Monday, June 28, 2004
The Stand: Conversations
I don't know many folks who would lift up "Conversation" as a part of their apologetic and theology, but I can't seem to get around it. Just like my views of Christ, the Trinity and the Bible are wrapped up in Relationship, I feel like Conversation might be one of those untapped & unrecognized areas of life where we need to be taking it more seriously in view of God's value on the spoken word.
I've probably heard more sermons over the years about our mouths being a problem than about our mouths being a source of blessing. But beginning in Genesis 1 and all the way through to Revelation 22, you find God speaking - to creation, to us, to the world that needs to be in relationship with Him - and it seems that the mouth used in encouragement and blessing is an amazing tool in the will and power of God's grace & creativity (James 3).
Why are words so meaningful? What we speak tends to reveal who we are inside. The language we use shows the world more about out inner lives than we probably think. We can be hurtful, whether in actual word choice, or in tone, or in stubbornness. We can also be very caring, again by word choice, by tone and by perseverance & patience. I can bless someone with encouragement, or I can curse someone with grief - all by just saying something. When God sought to thwart the plans of men to lift themselves to His level at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), He messed with their language. He knew that the lack of communication would destroy their plans more readily than devastation. God speaks and things happen; people speak, and things happen, because we're created in His image. Our mouths have incredible power for good and for evil.
One of the main sticking points for me over the years has been my tendency towards pride, and that comes out at its worst in my conversations. I've learned that when I'm talking with someone, I have to be open to receiving from them - not just telling them what I think or making sure my opinions are accepted, but that I can be open to their thoughts and ideas, open to change within myself as much as hoping the other participant is changing, too. This means that even in the "witnessing conversation", I need to be open to learning something or to even be challenged and changed through the interaction (in Matthew 25:34-40, it looks like we might be "talking to Jesus" and "serving Jesus" more often than we think - doesn't that mean we should be listening, too?).
When we speak, our first attitude should be love and mercy. I'm convinced that if someone is judged with love & mercy, that judgment will be more readily accepted and acted upon. But we are so quick to judge that love & mercy often have no chance to rise to the surface, and our conversations turn into debates and arguments. A good conversation will have teaching points and learning points from both/all interacting parties - see a good case study in THE LAST SAMURAI: "I have enjoyed this conversation".
We need to talk to each other, and listen to each other more than we speak. Often we jump in, jumping on their words. Or we listen half-heartedly and half-hearingly, making sure we don't miss the next play in the ballgame on TV. But I've also found that this "theology of conversation" must take into account that we are usually not very good listeners, that we are very subjective to the "reality" being discussed, and that we need practice in this area desperately. Listen to God, listen to each other, listen to the road noise without a radio blaring, listen to the rain fall on the metal roof outside. I need to practice holding my tongue, especially when my first instinct would be to speak up and say my piece (Lev 26:14ff - "'But if you will not listen to Me....").