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Can We Get Bigger than ‘Thinking’ We’re Right?

Published on 28/09/12
by randy

Faith is a ‘feeling’ of being supported, and with prayer and meditation, it grows deeper.  Our beliefs are thoughts that we attach to. Faith finds the courage to surrender these thoughts to the deepening process.  We can deepen our felt faith through opening the mind, allowing our beliefs/thoughts to soften, as we get bigger than our temptation to lock into being ‘right’.  Our forefathers seemed to understand this well when they directed us to place full reliance upon divine providence in the Declaration of Independence.  They recognized the value in surrendering our intellectual answers to the mystery in faith that something better can come up.

This past week I attended an American Public Media event hosted by the famous interviewer, Krista Tippett.  She’s been captured by the current frustration with our polarized monologues, our failed dialog and the lack of civility in our communications with one another.  This has led her to create a project called The Civil Conversations Project.  This week’s program was titled “Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Dialogue”.  My curiosity led my attention, particularly in noticing the use of a word seldom seen these days, dialogue. The program featured her interview with pro-choice representative, Frances Kissling and pro-life representative, David Gushee.  Ms. Kissling  seemed to best describe our current best-effort communications as “common grappling”:

“The only way I can be credible is to give up the hard political side.  It’s not to change others, but to change myself.  I want to be changed all the time.  I try to be transparent about my values so as to not veil where I come from.  I’m not talking about common ground, but common grappling.”

“We have to learn how to not be advocates, but to ask more questions, and I like people to ask me questions to help me go deeper.  Intelligent conversation isn’t rewarded politically in our society.”

This sense of “common grappling” seems to be what the program was about.  It didn’t really challenge the participants to suspend their belief system in aim to fully hear the person of different opinion.  Krista referenced a five year program where people agreed to “common grapple” , only to find they were firmer in their belief systems than when they started.  Dialogue necessarily commands a larger process.  It’s not about trying to win, to persuade,  or to change.  As Ms. Kissling said, “It’s finding courage to be vulnerable in the face of those you’re so in disagreement with.”  This is what faith is.  It’s what surrender to divine Providence is about.  When we can suspend our thoughts/beliefs, touch the human experience, and see what comes up, we’re more often than not, blessed with a better course of action.  In an article on the elements of dialogue, H.M. Lynd writes:

“The creation of symbols in language is a characteristically human ability that can bring unconscious creative forces into relation with conscious effort, subject into relation with object, can give form to hitherto unknown things and hence make possible the apprehension of new truth.”   On Shame and the Search for Identity, pp. 249-250

When we sit together with open minds, in faith to bigger things coming up, we allow the divine to respond.

In his book The Presence of the Kingdom, Jacques Ellul fully recognizes the problems we get into when we lock into fixed beliefs and closed minds:

“In the intellectual sphere, in connection with political and social spheres, we need a complete revision of all our positions, a new beginning, and this reconstruction cannot be the work of one man alone, it cannot be exclusively the work of man.

This work is necessary, not only for the intellectual, but for all men, for if Christians do not do this work, they cannot have any hope for all that concerns their attitude in the social or political world, all that they will be able to do there will be puerile, useless, and out-of-date at present day.  It is disastrous to see Christians embarking in all the social and political boats of this world, entirely unaware of all the preliminary questions which they alone could examine.

Christian intellectuals must go forward to this great process of questioning, for the world, which is wandering about in a labyrinth made by its own hands;  and for the Church, which should now at least break through all its ready-made intellectual categories, and for the other members of the Church who ought to receive genuine teaching in the life of faith.

The work of Christian intellectuals is not done in the abstract, it is effective participation in the preservation of the world, and in the building up of the Church.  This is why we cannot act here simply in a free way; this is not an intellectual gymnastic to which we are called; it is, above all, in prayer and meditation that intellectuals will rediscover the sources of an intelligent life rooted in the concrete.”  pp. 135-136

When we have faith in the full support of the universe, of the divine in all things, we find strength and stability to open and face the ever changing conditions of the apparent concrete.  We find a sense of stewardship that’s bigger than our small self interest.  We surrender notions of winning and losing to just being our best.  We speak less and listen more deeply.  We suspend judgment, thought,  and fixed beliefs to allow something bigger to come in.  Brown and Keller, in From Monologue to Dialogue, stress the importance of faith, a faith based on one’s heart and entrusted to the other person in the exchange of communication.  It’s a deep concern for the other person, described as the maintenance of an “I-thou” relationship.  There’s an agreement to not use the other for one’s own personal gain, an agreement to not control or take advantage.  They describe the courage to “walk at the edge of our knowledge and our security” in openness and willingness to listen.

“In dialogue we make our life complete, give ourselves our sense of meaning.  A common consequence of real dialogue is the response, “I didn’t know you were like this.  I never really knew how you felt.”  Then perhaps to the self,  “He is changing, and so am I.”  p.  203

They stress that dialogue strengthens faith and faith is the source of dialogue, and to me, this is what Jefferson was getting at by gluing the Declaration of Independence with a faith command to surrender fully to divine Providence.

I’ve been asking some of our politicians just what this means.  Yesterday I had the good fortune to explore this with my U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachman and my Minnesota Rep. Bob Dettmer.  While I have little agreement in their policy platforms, I appreciated their willingness to “common grapple”.  They seemed unwilling to enter an arena where beliefs were suspended, but respectfully listened to my take on it and gave meaningful responses to their understanding of the directive to rely on divine Providence.  We stepped from needing to win to hearing one another in a civil conversation which I suspect changed us both, just a little.

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