Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Greetings Narrow Gate,
I am going to further dig into a subject that I just barely touched on last week: namely, our inability to communicate effectively with one another due to our refusal to listen to one another because of our unwillingness to hear from people that we know we disagree with (whew!). For some of us, this gets worse, we actually hate the people that we disagree with. Well, how did we end up here?
Truth, in today's world, has moved from being a matter of reason (thought) to a matter of feeling (body). Rather than something discovered through debate, discussion and Q & A, truth now to many of us, is discovered primarily through felt experience as individuals. In other words, the important thing is whether I feel something to be true for me, and this only has implications for others insofar as they must respect the viability of my truth and not threaten it with their truth. This is the premise of a great article on the Gospel Coalition website, written by Brett McCracken, entitled Exit the Echo Chamber. It's Time to Persuade. I have never referenced the same website 2 weeks in a row in my writing or preaching. This is pure serendipity. Please do not think that I agree with all of this website or any other collection of writers. But this is my point for today, I like to think and I'd like to think that you like to think. We need to think and talk together, again.
See, I'm not reading things that I necessarily agree with. I am reading things that make me think. Then much of my thought revolves around how what I am thinking about relates to God and His Word. What does God want me to say about the topic?
Today God wants me to say that we need to communicate, again. Like the aforementioned article, We need to exit our echo chambers. 1 John 3:18,
We have gone from caring about what others believe, to a point where we care only for what we alone believe, selfishly. Here is Brett McCracken,
"Whether on twitter or in the New York Times newsroom, we are increasingly prone to want to shut down debate or silence ideas when they make us uncomfortable. It isn't just secular progressives who tend to mute differing voices or avoid threatening ideas. Many conservative Christians do the same thing. To be sure, we've cultivated our own safe spaces. (Then) untrained in the art of logic, reasonable discourse, and articulating what they believe, many evangelicals turn out to be just as fragile as the secular snowflakes they critique."
What's worse, a fragile Christian can be a temporary Christian. We are all becoming snowflakes.
I grew up a child of the late 60s, 70s and 80s. I lived the "If it feels good do it" lifestyle. It brought us divorce, drug addiction and alcoholism, stds and Aids. What felt good was an imitation of the Truth God wants us to understand. We are all searching for the Truth that only God can give us. John 8:31-32,
"So Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him: If you are faithful to what I have said, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."
We are all in search of this kind of freedom, even if we don't realize it.
If we cannot communicate this Truth effectively, people die eternally, in hell. If we can't focus on the right truth, people die eternally, in hell. So, our ability to communicate this truth from God is essential. There is nothing more important for us to understand than this truth. John 14:6,
"I myself am the road", replied Jesus, "and the truth and the life. No one approaches the Father except through me."
If we are going to survive as a society, and for Christians, as witnesses and ambassadors of God, we can't continue to avoid the difficult and uncomfortable work of communication. Truth, must be contended for, and this struggle for Truth is never easy.
Here are three ways to gently contend for truth. Gently, used here not to mean water-downed truth, but speaking understandingly and empathetically. Many Christians were lovingly patient with me as it took 30 years for me to come to the Lord. I was a hardheaded heathen hellion. We do not need to cause unnecessary discomfort in how we contend for truth. We can be bold and gentle all at the same time.
1) Watch your tone - The message of Jesus Christ is one of love and grace and mercy. But it also can be an earth shattering revelation to the listener. If there is one thing I have learned raising daughters, it's that the tone I use influences how much someone will listen to me. John 4:17-18,
"You are quite right in saying, 'I haven't got a husband,'" replied Jesus, "for you have had five husbands and the man you have now is not your husband at all."
Imagine if Jesus had led with this statement while speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. The conversation might not have gone any further, she would have felt defensive. Jesus did not shy away from the hard stuff, but he didn't begin there. He began with a tone of invitation, not accusation. His tone made it possible for her to receive his truth. 1 Peter 3:15,
"...simply concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any person who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you."
2) Don't just teach. Be teachable. One reason truth-telling goes nowhere in contemporary debates is because the truth-tellers are focused only on telling. How many TV debates that you have watched have people all talking at the same time. They think that the one who speaks loudest wins. That's wrong. The one who speaks loudest loses the debate in truth. The person who listens is the person who is most often listened to respectfully and earnestly. James 1:19,
Forget Biden or Trump bumper stickers. James 1:19 is the bumper sticker that I want!
This does not mean that we never speak or become angry, just that we are quicker to listen. When we are confronted with sound arguments, even those that trigger us and cause emotional strain, we ought not avoid or attack. We ought to listen and engage. This is what Luke 10:27 teaches us, "love God with all our minds, and to love your neighbor as yourself."
3) We can disagree on some things without disagreeing on everything. Debate today seems to be all or nothing, with no middle ground. Most choices confronting humans are never all or nothing. it's about a variance of degrees. Satan wants us to choose between free speech and social justice. I want both. Satan wants us to choose between being safe and opening up our society. I want both. These are false choices. We are confronted with a myriad of false choices today. I want us to be able to have them all. Not one or the other.
We need to find the Truth together. This is what God wants us to do. Not me find your truth or you find mine. Let's start persuading each other again. Let's listen and talk. We might make new friends even, people we don't necessarily agree with. Would that not be a beautiful thing?
Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.
Director of Opportunity House
and Harmony UMC