dialogue is not for wimps

We find comfort living in idealogical bubbles, hanging around like-minded souls. But what if those bubbles burst? What happens when family or friends not only disagree with us, but have planted their banners in camps far across the ideological divide?

We are hearing more and more about the need for dialogue, both in the church and in the world.

Next week, this blog will be six years old. For six years I have been trying to explore and promote the concept of dialogue. Six years later, I feel I know less than when I began.

I spent almost 20 years travelling to continental and international leadership meetings of Marianist Lay Communities, an International Association of the Faithful. Respectful dialogue is a Marianist trait. We believe in “unity amid diversity”. We believe in “staying at the table” during difficult conversations. We believe in active listening and inclusivity of voices.

Nice words are easy to write or speak. They are much harder to live. I’m beginning to wonder if they can sometimes become a barrier to true, effective dialogue.

I’ve sat in too many meetings where we dance around the elephant in the room, seeking peace in platitudes and writing up nice reports. We talk of dialogue, but avoid certain issues at all cost if we know there will be disagreement. In a world that is becoming increasingly divisive, we desperately cling to unity by avoiding all conflict. We ignore disagreement, hoping it will go away.

Dialogue is not a “new age-y” form of conversation where all are affirmed in their oneness with each other and the universe. True and meaningful dialogue is tough. It is messy. Unlike debate it does not seek conflict for conflict’s sake, but conflict can’t always be avoided.

Conflict should energize, not silence dialogue.

Dialogue is not for wimps! This is one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in these past six years. I have written many articles on dialogue for this blog and other publications. I can write nice words. I often fail miserably at dialogue in real life.

I’m an introvert who hates confrontation. I clam up when faced with a bully, allowing them to dominate the conversation.

I obsess over each word I write. I obsess over words I’ve spoken. I sit on fences or straddle them so as not to insult or anger anyone. I tailor my words to the listener.

We need more civility and gentleness in the world, yes, but sometimes trying too hard to “be nice” simply feeds our need (my need) to be liked by all.

The first step of dialogue is to verbalize your own thoughts without fear. To speak your own truth with courage.

This is what I believe… This is why I believe it…

If these words are followed by proverbial crickets, then all I have done is provided myself with a soap-box and had a good rant. If a rant takes place in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, is it still a rant? Probably. But it’s certainly not a dialogue.

If someone hears my words and responds with their own words,

Yes, but this is what I believe… This is why I believe it…

Now we have the beginnings of a dialogue!

I am an unfundamentalist catholic parent

Cindy Brandt is a self-proclaimed “unfundamentalist Christian”. She started an online community for other parents who view and live their Christianity through a lens other than black and white certitude. In an article for Huffington Post she describes the

10 Signs You’re An Unfundamentalist Christian Parent

The article had me nodding in agreement over and over. I proudly proclaim that I am an Unfundamentalist Catholic Mom and Grammy! Hubby and I both love our faith, but have rejected the dogmatic, judgmental, self-righteousness of certain fundamentalist forms of Catholicism.

Here are some of the signs from Brandt’s article that resonate with my own Catholic experience.

faith is fluid and evolves

I came to this realization in my thirties. Certitude in belief can be comforting. Apologetics, with its black and white answers simplifies defending your faith. But, it can also make faith mechanical and soul-less.

Faith needs to be wrestled with before it is fully embraced in mind and heart. And the wrestling never ends. Yes, this is dangerous. Brandt readily admits that leaving room for doubts can lead to “moments of weak faith and perhaps even loss of faith”.

I’ve experienced this several times in my life, even recently. I cling to the belief that faith, like love, goes through a “romance, disillusionment, true joy” cycle. Faith can, and often is, strengthened through the dark times of weakness, questioning and doubt. (That’s not to say that the dark times don’t suck!)

reject hierarchical parental authority

While Brandt is referring to the parenting style of many fundamentalist Christians, more and more Catholics are also rejecting this style of leadership in our church. We need to promote a church of adult believers, not child-like blind obedience. We need servant leaders, not bullying father figures.

promote gender equality…fight against homophobia and racism…

Gender inequality, homophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination may have been part of the fabric of history but they have no place in today’s Catholic church. These are issues we’ve discussed with our children many times, and continue to do so. We refuse to defend the teachings and actions of our church if and when they are discriminatory.

build a larger table not a higher fence

This is a great image and motto. (And, no, we’re not talking about a certain President-elect.) Some continue to promote a smaller, purer Church. Would it really be a better Church if all doubters, questioners, and lukewarm Catholics were finally shown the door?  If you insist on booting out all the sinners, you’ll find precious few saints left.

Despite woundedness for some of us from the religiosity of our past, we still find beauty in rituals and desire to cultivate spirituality in our children.

This past weekend, we celebrated the baptism of our two newest grand-babies. The celebration took place in our home parish, where all our children were baptized. The wee lads were wearing the baptismal gowns worn by their parents. The sacrament was lovingly celebrated by a kind, hospitable, big-hearted pastor. No lectures. No hoops to jump through. Just a wonderful warm welcome into the Body of Christ.

musing on democracy and the church

democracy

President Obama visited Greece this week. In the historical birthplace of democracy, he reaffirmed his faith in the democratic process.

“Democracy can be especially complicated. Believe me. I know. But it is better than the alternatives because it allows us to peacefully work through our differences and move closer to our ideals.”

Democracy does not always work

Democracy is good…in principle. To be ruled by the will of the people is preferable to authoritative dictatorship. Sadly, a majority of voices does not guarantee wise choices. Worse, a majority can drown out and ignore the rights and needs of minorities.

Democracy is cheered when it replaces tyrannical, autocratic dictatorships. But the success of democratic governments depend on transparent, free and equal voting processes and the electing of leaders that will work for the good of their people. Sadly, this does not always happen.

What happens when democracy goes horribly wrong? President Obama, during his speech in Athens, reminded us that democracy has a built in safety valve.

“It allows us to correct for mistakes. Any action by a president or any result of an election or any legislation that has proven flawed can be corrected through the process of democracy.”

would democracy work in the church?

A democratic church has long been a battle cry for progressive Catholics. After the US election, I’ve been pondering how elections for church leadership might unfold.

who could vote?

Who would be given the right to vote? All baptized, adult Catholics? I can hear the shouts of protest already. Many would insist on a demanding registration process, perhaps allowing only “legitimate” Catholics to vote. How would this legitimacy be judged? Mass attendance? Contraceptive use? Financial donations? Would those living in “irregular” relationships be allowed to vote? I’m not sure we could get past this first step!

who would fund a church election?

Assuming that we could come up with a voter list, what would campaigning look like? In many elections, money talks. Where is the money in the Catholic church? It’s certainly not with the social justice groups and religious communities working on the fringes of society. The big war chests lie with the ultra-conservative institutions. These same institutions (Opus Die, Knights of Columbus, Legionaries of Christ, etc) have been shown to have undue influence at all levels of church life by lining the coffers of diocesan and vatican offices.

who would vote?

As with any election, even if all Catholics were given the right to vote, would they? Elections are often won or lost not by those who vote, but by those who stay home. Overcoming apathy with the average Catholic will be a challenge. Convincing the disillusioned, disappointed, and disgusted Catholics “in exile” to make their voices heard will be another.

Our church is as divided as society between progressives and traditionalists and the disgruntled right wing voices are often the loudest. Like Trump and other nativist political candidates around the world, they feed the fears of the people and harken back to better times. They are unabashed in their criticism of Pope Francis and his efforts to build a church of mercy.

Imagine rallies with “Make the Church Great Again” hats, promises of building a wall around a smaller, purer church, and righteous threats to purge the Vatican of all progressive reformists. Before you know it, we will have a Cardinal Burke for pope.

elections can only do so much

No, democracy does not guarantee the best leader will be chosen. More important is the constant, day to day working at the grass roots to keep our leaders accountable. In the church, it means supporting priests and bishops of integrity.

It also means challenging those who have taken reasonable conservatism and turned it into dangerous extremism. Bullies and extremists crave attention, headlines and the power it gives then. If dialogue doesn’t work, then bully pulpits must be neutralized and dismantled by ignoring them.