Monday, November 19, 2007

The Spiritual Discipline of Conversation

There is a new spiritual discipline that is emerging in the world today. Actually, to say that it is emerging is to ignore thousands of years of history where this has taken place. This new discipline that is becoming so popular is conversation. When two people agree (explicitly or unexplicitly) to set aside the destructive habits of name calling, put downs, cop outs etc. and have an actual conversation, where both opinions are valued and listened to, amazing things can happen. Let me dive into this a little deeper by responding to some questions that may arise.

Why Spiritual?

This is a spiritual discipline because I am talking specifically about conversations that have spiritual implications. This discipline can certainly exist outside the bounds of spirituality, as some other spiritual disciplines do (i.e. study, giving etc.), but I am referring to the discussion of issues with spiritual implications.

Why is it a Discipline?

It is a discipline because many people find it very hard to listen these day. In addition, so many people have trouble clearly articulating what it is they think and believe in an honest, rational, clear manner. That takes discipline. To be clear, those are the two essentials to this spiritual discipline: listening and clear, rational communication. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to be humble, consider opinions other than their own, and allow themselves to be stretched. So many Christians only read books they agree with, listen to speakers who think just like them, and surround themselves with people who confirm their presuppositions. this spiritual discipline of conversation is the answer to that dangerous circumstance.

Why is it important?

First an foremost, it is important because it forces us to humble ourselves. tony Campolo says that none of have a perfect theology, and in some sense are all heretics. That is a good place to start: to realize that we don't have it all figured out.

Secondly, it is important because it helps us find truth. In the middle ages, the corrupt Catholic church was unwilling to listen to any voices that challenged it, as it wielded the sword of excommunication or burning at the stake. It took Martin Luther and a hammer to speak out. Note: this was not a conversation, it was an intervention. But, had there been two way communication, perhaps it would not have gotten as corrupt as it did.

In addition, there was a significant time period where the majority of white people, even in the church, believed that the enslavement of African Americans was okay. Luckily, through conversations among churches and followers of Christ, some were led to stand up for their black brothers and sisters and eventually slavery was abolished. Without important questions being asked and important conversations taking place, these changes may never have happened.

Why is it becoming so popular?

Two reasons I can point to. First, the Emergent Church is moving away from dogmatism and towards conversation. They are teaching us this spiritual discipline through humility and the quest for truth.

The second is the rise of the blog, in which millions of people are interacting and sharing ideas much easier than before. There is a lot of weird stuff out there, but there is also a lot of great stuff, good ideas, and well reasoned theology. If you want to stretch yourself, all you have to do is stroll around some of the blogs that are out there and you are forced to think.

One other thing to note: the rise of conversation is not to say that there is no absolute truth. There must be a good balance between listening, thinking, and considering, as well as with understanding biblical truth. however, we would all agree that the Bible is interpreted in a myriad of ways, so often times it is those interpretations and the carrying out of this interpretations that we are conversing about.

I say all this as an introduction to a conversation that I have been moderating as of late. A personal friend of mine, Chip Burkitt, and a blog friend, Mark Cineaste, agreed to participate in an email conversation about Evolution. The former is a Christian man who continually struggles with the balance of science and religion, and would argue that these are not in tension. The latter is an Existentialist agnostic who believes both micro and macro-evolution as fact. Both are great thinkers. Both are very wise. Both are great at this spiritual discipline of conversation.

My next series of posts will be sharing this conversation. I was the initiator and moderator, but they are the minds and the voices. Allow their conversation to stretch what you believe and even what you know to be true. Be sure to stay tuned!

1 comment:

Chip Burkitt said...

I wouldn't say that religion and science are not in tension but that there is no necessary contradiction between them. Even when contradictions arise, I believe that a task for understanding remains rather than that one of the disciplines needs to be rejected.