Saturday, May 11, 2019

An invitation to a deeper conversation

Through my grassroots interfaith environmental advocacy, I’ve gotten to know lots of men and women in rural Illinois, which is very different from where I grew up in suburban Detroit.

I was raised Catholic, went through 12 years of Catholic education including an all-girls high school. And then I went to a United Methodist affiliated college and met a boy brought up in the United Methodist church. 

We started going to church together, and I started looking at the gospel in a different way. I saw women able to preach and lead congregations for the first time. I learned more about social justice in our first years of marriage than I’d learned in all my years of catechism.

This didn’t create tension in my family, but it did generate some deep discussions about how our faith informs our ideas and our politics on the environment, health care, reproductive rights, economics, and human sexuality, to name a few. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t always agree with my parents. Sometime I don’t entirely agree with my husband. But we’ve been able to develop some ground rules over the years:

  • You can always find common ground
  • Assume one another's best intentions
  • Look for nuance—not everything is black and white
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
  • Ignoring it won’t make it go away   
  • I’m a beloved child of God and so are you
I’ve learned that not everyone goes through this kind of transformation. Not everyone learns how to engage in difficult or political conversations with grace. And some of us opt to stay out of it entirely in the interest of avoiding conflict. This rarely works and only reinforces that we simply don’t know how to TALK with each other about important issues.

All of this was on full display during the 2016 presidential election process and continues to color our country’s political discourse. And in February 2019, my heart broke as I watched my beloved church begin down a path of pain and exclusion.

When the hosts of a podcast I listen to wrote a book this winter, I Think You’re Wrong But I’m Listening: A Guide toGrace-Filled Political Conversations, I read it in nearly one sitting. I had been craving a new way to engage my friends and neighbors in difficult conversations, and this was it.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is this:

“We do not demonstrate love toward our neighbors by demonizing them over how they feel about tax policy or reproductive rights. We do not turn the other cheek when we treat politics as an insular sphere in which fighting fire with fire is the only way. We do not live as the hands and feet of a loving creator when we opt out of the processes that dictate roads and bridges, school curriculum and water treatment, war and peace. Neither stridence or apathy is a virtue.”

The book outlines many of the above rules I’ve employed over the years, and added a few more:

  • Take off your team jersey: ever get between a Cubs fan and a Cards fan? We need to learn to prioritize our relationship with the person we’re disagreeing with rather than our team. That also means prioritizing deep understanding of a topic of disagreement rather than winning, which brings us to #2:
  •  Get curious: does that thing you read on the internet seem completely unbelievable? Does it make you angry? Well…maybe it’s designed to. Do some research. Ask questions. If you’ve been watching the news lately, I think we’ve learned that social media has been used to manipulate our emotions and quite possibly our votes. Know that the truth might challenge your beliefs, which brings us to #3:
  •  Exit the echo chamber: Balance your news outlets and consider the source. If it’s not being shown on several major news outlets, that should give you pause. Time to get curious again and do some research. Take the opportunity to discuss the drama du jour with someone who might think differently than you. And again, make it your goal to deeply understand the topic, not score points for your side.
As people of faith, we’re called to be leaders in doing this well, or at least to try.

That's why I'm running to be a lay delegate to General Conference 2020. That's why I participate in the IGRC Unity group.  And that's why I want to be in conversation with you, dear reader, especially if you're a voting member of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

We have much to decide in 2020. The special General Conference rulings on human sexuality are only a small part of the things I'm passionate about: I am deeply concerned about our disregard for and abuse of creation, our reconciliation with our Native American sisters and brothers, and the status and role of women. I believe God will work with us in our decision making and will use our pain and our joy for good.

What is your hope for the United Methodist Church? Where is the pain? The joy? How are you being called to ministry? Who isn't being heard? 

I'd love to have these conversations in person or on the phone. I want to listen. I want to understand. Email me at if you want to talk.

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