Who’s Across Your Table? Tips for Conversing During Tense Times

Listening

It was one of those early morning scrolls through Facebook after checking the headlines. First, did anything happen overnight? What do I need to tell my teenagers about? Any natural disasters? Are we safe? Finally my curiosity shifted from global headlines to my own nation and city and eventually toward my own network of people I know personally.

And there it was.

The post was raw and honest and brave, and so there’s no point in my rephrasing my husband’s cousin’s words:

FB Post anonymous

Did you catch it?

I’m not sharing a link to the article, nor am I even sharing the title with you, for our discussion today is not really about the National Anthem controversy at all. It’s about how we interact with one another.

So, did you catch it?! “But the more conversations I engage in with like-minded people and not…” It’s simple, but it’s a mountain’s worth of strength as we climb the grueling, uncomfortable hike toward living in community.

Whether you’re unsettled because what feels normal appears to be unraveling or you’re overwhelmed by how far we need to go — there’s value in this woman’s “confession” for all of us. Her courage and ability to risk can be a model as we engage in conversation about current events and social justice issues and even doctrine. Really, this is a model for us as we talk about anything.

So, who’s across your table? Who are you having conversations with? Are you engaging with people who don’t look like you? Who don’t vote like you? Whose experiences and backgrounds and perspectives are different than your own?

Who are you engaging with, but for today: Who are you listening to?

Imagine the impact it would have on our communities if we saw someone kneeling and said, “Let’s go to dinner. Tell me WHY you’re kneeling. Tell me more.” Or, if we heard about a co-worker’s commitment to standing, and we were hungry to hear where her passion and perspective comes from. Or if here in St. Louis, we saw someone protesting and said, “Let me take you to coffee. Tell me WHY you’re protesting.”

Are we brave enough to listen to the counter-narrative? Brave enough to consider to it?

It’s really validating to have someone listen and nod and agree with every statement you make. I know because I like that feeling. I like the affirmation. I feel intelligent and valuable and worthy. But it doesn’t sharpen me. And it doesn’t motivate me to move toward others who are different. And it certainly doesn’t help restore the brokenness I see all around me.

Are we brave enough to leave the echo-chamber and take a seat at the table? When done in humility and with a posture to hear and learn, the conversation is rich, I promise. It’s as rich as an abundant feast that satisfies cravings and the deep, deep hunger you didn’t even know you had.

” … My beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  James 1:19, 20

Or in another translation:Listen, open your ears, harness your desire to speak, and don’t get worked up into a rage so easily, my brothers and sisters. Human anger is a futile exercise that will never produce God’s kind of justice in this world.” 

It’s so hard.

And are we brave enough take Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church who was struggling all over the place to live in unity? Dare we be patient and kind? Are we brave enough to say “no” to boasting and arrogance and rudeness? Paul describes love as not insisting on your own way, not irritable, and not resentful. Nor does love delight when someone on the other side messes up. Rather, love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

We can do this. I know we can. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who whispers conviction yet comforts us just the same, we can do this.

Are you ready to go deeper? Ready to listen? There’s a seat at the table right here for you.

photo source: Tim Wright on Unsplash

When Looking Ahead Is Actually Wrong

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There have been just a few times God has spoken directly to me in almost an audible way. His voice is quiet — so quiet I hear him with my heart instead of my ears, but his words echo through my whole chest and head. In that moment, I feel seen and known, and those reoccurring feelings that I’m alone get swallowed up.

There was that time in college I was thinking (again) about a boy, and He told me, “Yes, he’s great, but I am God. Focus on me.” I still remember the sidewalk under my feet, and my dorm ahead of me, and the darkness all around because it was night. And that moment truly recalibrated my focus for the rest of my years at the university. Truth was impressed upon my heart so deeply I carried it into my marriage with a different guy and have revisited it over and over.

I’m sure some of you hear that still, small Voice whispering from time to time — that same Voice that spoke the world into existence but still articulates into your tiny life.

Another time for me was just last week. I’m a dreamer, and I can’t help it. I long for redemption, and while I’m not necessarily an optimist, I’m not a pessimist either. I seem to always land on what could be, and I don’t drown in cynicism if my dream is not happening just yet. I love anticipation almost as much as what I’m longing for. Traveling is my happy place, and planning a trip brings me as much joy as embarking on the journey.

I sort of throw dares out to the world — “You think you can burden me with your brokenness?! Well, take this! I’m grasping for something better, and I’m convinced there’s more than what you have to offer, and there’s no way you’re going to crush me.” I do it a lot.

So last week, when I felt His echo in my heart again, His words took me by surprise: “Stop looking ahead and look around. Stop looking ahead, Christan, and look AROUND instead.”

I immediately stopped, and I knew it was my Rescuer, for what I had been dreaming about for a couple years clearly wasn’t going to come to fruition. But I was still looking ahead. I was still longing for something else, for something that absolutely wasn’t going to happen.

Have you been there? Has your dream died, but there you are still trying to resurrect it?

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” J.K. Rowling wrote. I’ve considered that phrase many times since my kids first read her books, but I still find myself looking ahead — in that wrong kind of way.

See, here’s what happens when I dare to stop looking ahead, and I look around instead: I still find purpose. I see brokenness and beauty, fear and hope, anxiety and trust. I remember again I was called to live in the tension, and I sit there for a while. My eyes are opened to all the work I still have to do in the communities God has placed me in, but almost more so, I re-see all He has to teach me through my present and those around me.

Are you there setting goals, striving and figuring out how to have meaning today? Are you admiring those who know what they want and are hurdling every obstacle in their way in order to move forward?

Friend, I know. I’m your companion wanting to gaze forward into what might be ahead. I’m there dreaming with you about fuller lives and a more significant identity and a purpose that quenches the thirst we can’t even describe. But I think we might need to turn our heads to the side.


Though Jesus wanted solitude, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion
on them
, and He healed the sick and the lame. Matthew 14:14

Though Christ was on a mission that afternoon to find quiet and rejuvenation and rest, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them.

He broke his forward gaze and looked around instead. And what He saw around Him became His ministry for that day. It happened time and time again —  like all His days on earth — His purpose seemed to find Him. And in His grace, He allowed His steps to be re-directed.


I think He offers the same to us: the richness (and comfort) of a purposeful life. Might we dare sit in the tension today and let His purposes find us? Might we bravely stop striving for self-created goals? I bet we’d learn a ton.

It’s different for all of us, for we’re scattered all over the world. Here in St. Louis, what has been simmering for weeks has erupted. London is dealing with more shock and more grief. The Caribbean and Texas and Florida are figuring out how to start re-building. California is sitting in ashes. And we’ve barely scratched the surface.

What do you see when you look around in your corner of the world? When you dare to let your steps be re-directed instead of marching forward toward those dreams?

Might the challenge to throw “off everything that hinders,” and to run “with perseverance the race marked out for us” actually include running to what we see when we look around instead of ahead? It’s time for me to stop reading Hebrews 12 through the lens of the American Dream or American Christianity. It’s time for me to stop making the Gospel about reaching and striving and becoming somebody.

And when I do, my goodness, I might see all I missed by only gazing ahead.

 

Photo by Andy Lee on Unsplash