Monday, January 9, 2017

Politics, Religion, Sex

This post follows closely along the lines of the last one.   In my last post I urged us to hear and listen to those who are genuinely scared of a Trump presidency, as women or especially minorities, and who are already afraid because of an attitude shift since the election.  Many who read that post may simply have responded, "Oh he's just a Trump hater," or, "He's a silly liberal, brain-washed by the media," and I don't need to go on with the list of "or"s because we all know what people say in response to critiques of Trump--they imitate Trump himself, who this week, in response to Meryl Streep, proved again that he is incapable of listening to criticisms of any kind.  I'm not saying that all or even most Republicans or Trump supporters responded in that way, just that, based on my occasional use of Facebook, I am certain some did.  And the funny thing about that is that I am a registered Republican myself who often votes Libertarian.  I declare my political leanings with hesitation because two posts ago I said that pastors should remain as invisible in partisan concerns as possible, yet I do so now to point out how to assume, to refuse to truly enter into dialogue, indeed can make an a** out of 'u' and 'me.'  Our quick assumptions and judgments of people, along with our rapid and often hurtful responses, show that we have lost the ability as a culture and society, if we ever had the ability, to dialogue.  Dialogue, my friends, is a lost virtue.  For those Christians of us out there, I'd go so far as to say it's a lost Christian virtue and that those Christians who do not dialogue are actively falling short of discipleship of Christ.

We need go no further to prove that we as a culture and society are generally incapable of dialoguing than that we are taught from an early age not to discuss politics, religion, or sex in company, regardless of how closely related we are to our company by bonds of family or love.  The reason we are taught to avoid those three topics, the Big Three, we are told, is that to broach them is impolite.  The real reason, of course, is that to bring up politics, religion, or sex often derails a pleasant conversation and a verbal fight is likely to ensue; to cause a verbal fight is the impolite factor.  Yet we should ask, 'Why must those three subjects cause a verbal fight?  If we love one another, shouldn't we be able to discuss anything politely and in good taste?'  Stop to think for a moment and the answer should be, 'Why, yes, of course!'  And there we have it.

Unfortunately, we have no practice of dialoguing because we are, indeed, constantly worried about crossing the line into impolite territory and causing a fight.  It is our desire to constantly be polite that precludes training in proper dialogue habits.  On the flip side, however, is perhaps an even worse problem.  Many people who have been courageous, bold, or impolite or drunk enough to venture into a political, religious, or sex conversation often do not do so with a dialogue partner who is equally courageous, bold, impolite or drunk enough.  For example, I have on many occasion been to a gathering where someone spouts off ignorant, racist, discriminatory, or personally offensive views, and I have not said a word because I was not willing to cross that line, too.  So what did I, and everyone else, do?  We either remained silent or said, "Yeah... I get your point... I see where you're coming from."  If your discussion partner's replies are limited like that, you may think you have entered the politics, religion, sex conversation with love and grace, but you haven't really, because your partner is either offended by your tone or words, or is worried they might offend you.  If that happens, if we enter the arena of the Big Three and do not have a willing dialogue partner, and the reason they were not willing is you and your hurtful mouth or ideas, then you will continue on spewing your hurtful, and perhaps hateful, rhetoric to other unwilling partners with not a care in the world.  Then, if ever someone challenges you, you'll think that other person is the problem, and not you, because you've never been challenged before; even though you've never been challenged before because others have been swallowing their criticisms of your offensive, hurtful rhetoric and ideas to save you and them from a fight.  It is therefore my hunch that those people who are most unwilling to hear someone challenge their opinions, disagree with them, or critique them in some way, are the ones who are most holding us back as a society from being able to dialogue.  When a conversational speed bump is hit, they assume it's someone else's fault when in fact it is their own, yet they refuse to look inward and consider how they can dialogue better.

Take my wife and I as another example.  I had never fully discussed homosexuality, in religious terms, with anyone until I was engaged to her.  I therefore had zero practice.  I wager that she also had little practice because of the taboo around the Big Three.  When you marry someone, however, you are more or less forced to talk about all the major stuff, and if you don't then, oh boy.  Shortly before our wedding is when she and I first engaged the topic and, to be honest, it did not go well.  Discussing homosexuality in religious terms may have been our first fight.  My wife and I were not on opposite ends of the spectrum.  If we paused to consider for a moment, we would have realized that we were not so far apart that a fight should have ensued.  Still, my first reaction was to never bring up homosexuality again.  Thankfully, my wife did not have the same reaction and she did bring it up again, worried that we would have painful divergent responses to a gay child... and we fought again.  I don't remember how many times we had to have the discussion before we learned how to dialogue about homosexuality rather than fight about it, get mad, and stew for awhile.  Eventually, our conversations, our dialoguing, looked something like this, "Here's what I think and believe and why..." "Okay, I understand what you are saying, and to put it in my own words you're saying this... Is that right?... Okay, then here's what I think and believe in response to what I understand you are saying..." "Oh, I see... so you're saying this... Well, what do you think about this...?" and so on.  We used those 'I statements' that you hopefully learned in elementary school and repeated back to the other in our own words what the other was saying to ensure we were understanding, and then, because we were actually and truly listening, rather than reply with statements we were preparing to one-up the other while the other was talking, we responded to what the other was saying based on our understanding.  That is what dialogue should be.  Dialogue is give and take, with lots of listening and understanding, I statements (though not exclusively I statements), and love and grace enough not to ever comment on the validity ('That's stupid!  That's moronic!  Here's why.') of the other's positions except to point out, again with love and grace, any contradictions or inconsistencies.

It took practice for us to learn how to dialogue.  If I am honest, it was mostly me who had to learn, because my wife always began conversations trying her best to dialogue while I only tried to say what I wanted to say in explosively convincing ways, which meant I wasn't listening or understanding.  Of course, it also helped that we had, by the time we learned how to dialogue on homosexuality, publicly stated our vows to one another.  Over time, too, we both softened our positions.  We came to understand the other's position to the point that we included some of the other's opinions into our own, thus changing what we thought and believed.  That process was particularly significant for me, I think, because my position on the subject now feels entirely different than where I began.  Dialogue can do that to you.  If you are understanding the other person, you are thus open to change, and whether change in your opinions happen or not, the openness to such change fosters further understanding and easier dialogue.

Now, I mentioned that my wife and I taught each other and learned together how to dialogue and that it helped that we had stated our vows of marriage to one another.  I want to point out that marriage is, for a Christian, not the bond that should be tightest.  The most famous passage on love in our Bible is 1 Corinthians 13... about the love church members should have for one another. Indeed, Paul talks about marriage as a last resort if we are incapable of living a Christian life without a sex partner, to put it crudely.  While the stakes of not dialoguing with a husband or wife may be high, the stakes are even higher with our neighbors because God calls us into community, first and foremost, with our neighbors, not with a marriage partner.  Plus, an inability to dialogue with our neighbors--defined, by Christ himself, as everyone--obviously affects far more people than with a marriage partner.

Marriage is still a good analogy, but only to the point that we should consider ourselves married to our church family and to the whole family of God, which is everyone.  A society that cannot dialogue is like a polygamous marriage consisting of the entire global population gone terribly wrong.  Imagine.  To thus return to the marriage analogy: my wife and I, after our first few fights without being able to dialogue about homosexuality, were angry and confused and we stewed, just as all people do.  Neither my wife nor I are the type of people who seek revenge or to hold a grudge, but speaking for myself, it was hard not to simmer in that anger and confusion, feeling like I wasn't understood or my opinion wasn't appreciated or questioning how she could think the way she did after I so carefully explained a better way, and then have that anger and confusion jump out at the slightest provocation later to hurt her feelings.  The lesson I learned is that when we do not understand or are not understood in a marriage, we unwittingly hurt our partner's feelings later to shock them into seeing how hurt we were from not understanding or being understood.  I see this all the time in the global polygamous marriage of sorts that God calls us into.  During and after the presidential campaign, and to this day, many Trump supporters did and do not feel understood and therefore have lashed out at anyone who questions them or Trump, calling them morons or brainwashed, and vice versa, and then they also were not understanding which makes the lashing out more violent.  Without question, as far as I'm concerned, it is clear that many Trump supporters were stewing in not being understood and the anger and confusion that resulted, and the lack of dialogue meant that no one could understand them except Trump himself, which, again, ratcheted up the verbal and physical violence of a vicious cycle.  Now anti-Trump persons are the ones who are not being understood, and are too afraid to enter into conversation and dialogue because of the atmosphere, and so no understanding is being done, and thus goes the vicious cycle.

It is easy, as I've seen it being done, for someone who voted for Trump to call those who opposed him morons and brainwashed by a liberal media that lost.  It's easy not to attempt to understand or dialogue on the other side because they have 'won,' and all those who are still opposing Trump are just biased or politically motivated or sore losers and so who cares about them.  And I'm not saying all Trump supporters are like this--I'm trying to say that many anti-Trump folk are equally to blame since we are a whole society and culture that cannot dialogue--but Trump himself sets the tone that dialogue is unimportant.  That is dangerous and it is not Christian.  If we continue on this path, led by Trump rather than by Christ and our better nature on a local level, then we will reach the point where I and many others will not want our kids around certain other kids or adults because dialogue will have been ruled out of the question and the rule of the day will become saying whatever comes to your mind without ever bothering to truly listen to others.

Forget all I've said for a second about Trump and whether I'm biased or not and consider for a second that, essentially, a world where dialogue is not encouraged is a world where hate can breed.  If we are able to say whatever we want and not listening to one another because we know we are right, then love, which is God (1 John 4) who calls us into community (1 Corinthians 13, and many others) in which dialogue is necessary (James)--love won't be part of the equation, or at least not nearly as much as it should be, opening the door for hate.  For a second, just hear that.  Hear that we need to dialogue, defined as it is above, or else we will allow hate to exist happily in our communities, and that prospect scares me and scares away my hope for my children's interactions with people in the future.  For a second, let's stop there and commit to dialoguing in our own lives and encouraging others to do the same.  At some point, we will have to be courageous and loving enough to invite others into dialogue with us on all subjects, including and especially politics, religion, and sex, no matter how extreme the views of those we engage.  Dialogue, not just talk, as polite as it may be; real dialogue with understanding on both sides.  At some point, someone has to try.  Let that someone be us so that we can spread love, rather than hate, by the simple act of dialoguing.

We must continue, however, to address Trump.  We must do so because people do not generally change when in power.  Power magnifies character and often corrupts character.  Already, though, there is plenty of evidence that Trump is incapable of dialoguing.  If he is critiqued, the critic is a lousy person and he is great; if he is challenged in any way, he doubles down on his policies, often strengthening his regard for his policies, in clear disregard to what was just said to him, meaning he did not listen.  As I said in my last post, Trump's policies may work for this country, who knows.  But the manner in which he is proposing those policies and his character are very dangerous in a leader and, regardless of the quality of his policies, the refusal to dialogue in itself is harmful to the legislating and implementation of those policies.  If we are to have four years of this type of leadership, even if good policies are put in place, then we still definitely need to make it a priority to learn how to dialogue in our own lives and encourage others to do the same, or else the hate that many are now afraid of will become a reality because our top leader has let it.  Rather than letting hate in, let us instead dialogue, that Christian value, and choose love, which is God.

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