The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Conversation and Conflict
From the start, the conversation had a strong potential for disaster.
We were talking about global climate change. Ed is a self-proclaimed skeptic, and I'm a believer. Ed's politically conservative, and I'm not. There wasn't a lot of shared ground as we approached the issue.
What was important to the conversation, though, was that it took place in the context of a church gathering. We both wanted to deal with the issue of climate change, but there was more at stake in the conversation than that. As our profound disagreements became clear, we both recognized the importance of meeting each other on a human level, and of maintaining community.
As a result, we moved beyond science and economics. We talked about our core values, about how we process information differently, about our deepest hopes and fears, and about the meaning of faith. We came to understand a bit about why we disagree on this issue, and also about where we come together.
There were no conversion experiences (although Ed did ask for more information!), but we did come to some deeper understandings of each other, of ourselves, and of our world. The hour and a half that we talked together was time well spent.
That sort of conversation is very hard to come by when we are doing issue advocacy work. Our efforts to push for a political agenda or a specific outcome will usually displace a more personal conversation.
And that may be a large factor in the resistance from many people to dealing with political and controversial issues in church. Local church life is, at its heart, an expression of community. An agenda-driven political debate can fragment and demolish community. When debate is our only style of talking about issues, the diversity of a congregation becomes a source of anger and frustration and conflict.
But when we broaden our options, when we can include real conversation, then the diversity of the church can provide new opportunities for growth and healing. If we take the time, and if we take the risk of opening ourselves to others, complicated and controversial subjects can draw us into profound conversations.
What's more, talking at that level really does open the doors to change and conversion in a way that debate rarely does.
Last fall, I attended a conference on wilderness preservation. A workshop leader pointed out that we can argue with opponents all day about wilderness boundaries and land use policies. But they can't argue with an expression about love for the land, or grief in the face of destruction. (Or, on the other side, about a love of freedom, or fear about economic threats to a community.) Those human expressions of feelings and convictions may do more to change perspectives than any disputes over facts and policies.
There are times to take a strong stand on an issue or a policy. But within the community of the church, we have a special gift and calling to meet one another in conversation. Maintaining the community of the church does not mean that we need to turn away from the hard issues. But it may mean that we sometimes approach the issues less dogmatically.
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You may have seen the e-mail invitations to "roll your own blackout." The core of the message says:
"In protest of George W. Bush's energy policies and lack of emphasis on efficiency, conservation and alternative fuels, there will be a voluntary rolling blackout on the first day of summer, June 21 at 7pm - 10pm in any time zone (this will roll it across the planet). It's a simple protest and a symbolic act. Turn out your lights from 7pm-10pm on June 21. Unplug whatever you can unplug in your house."
Why take part in this rolling blackout?
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org