I have been struggling this past week over what to do about that situation. I am a talker. I am writing again right now. My message last night was all about dialogue. But I am increasingly puzzled about how to talk to anyone about anything substantial. For me, “substantial” is all about Jesus; I have a whole Bible that delineates what I am talking about. The place I live seems increasingly hostile to Jesus. While that is unnerving, I think I can handle it. But I am not sure how to talk about it. I keep encountering a strong set of assumptions with which I am at odds. But I’m not sure the “regular Joes and Janes” I talk to are aware of their underpinnings, they are just pinned. They don’t have a “bible” but they have some strong beliefs. We have substantial things to talk about.
So let me test my perceived differences out with you. In general (admitting that nobody is likely to be doctrinaire), the young people of our country are taught three basic things: 1) science is God, 2) profit rules, 3) meaning is all personal, individual. On the other hand, followers of Jesus say: 1) God is creator, 2) Jesus rules, 3) meaning is all related.
Now let’s talk.
At our dinner party we were testing out some of these differences. We agreed we were working out Ephesians 4, where Paul says:
“Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built upuntil we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
We all felt we were getting blown all over the map by the strong winds of teaching from our postmodern and postChristian world and the deceitful scheming that is coming with it. We were all committed to speaking the truth in love and we all had some issues where that was a difficult thing to do.
For instance, one of us was particularly interested in the area of sexuality, where science is God. An argument about so-called homosexuality uses debatable science to form the basis of a political movement, so one friend said. This led us further into the teaching of evolutionary psychology that influences people to understand humans as, essentially, very adaptable animals whose choices are all about what helps them survive.
Then another friend brought up the school system, where, increasingly, profit rules. Children are supposed to be motivated by a competition with the Chinese for economic hegemony. Poor people are shamed and told they should learn how to profit and not be a drain on society. For-profit corporations are being invited into the school system to exploit the failing situation of inner city education. Huge corporations have invented the “teach for the test” approach that has sapped the creativity of many good teachers.
Then came the Brethren in Christ, where meaning seems inexplicably personal, individual. This was my main topic. I have been talking, a little, about the practical theology of being a denomination. I even wrote a piece for the BIC List commenting on an explanation a leader wrote about what has been going on. What struck me in the replies to my post was that they were mainly individual anecdotes about how people took care of the issues themselves. I was reminded that DIY is now also a communal activity; we are that completely atomized. The deepest response I have received from my leaders about what is happening in our community has been a carefully worded, noncommittal, cable-newslike, two-sided rendition of what individuals might possibly be thinking.
It is very difficult to talk.
Today I am trying to shore up my hope for speaking the truth in love. When it comes to shouting into the big wind coming from the world, I think I want to get better at insisting that people voice their assumptions about how the world works, rather than just resisting the fruit of their unacknowleged/unknown assumptions or just avoiding the dialogue altogether. If science is the fountain of truth, then admit that and defend it; don’t just assume it. If profit is the goal, if that means the invisible hand is guiding our choices, then say that; at least when you are talking to me, don’t assume I believe that. If you believe that the only thing you can really know comes from your own experience, that even when you are listening to me you can only respond with your own experience of the topic, then admit that up front. We can meet in our love.
On my side of the dialogue I will be revealing God as the beginning and end of reality as we know it. That is God who is made fully known in Jesus, who demonstrates how to choose and makes us able to follow him. I will be assuming that we not only all relate to God, we are designed to work out our meaning together in love, speaking the truth in love and growing up into our full maturity. We may not immediately understand each other. But I still want to talk, no matter how hard it is.