As you may have read (and if you haven’t yet, read “The Future of Spectrum Is Discourse” and then “How to Be Meta”), Spectrum is launching a new platform for conversation. I think it’s a good time to talk about how we talk to each other.
As Christians who believe Jesus is God’s first and final Word, as Adventists with a strong publishing tradition, and as a species that relies on words to create and define meaning and relationships, language is an integral part of our existence. Even more so, the creative potential within dialogue gives meaning and color and companionship to life.
It takes two to tango; it takes two or three, gathered in physical or virtual space, to somehow bring a birthing of God’s presence into tangible shape and movement. There is power in the spoken word thrumming against ear drums and receptive air waves. “Let there be light.” And there was an echoing response from matter and energy, spilling over in supernovae brilliance.
How do we talk to each other? I’ve only been married three years (in fact, this week Peter and I celebrate our anniversary), but I’ve learned a few things about communication in intimate relationship through its day-to-day delights and challenges. Peter has taught me so much about healthy dialogue. More than anything, I am humbled and allured by his kindness. Peter’s kindness creates a safe place in which I can be authentic, I can speak my deepest longings and fears, I can be angry.
I wish I could say I respond with the same level of kindness Peter gives so freely—many days, but not all. There is, between and in both of us, a titanium commitment to forgiveness and to working things out that gives some elasticity to our conflicts. We each trust the other wants this marriage to last; we trust that the other seeks not only my well-being but the health and happiness of the third creature in this marriage, our relationship itself.
Before I married Peter, my dad wisely encouraged me to make a short list (ten or fewer) of must-haves and (about five) must-not-haves, things upon which I would not compromise in a life partner. If the list grew much longer, I’d be hard-pressed to find any human being to match my criteria, or I’d likely be (un)happier alone with my impossible standards. But it was important to identify what was crucial to me, things like: doesn’t cheat, doesn’t smoke, is gentle, has a good relationship with his parents, values sustainability and caring for earth. Beyond the deal-makers and breakers, I’d need to be content living with and loving a human being, full of eccentricities and annoying habits (as he would for me).
Though we didn’t enter the church (or perhaps, as I was, weren’t born into it) getting to choose our family members, if we stay I imagine it’s because we have some level of compatibility; i.e. the church has most of the items on our must-haves list and none of the must-not-haves. But it gets tricky when we’re trying to figure this out together, midstream, now 850 years into the “marriage.”
Though it’s fruitless to try to change my hubby, change he does, of his own accord as he matures and experiences new struggles and successes. As do I. And so, from time to time, we have to re-evaluate, asking ourselves if it’s still worth it, if the scales lean in favor of compatibility.
We talk about it, and because we’re committed to each other and want this thing called marriage to work, we talk with respect, with patience, with love, with compassion. And we listen just as much, if not more, than we talk, which is what a real conversation requires.
It seems that if we, the church’s members, want this thing called church to work, then we must approach the re-evaluation times, when we’re talking about potentially divisive issues (like women’s ordination, LGBT inclusion, evolution, hermeneutics, culture, etc.), with the same respect and tenderness we’d bring to our most intimate conversations with spouse, family, and friends.
Maybe a deal-breaker will arise, something Peter and I can’t work out or move beyond, perhaps abuse or addiction. But as long as we both are drawing from the well of kindness, offering each other drinks of its sweetness, we are willing to engage in dialogue.
I hope the Seventh-day Adventist church can do this, member with member, president with professors, Spectrum commenter with commenter—converse with kindness. I won’t be surprised, though I will be saddened, when some decide these matters are deal-breakers, that they can no longer be in relationship with someone who puts women’s equality over a particular way of interpreting scripture; that they can’t compromise their intelligence, though will likely lose their job, for disagreeing on what “six days” literally means; that they won’t budge on their criteria for who should be allowed to participate in this body and who should be excluded.
Peter has become bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. We are one body. The church bears the same metaphor—Body of Christ. This is both reality and possibility at the same time. It takes hard work even as it is already fact. We are building up (and, unfortunately, also tearing down) the body through our words. We are perpetually in a co-creative act of bringing a new, ever evolving thing—a marriage, a church family—into being through our conversations.
I pray they are good ones.