, confessions, fears, and sad tales they wish they could share freely . . . longing to receive forgiveness, healing and love.

May God grant me the grace to receive what those close to me share without judgement, with genuine love and understanding, and in full validation and acceptance of them as a person, a child of God, and a fellow companion on the journey.

Relationships and Belief

I came across Mike Croghan’s blog today and this post in particular: On Relationship and Belief. Mike writes about the need some see for organisations to have detailed belief statements and agreement on set doctrines. In a rather long post, he shows how his church, Common Table, uses the Nicene Creed as a compass (giving direction) for their community. Here’s a small segment of Mike’s post:

In my experience, centering on beliefs builds divisions with those who (even temporarily) do not share those beliefs. Centering on relationships does the opposite – it brings people together despite their differences. This has been my experience of Common Table Church in the five years I’ve been connected with it.

And as long as the relationship that’s at the core of our community is our relationship with Jesus – following after him, being formed by him – and as long as we in our relationships with each other are committed to maintaining that tension between acceptance and accountability – in short, as long as we are faithful to Christ and to one another – belief, to the extent that it is helpful, will follow. But in my opinion we must not put it first.

I recommend you read the entire post and think about what Mike has to say (Click here). At the end of the day, beliefs are important but only inasmuch as they give direction for healthy relationships, both with others and with God.

Relational Integrity

I was raised surrounded by a strong sense of purpose: to present our best side to “the world” so we may perhaps win them over to faith in Jesus Christ. My parents were quite strict in guarding the way we spoke, the music we listened to, what we watched on TV (when we finally got a TV when I was in grade 7), how we dressed or had our hair cut, and what manners we displayed in public.

This was the public image we needed to display, as Christians, because we well knew the verse (although we learned it from the King James Bible):

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5 TNIV)

But in our private life, we made jokes at the expense of the “unsaved” and laughed at other Christians who “didn’t get it.” (We made a lot of fun of the Baptists especially, singing songs like “I’ve got the belief that baffles Bible Baptists down in my heart”). We found amusement in the antics of “lost” people and we were—dare I say it—quite arrogant in thinking that we were better than they simply because we were on the “inside” and they weren’t.

I must clarify that this was my perception as a child/teenager and, looking back with an adult perspective, my parents weren’t intentionally training us to see things in this way; this was a deduction I made from information I was receiving into my young mind at the time through undeveloped filters and an incongruent paradigm (love big words!)

But this does cause me to continually question my own perspectives, heart attitudes and motives today.

Am I exhibiting integrity in the way I look at those different than me? Is how I interact with them to their face the same way I interact about them when they’re not present? Is the way I behave around them not in keeping with the thoughts I have towards them? Am I using “us” terminology when I am around such folk and then reverting to “us and them” when they are absent? (Um . . . these questions are tough!)

Relational integrity means that when I am present with someone, I act the same way, use the same words, have the same attitude towards them as when I am absent from them. I need more of this in my life. It’s too easy for me to behave with civility towards someone and then blacken their reputation behind their back. It’s also far easier to be kind to someone I don’t agree with than to think kind and generous thoughts about them.

In our quest to build the kingdom of God, we must learn and grow in the kind and gracious way of Jesus, following his command to love one another as he loved us. Yes, we will have moments of dishonesty and hypocrisy. Yes, we will have moments when we are tested by the best “grace growers” God can bring across our path.

I know it won’t be easy—kingdom stuff rarely is. But it’s part of what this journey is all about. Awareness. Growth. Change. Integrity.

The Whisper of Grace

The following article is from Christianity Today (April 2010 web edition). It can be read in its entirety here. Thanks, Stephen, for sharing it. It rings so true to me.

Once upon a time, there was a man who said to himself, “I think, therefore I am.” It was a revolutionary statement, because up to that time, people didn’t think this was the way to begin. “In the beginning, God. …” Yes. “In the beginning was the Word. …” Yes. But now, for the first time, someone was saying, “In the beginning, I.”

It didn’t take long to catch on. Pretty soon everyone was saying it, and saying it in their own way. “I feel, therefore I am.” Or “I experience, therefore I am.” Or “I am mystical, therefore I am.” Or “I am creative, therefore I am.” Even “I am religious, therefore I am.”

Eventually, someone said, “I am, therefore I am.” And everyone applauded, because it seemed to be a stroke of divine genius.

Then, away from the maddening crowds, far off in the wilderness, a voice was crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” But people no longer had ears to hear that sort of thing. It sounded faint, quieter than a whisper. To most people, it sounded like gibberish. Others listened really closely and thought they could make out the words. But they just frowned, disappointed with the result of all their efforts, saying, “But what does this have to do with me, with my problems?” Read more here…

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Here’s another challenging article, also from Christianity Today, about the first century church and how it embraced a “we” approach above individualism. I’ll put a few quotes below, followed by a link for the entire piece.

“Note also Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (circa A.D. 250), and his commentary on the prayer Jesus taught his disciples: ‘Before all things, the Teacher of peace and Master of unity did not wish prayer to be offered individually and privately as one would pray only for himself when he prays. We do not say: “My Father, who art in heaven,” nor “Give me this day my bread,” nor does each one ask that only his debt be forgiven him and that he be led not into temptation and that he be delivered from evil for himself alone. Our prayer is public and common, and when we pray, we pray not for one but for the whole people, because we, the whole people, are one.’ “We, the whole people, are one”—Cyprian’s strong-group sensibilities could hardly be more pronounced.”

“For the early Christians, belonging to a local church was a commitment to a group of people, not to a highly programmed institution driven by corporate management and numerical growth. First and foremost, then, we must return to the concept and practice of church as a relational entity.”

Read the rest of the article, A Family Affair, here…

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Quote of the week:

From the article Coming Home: A Gay Christian Speaks to Fundamentalists, by Jonathan Odell

“I hadn’t come out as gay then, only as a Baptist.”

This makes me ask the questions, ‘Why are we so OK with some labels but not others?’ and ‘What’s wrong with being Baptist?’