I found myself a part of a heated discussion one night while we were in Texas. One of my dear ones and I are, as he says, "polar opposites" in terms of our opinions on a number of issues. While we both come from a similar place in terms of our devotion to our Christian faith, we disagree on pretty much everything else. Gun control, race relations, the health care crisis, patriotism, the war in Iraq, criminal justice system...certainly anything to do with politics or our current presidential candidates...all of these are areas where we...to put it mildly...don't see eye to eye. In an effort to "keep the peace," we successfully avoided these topics for the majority of our visit....the majority anyway.
Our last night, things finally got heated. I don't even know which one of us just couldn't let that one last thing go uncontested. Let's assume it was me. It doesn't even matter which topic we finally went head to head on....clearly, both of us were unwilling to let it go this time. I definitely felt strongly about this particular subject. Truth be told, neither of us had any interest in hearing the other person's opinion; we were completely focused on defending our own point of view and proving how "right" we were and how "wrong" the other person was. There was little, if any, real listening going on. By the end of the evening, nothing had been accomplished but hurt feelings.
So why would I share this lovely moment...this perfect example of how NOT to behave when visiting loved ones? Because I think our experience was representative of some larger issues within the Body of Christ. Looking back on our discussion within that larger context, I am convinced that I would like to behave differently next time.
As I mentioned before, this particular person and I share something very important. This man, whom I love dearly, is my brother in Christ. I have personally been witness to the working of the Holy Spirit in his life and I would hope he would say the same about me. Through that common core identity, the values which we share should, in a perfect world, override those areas where we disagree. Yet, the areas where we disagree, are the very issues which we both believe are impacted by our relationship with Jesus Christ. More simply, WHOSE we are plays a very important part in WHO we are and what we believe.
So, if the same Spirit resides in both of us....if the same God reveals His truth to all believers...if we are all reading the same Word of God...then why do we disagree on so many things? What kind of pride, what kind of arrogance does it take to assume that YOUR truth is truer than your brother or sister's truth? Shouldn't we stand up for what we strongly believe in? Yet, if truth is true, then someone has to be wrong, right?
I know I don't have any simple answers to the questions I posed above. I left our conversation the other night just as sure that I was right and he was....misinformed :-) While I don't doubt that there is a time and a place to stand up for your convictions, I'm equally as certain that there is a better way to do it. There are 3 things that I am hoping I learned (or perhaps remembered) from this experience:
First of all, I did not invite God to join me in our conversation the other night. If I had prayed while others were speaking, instead of hurriedly trying to formulate my next response, things might have gone differently. I operated completely in my own power and pursued my own agenda, when I know full well that what I have to say is much more meaningful when I get out of the way and allow the Holy Spirit to guide my heart, my mind and my tongue. I learned a long time ago to ask the Holy Spirit to inhabit the driver's seat when I am involved in conflict. In the heat of the moment, I neglected to center myself in that place of safety.
Secondly, I did not really listen. If I had been more concerned with really listening, really hearing the emotion behind the argument, I might have left with a better understanding of why the others felt the way they did, even if I still didn't agree. Ironically enough, I led two discussions on Active Listening Skills right before we went to Texas. I know that real listening means setting aside my agenda and really trying to place myself in the other person's shoes. As often happens in discussions where there are strong feelings involved, I was too busy formulating my own responses to really listen to what anyone else was saying. My goals were not to exchange ideas and learn from one another, but to prove that my opinion was correct. In hindsight, that is not the kind of relationship that I want to have with others.
Lastly, I did not find the proper balance recommended in Ephesians 4:15 which says "Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church." Speak the truth in love. Yes, I felt compelled to speak what I believed to be truth, something I would do again in similar circumstances, but I neglected to speak only out of love. Because of that, I said things that caused hurt feelings. Things that caused more separation, instead of the unity that Christ desires for His people. Jesus never backed away from speaking the truth, but He set an example for us by always doing so in love and by choosing His battles wisely.
I was saddened to read this week that the PCUSA, the denomination of which I am a member, has suffered more division within its ranks at their recent GA meeting. Two very different sides, perhaps an irreparable rift in the very identity of the denomination. It may be too late for listening, in that particular case. Yet, as we travel our individual paths, I wonder if we can do a better job of solving our conflicts and settling our disagreements by inviting God to be part of the conversation, really resolving to listen to one another and by only speaking the truth from a place of love and respect. Perhaps that will begin to show us a glimpse of the Kingdom of God that Jesus says is within us.