There are many who would agree with me when I say I don’t talk right. No, nothing as trivial as grammar or syntax, I’m talking the language of the theological (which is often accompanied by the political) right. I find it difficult—sometimes impossible—to engage in conversation with those whose faith perspectives are so vastly different from my own as to appear poles apart. It is not dissimilar from times I’ve tried to converse with someone who doesn’t speak English (the only language in which I can claim any level of competent communicative skill whatsoever). I know a few phrases of conservative evangelical-speak, enough to get me into trouble, really. Kind of like being at a church in Mexico and asking someone in Spanish where the bathroom was. I got an answer, in Spanish, and though I tried to follow the directions given, I really had no idea where the bathroom actually was. I think I ended up peeing in a closet.
I’d like to be able to have a conversation with my right-leaning brothers and sisters. I really would. Well, I think I really would. But there are, I believe, some significant reasons why I’m not optimistic about doing so.
First, in order to have a conversation, there has to be authentic listening. I’ve snarkily quipped on more than one occasion that when you’re right, you don’t have to listen to anyone else. Both right and left are guilty of this; at least I think I am. And I know many on the right are. No listening, no conversation, no understanding; just opposition, ridicule, and self-righteousness. And that’s a poor expression of our unity in Christ. The world notices.
Second, we refuse to understand the perspective of the other. I think that to do so, we’d have to admit that the other side might have some valid points. I know that Jesus agrees with me, and that’s as far as I need to go, right? I’ve got proof-texts. I’ve got lots of like-minded people who affirm that for me because Jesus agrees with my friends too. So we avoid the difficult conversations with those others, choosing instead to remain with our own kind. It’s safe here with Jesus.
Third, we are often starting in different places. What each of us assumes to be foundational may not actually be the case for the other. We all talk about the Trinity, about the cross and resurrection, about mission and ministry, even about the Bible, but sometimes have vastly different understandings about what these things and their purposes are.
This was driven home to me recently in some blog discussions about spirituality. I’ve taken for granted that spirituality is lived communally, in the world, as an expression of the compassion and service to which we are called in baptism. Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet in John’s version of the Last Supper is the height of spirituality for me and many on the left. That simply doesn’t register in conversations with the right. Rather, they seem to mean by spirituality one’s relationship with God on an individual level, including personal prayer practices, meditative Bible reading/memorization, retreats, and being in love with Jesus (I hope that doesn’t come across as snarky). To me, that’s more personal piety and less spirituality, and runs the danger of turning in on one’s self at the expense of “true” spirituality—serving the poor and oppressed (OK, that was snarky). See why I find the conversation difficult?
Learning to converse together in the throes of disagreements, yet still united as the body of Christ, will make us more open to conversing with brothers and sisters beyond Christianity. The art and skill of listening, of understanding, of learning from each other make us better Christians. That, it seems to me, is something Jesus would want us to do.
But then again, that’s probably a left-leaning value that I’m imposing on the right. And they’ll likely take offense. Then become even more judgmental. See? There’s just no talking with those conservative, narrow minded, self-righteous . . .