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Posts Tagged ‘dialogue’

There are two things (we’re told) we should never talk about.  Religion and politics.  That’s difficult… and silly.

A few days ago, two women and I – standing in a very public place – avoided the “safe” topics found in the pages of People magazine to enter into dialogue about the election and matters of faith.  I don’t know either of these women very well, but I believe that when we are attentive to facial expressions and body language, we can usually recognize another person’s willingness (or unwillingness) to dialogue.  Experience proves to me that a great many people are hungry to talk about issues of faith and life, but they need an invitation to speak whatever might be on their mind or hidden in their heart.

Dialogue is sadly becoming a lost art.  Perhaps we feel ourselves ill-equipped to speak about what may be emotional topics.  Perhaps we’re afraid of conflict.  But, it’s o.k. to disagree.  Two people who don’t agree on something can learn from one another during the polite exchange of thoughts and ideas.  If we keep silent and don’t speak about controversial issues of life from the Biblical perspective, we might miss the opportunity to comfort a hurting soul… to share a word of hope… to point to forgiveness and healing.

We need to break the silence and, with a caring and careful manner, talk about abortion, cohabitation, same-gender “marriage,” health care and, yes, the election.  That’s what happened quite unexpectedly in a public store with two women I’ll call Ellen and Diane.

I know Ellen only because of family connections.  I know Diane because she is a supporter of the pregnancy center where I volunteer.   At a recent fundraiser for our center, Diane told me she didn’t think she could vote this year, “neither for a Mormon,” she said, “nor for Obama.”  That comment stayed with me so, after greeting her in the store, I took the opportunity to tell her that I’d been giving some thought to what she had said about not voting.  I asked her if she had ever considered that Thomas Jefferson, while not a believer in the deity of Jesus Christ, was nonetheless a defender of religious freedom and encourager of virtuous people.  Diane admitted this might be applicable to this year’s election.

“It seems to me,” I said, “that we should vote for the man who will keep us the farthest from the edge of the cliff.”

At that moment, Ellen leaned in to the conversation.  She smiled at me, then said to Diane, “Linda should be out speaking!”

That was an invitation to continue the conversation.  With the invitation, however, also came a memory.  A faint memory of Ellen’s past.  After high school, Ellen left home in search of something different from the life of her parents.  There were some rough years.  I don’t know specifics.  But, this memory prompted me to respond to Ellen.

“I am a speaker,” I said.  “I’ve been a pro-life speaker for a long time.”  But, I explained to Ellen, “it was only when I became a listener that I really learned.”  Often, in a hallway or the restroom after my presentation, women would approach me, wanting to confess their abortion.   The pain in their voices, I told Ellen, compelled me to dig beneath the symptoms of promiscuity and abortion to the real problem.

“We’re in spiritual battle, Ellen.  It seems to me that Satan and our Savior both desire our attention, but what they have in store for us is very, very different.  Trusting ourselves, we are deceived and bound for trouble.  Satan offers no comfort when we fall.  But, even after our sin and in the midst of consequences, Jesus stands close with arms open wide.”

Ellen’s eyes never wandered from mine.  Her cheeks were moist.  I suspicioned that she was thinking about her own life.

“We all have a story,” I said.  “We all have a story.”

At that point, we needed to go our separate ways.  Ellen and Diane went to one part of the store for coffee, I to another.  Within a half hour, one of my closest friends walked in the door.  Jane was in town to visit her mom.  We had not planned to meet, but apparently God had a different idea.  “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” I asked.  We settled into chairs at a table across the room from Ellen and Diane who were enjoying their time together.  When they got up to leave, Diane and I waved to one another.  Then she headed for her car.

Ellen, however, approached our table.  “That conversation we had mattered,” she said.  “This afternoon has been good.”

She kept looking at Jane.  “There’s something familiar about you.  Do I know you from high school?”

Jane looked surprised.  “Oh, my goodness,” she said.  “We graduated the same year, didn’t we… but that was a long time ago.”

Ellen pressed on.  “Weren’t you in a serious car accident?  I remember reading about it in our class reunion book.”

“I was,” Jane said, “and God sent mighty angels to protect me that day.”  She gave a few details.  Then paused.  Ellen could have excused herself and said good-bye.  But, she didn’t.   This was another invitation.

“Ellen,” I said, “the fact that Jane is here with us today is God’s amazing grace, but she has another story to tell… a powerful story of Christ’s work in her life.  She doesn’t tell this particular story publicly, but . . .”

At this point, Jane interrupted.  “No, I don’t tell my story, but I’ve given Linda permission to tell it.”

“And it’s so important that I do,” I continued.  “It’s after I share Jane’s story that other women are more willing to come up to me and share their own stories.  They tell me they feel more welcomed and less alone and vulnerable.  Jane’s story is one of hope.  It reminds others of how patient God really is and that He never turns His back on us.  We may walk away from Him, but our Father never abandons us.”

“There is so much fear,” Jane spoke up.  “It can be overpowering.”

“It is,” Ellen agreed.  “It is overpowering.”

“I’ve come to believe,” I added, “that every one of our wrong choices is made out of fear… fear of being out of control or unloved or insignificant.”

It was long past time for Ellen to go be with her family, but she lingered.  She seemed to be searching for words.  “I came home to visit my parents, but never would I have imagined meeting up with the two of you or having a conversation like this.”

Ellen continued.  “Do you know what this afternoon has meant to me?  I’ve been close to losing my faith . . . I was told by my parents that my life and the lives of my children have been difficult because it’s punishment for the sins of my youth, but you have reminded me that God doesn’t work that way.”

No, He doesn’t.  “There are consequences of our choices – good or bad,” I said, “but rather than punishing you, it seems that God is staying the course with you.”

Jane nodded and said, “I thank God every day that He never lets go.”

Ellen hugged Jane.  Then me.  “Thank you.  Thank you for this visit.  For the honesty.  What a difference this has made for me.”

Jesus makes the difference.  Jesus – the very Word of Life – speaks to every important issue of our day.  Trusting Him, we can dare to break the silence.  Ellen was hungry to hear someone speak to the concerns she has about our nation.  Even more, she was hungry to get personal… to hear someone remind her that sins of the past may affect our lives, but do not have to bind us.  Newness of life in Christ is real.  We are forgiven and set free to start our lives over.

What do you think?  If we who claim to know the Lord of life are afraid to dialogue in the public square about issues of life, what will happen?  What won’t happen?

We may not want to make waves, but what about a ripple here and there?

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Brad Pitt is about to become the husband of Angelina Jolie.  Angelina Jolie is the daughter Jon Voight.  As we all know, Brad, Angelina, and Jon are well-known celebrities in Hollywood.

Academy-award winner Voight is more than just Angelina Jolie’s dad, he is a seasoned conservative voice in Hollywood.  So, when Brad Pitt’s mother spoke out against President Obama’s stance on gay “marriage” and abortion, Voight told FOX News that he agrees with his daughter’s soon-to-be mother-in-law.  “Good for her,” he said, for expressing those views.

Mrs. Pitt shared her perspective in a letter-to-the editor of her local paper, Missouri’s Springfield News-Leader.  She described the President as a “liberal who supports the killing of unborn babies and same-sex marriage.”  She said that fellow Christians should give “prayerful consideration” to supporting the presumptive GOP nominee whose morals, she said, contrast those of President Obama.  Quickly, Mrs. Pitt was labeled a  homophobe — all across Twitter-land.

Brad Pitt’s brother, Doug, came to his mother’s defense.  “There can be healthy discussions when people disagree with you.  The bad thing is when it turns to venom and negativity, and we don’t have that in our family.  It’s open discussion.  We can learn from each other . . ..”

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Tom lives in the neighborhood.  Most of us see him as a quiet, non-troublesome kind of guy.   He “minds his own business.”  But, those of us who live a little closer to Tom see him making some choices that, while seemingly private, are affecting his neighbors.   It isn’t my right to tell Tom what to do in his own home, or to tell him who he should invite into his home.  But, when how he chooses to live his life encroaches on my life in a less than helpful way, then should I voice concern?

Conversations of the past have revealed that Tom and I don’t share the same faith or character.  We have built our lives on very different foundations; therefore, we not only see the world differently, we respond to the things of this world differently.   I’ll be honest.  I’m concerned about my neighbor.  I’m concerned for Tom’s sake, but also for the sake of other neighbors whom he influences. 

I don’t believe I should question my neighbor’s faith and character.  I do believe, however, that I can ask questions about his perspective on life.  His worldview.  Every caring neighbor should ask another neighbor questions about their worldview.  If we don’t ask our neighbor why he does what he does, says what he says, or lives the way he lives, then what kind of neighbor are we?  What kind of neighborhood will we jointly build up…or tear down?

Rick Santorum was recently understood to have questioned President Obama’s faith.  When criticized for his remarks, Santorum explained that he was questioning the president’s “radical” environmentalist view that “elevates the Earth above man.”  Santorum explained that he wasn’t questioning that President Obama is a Christian, but that his worldview on natural resources and how they can’t be tapped because to do so will harm the Earth is a “phony ideal.”  Santorum has also questioned the president’s worldview on the issue of abortion; most recently, in the area of insurance coverage for prenatal tests that can identify problems in unborn children.  Santorum knows for a fact that doctors “more often than not” recommend abortion when problems are discovered.

I believe that any presidential candidate – or American citizen — should be able to ask questions about their neighbor’s worldview.  In kindly doing so, he or she is simply and fairly asking: Why do you believe what you believe?  What is the source of your belief?  How does your belief serve other people?  How does your belief help us all build a better society?  After asking such questions, it is fair to say:  Here’s what I believe and why.  Here is the source of my belief.  Here is how I try to live my belief.  Now, please feel free to question me about my worldview.  Why I say what I say and do what I do.

Too many of us seem unwilling to dialogue about worldviews and how those worldviews affect neighborhoods and society as a whole.  When a person is concerned enough to speak up about health care, marriage, sexual behaviors, abortion, euthanasia, or ethics of any kind, they are quickly labeled as “judgmental.”  Care and concern are not judgmental.  Contrasting one worldview with another is not “judgmental.”  Laying something counterfeit next to the real thing is not “judgmental.”  And, you know what?  Calling something harmful or dangerous is not “judgmental.”  If it is, then every “bridge out” or “stop ahead” or “wear your seatbelt” sign should be torn down.

I’m not sure that I’ll be given the opportunity to dialogue with Tom about important matters of life.  But, if I am, I promise to take care.  To not question his faith (or lack of it) or demean his character.  Instead, I will try to ask questions.  Questions that show my interest in him as a person.  But, also questions that help Tom think about being a good neighbor.

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John Sommerville is the author of how the News Makes Us Dumb.  Before news became an industry, Sommerville writes, society was held together not by news but by its cultures.  People shared “fairly settled assumptions about what was reasonable, natural, expected or good.”  Scholars call this a culture’s metanarrative — a  narrative that “binds our thinking.”

The Bible provided this metanarrative for Western civilization.  Even nonbelievers were familiar with its stories and ways of structuring moral and social reality.  But the media — the news industry — changed that.  People in this industry generally disregard or blatantly defy the Judeo-Christian narrative.  They believe it’s their job to shape our thinking.  They are constantly raising questions that cause people to doubt Christianity or any cultural traditions grown out of Biblical thinking.  Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, writes, “The result is that many people accept the idea that we should be constantly reevaluating what we believe and understand about the world — including our religious beliefs — but news stories cannot replace a culture’s metanarrative, because, by its very nature, the news gives priority to the shocking and the new.  It is a cycle of endless deconstruction.”

“The good news,” writes Colson, “is that Americans are recognizing that the ‘news’ is becoming a little more than vulgar entertainment, largely irrelevant to our lives.”

A good practice is to use the news for appropriate and limited purposes.  Sommerville offers this suggestion: “We should balance our bloated appetite for news with a cultural diet rich in books, reflection, and discussion.  And we should put the news through a mental metanarrative grid — asking ourselves if the ‘news’ being offered up reinforces our cultural story — and our views of Christianity — or tears it apart.”  Colson agrees.  “The news may make us dumb — but reading and discussing great books, especially the Bible, leads to the kinds of wisdom that brings real understanding.”

Appreciation to How Now Shall We Live Devotional
by Charles Colson, Tyndale House Publishers

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A woman named Melissa responded to “Planned Parenthood on 9/11,” my post of April 13.  Three times she commented.  Four times I attempted responses of my own.  Back and forth we went… until it became clear that Melissa and I don’t share a belief in the same God.

“Melissa’s” are in our neighborhoods, families, and even congregations.  Perhaps, if you have a spare moment or two, you might skim her commentaries.  Does she think like anyone you know?   What happens when worldviews seemingly share no common ground?  What does God ask us to do?

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“Not a Scientist” has offered ezerwoman the opportunity to hear from someone of a contrasting worldview.  I don’t know “Not a Scientist,” but I am grateful that he’s interested in dialogue.  This society needs more of that.

Twice, “Not a Scientist” has commented on my post, “Questions to Help Us Think (4-4-11).  My pastor and son have also joined in the discussion.  This is a good thing.  That’s part of the reason why I’ve put myself out here — in blog world.  Some say, “Linda!  You’re a target.”  There is no fear in that.  Not if I’m a target for well-thought out words that may — or may not — agree with my worldview.  We should be doing more talking.  Explaining.  Researching.  Challenging.  We should practice building our lives upon what we think and know to be true rather than upon fickle feelings and emotions. 

To “Not a Scientist” I offer the following:

You and I see the world through very different glasses.  Our worldviews boldly contrast.  

  • My worldview is built on God’s Word.  Yours is not. 
  • My worldview does not blow with the wind or shift like sand.  I believe yours blows and shifts a great deal depending upon circumstances.
  • My worldview is built on the created order; thus, I know who I am, from where I come, how I’m to live, and where I’m going when I die.  You don’t appear to believe in any created order but, rather, evolving chaos. 
  • My worldview tells me how God wants men and women to live and relate to one another.  Yours, well, how are men and women supposed to live and relate to one another?  Why? 
  • My worldview offers a future of generational hope built on the backs of fathers, mothers, and grandparents who faithfully teach their sons, daughters, and grandchildren what God says about morality, ethics, marriage and family, “loving our neighbor as ourselves, and serving “the least of these.”  It appears you can entertain your fanciful and humanistic ideas only because fathers, mothers, and grandparents faithfully wove the strong fabric of this nation which you don’t seem to appreciate but certainly enjoy wearing.  
  • My worldview explains that the problems and challenges of relationships, marriages, families, and the whole of society are because of sin which opposes God’s good and perfect design.  I’d be interested to know why you think life is so difficult.
  • My worldview explains that everything — good or bad — has a consequence (you know, like gravity).  Do you acknowledge consequences and can you explain why they exist?
  • My worldview explains why I daily battle with myself and that I’ll never be good enough to save myself.  Do you sense an inner struggle between right and wrong, good and evil?  Even though you say you don’t believe in souls, what if you’re wrong and you really have one?  Where will your body and soul be after you die?
  • I can’t seem to do the good I know I should but, instead, I do the bad I don’t want to do.  This quandary could leave me in desperation.  In desperation, I might be tempted to sacrifice something in order to save myself.  But, I don’t have to.  My worldview assures me that the one and only necessary sacrifice to make me right with the Holy God was made by Jesus Christ on the Cross.   At the Cross, I can lay down my burdens, sorrows, disappointments, and failures.  Jesus forgives me.  Now, He only asks that I use His Word for life that changes lives.  Every day for me is new and filled with hope.  Mr. “Not a Scientist,” how do you start your days?  To what do you look forward?  What hope do you have?  What hope do you offer others?  (I can tell you: You have the same hope I do because Jesus died for you, too.  Can you believe it?)

You have fanciful ideas, Mr. “Not a Scientist.”  But, they are dangerous.  When I expressed concern for the two young men now “joined” in “marriage,” I did so because I am positive they have souls.  Souls that will live forever — with God or not.  I am positive because God’s Word tells me so.  If I’m wrong, there is no loss.  If I’m right, and those created and precious souls are separated from God because of sinful choices, then there is huge loss.  Soulful loss. 

Fanciful ideas, like free-falling without a parachute, are exciting — for awhile.

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Yesterday was my birthday.  My gift was a day of joy.   Joy is not an emotion or feeling that I “stir up.”  Joy doesn’t come naturally from anything I do.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit.  And, on this day, joy was experienced in countless little things.

None of us knows how a day will play out, do we?  There are days when everything seems to go wrong or when I just feel out of sync with God, myself and others.  But, on Monday, November 29, every little thing seemed right.

No celebratory plans had been made.  A road trip to Sedona before heading back to Iowa just seemed a good “spur of the moment” idea.  With brilliant blue sky above us and hot coffee in our thermos (yes, a little cream), we weaved through the Superstition Mountains up to “rim country” and the cowboy town of Payson.  Those of you who know me have probably figured out that I get “good” or “not so good vibes” from certain environments.  A drive through Payson and then the little villages of Pine and Strawberry comforted me.  While we drove, Paul and I were deeply involved in discussions of God’s Word and what He says to us, our family, and this culture.  I was in my element.  Joy wrapped contentment.

The road meandered through pine forests and beside red sandstone cliffs before dropping into the Verde Valley.  Always before, we had driven I-17 to reach the red rock country of Sedona.  Never again!  This back country road provided peace for the soul but, at the same time, joyful anticipation: What’s around the next bend?

Sedona has a reputation for being a kind of “new age” mecca.  A resident Lutheran pastor once commented on the spiritual warfare he discerns in this place where faiths collide.  I’ve visited the shops where crystals, wicca wear, and all manner of cultish books are pandered.  Paul and I have walked the trails where pagan ceremonies are sometimes held.   But, on this day, we were not to be distracted by evil; rather, we were directed toward all the goodness of God’s creation.

Lunch was “just right.”  Two cookies — cranberry oatmeal and chocolate chip — seemed the perfect treat following a half tuna salad and cup of tummy-warming soup.  Half of each cookie was eaten piece by piece all afternoon.  The other halves were saved for tomorrow 🙂    An hour or so was spent in a family-favorite shopping village of Tlaquepaque: Paul patiently content, me on a gifts-for-friends quest.  Paul would rather be anywhere other than near a store but, on this day, he, too, relaxed in the presence of joy.

Joy in the little things continued all afternoon. Sons, Jon and Josh, both called at exactly the same time.  Visits weren’t all birthday focused; no matter!  The little thing of timing was significant to me.  While Jon talked with Paul about farm matters on one cell phone, I listened to sounds of joyful chatter from our youngest grandson on another.  Josh, our daughter-in-law, Alison, and six-month-old Max chimed in on speaker phone.  Then, a friend called.  Some text messages arrived.  As a spectacular setting sun begged for attention, another call came to Paul from his brother.  It didn’t matter that the call had nothing to do with my birthday.  The joy was in the communication of siblings whose lives and good counsel matter to each other.

It would have seemed that the day was complete.  Completely perfect.  But, no, joy in the little things continued.  Even in the darkness, the pine forests welcomed us back.  The Christmas lights of Strawberry and Pine reminded me of the anticipatory season.  A little detour off the main road through Payson took us to an unfamiliar, but charming restaurant.   During dinner, two more text messages arrived from son, Jon, and daughter-in-law, Angie.  When we arrived back in Gold Canyon, an e-mail from grandson Jaden awaited me.  Our neighbor was still up, ready to hear about our day.   And…

… this birthday girl pondered the joy of little things in her heart.

Thank you, my Heavenly Father, for the gift of this day.  Thank You for stirring up joy that I could never do for myself.  And thank You for my husband — who, on this particular day, carried not my burdens but delighted in my joys.

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