where is the catholic dialogue?

I continue to struggle to write regularly. Recently, the frustration is compounded by increasing guilt.

The purpose of catholic dialogue is to provide a forum for dialogue on issues confronting the church and the world. This blog opened the doors for me to write for two publications that I admired and respected. The first was the Prairie Messenger here in Canada. The second was the National Catholic Reporter in the US.

I stopped writing for both publications when life circumstances overtook my mind and heart. I didn’t lose interest in “things catholic”, but I did lose the passion required to stay on top of the minutiae of daily/weekly church news. I tried to “stay in touch” with reading, but the writing didn’t come.

I regret it.

The presses have stopped at the Prairie Messenger. The end was announced a year ago. I tried not to think about it. The year whizzed by and the final issues were published. Many commentaries and letters were written by writers and readers, mourning the loss of the last independent Catholic newspaper in Canada.

Quietly. Privately, I mourned also.

I still remember the pure joy and excitement when Maureen Weber, associate editor of the PM, invited me to write a regular column. She gave this insecure writer confidence, and I discovered a soul mate and friend. I regret not continuing the writing. I regret even more not contributing in these final months. It is the regret of many a mourner. If only I had said ____, before they were gone.

The Prairie Messenger reported on church news locally, nationally, and internationally. More importantly, and this was repeated over and over in the many tributes, the PM provided a forum for dialogue; often on issues that were considered “not to be discussed”.

What is left? We have an archdiocesan newsletter that is published every three months. (How’s that for timely news!) Its scant pages are filled with photos of the bishop and priests, parish celebrations, meetings and workshops. It is no more than a PR rag, of interest only to the faithful involved in various parish/diocesan activities.

Over at the National Catholic Reporter, the independent newspaper continues to produce high quality reporting and opinion articles. An excellent example is NCR Rome correspondent, Joshua J. McElewee’s latest article,  Bishops’ prosecutions may point to new phase in church’s sex abuse crisis.

One of the best features of the online version of the National Catholic Reporter was its lively discussion forum. Sadly, the editorial team struggled for years to maintain a safe, civil discourse, but the trolls kept coming. The discussions turned nastier and nastier. The discussion boards were finally shut down. The dialogue that enriched and gave life to the articles was no more.

I follow several Catholic writers, theologians, and publications on Twitter (yes…she guiltily admits she is back on Twitter…sigh). It keeps me informed on the latest news/commentary on “things catholic” from all positions on the lib/trad spectrum. Unfortunately, there is little feedback or dialogue.

So, what to do with all this regret and guilt?

All I can do is try to write.

And keep writing.

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!

dialogue tips from scripture

2Peter1

The first reading in today’s liturgy could be a mission statement for online dialogue.

My two recent posts were on the topic of radical Catholic blog sites, and the harm and division that is caused when impassioned apologetics morph into hateful attacks. The disintegration of dialogue in our church and in the world cannot be blamed solely on the far-right. Liberals, too, can be just as guilty of hasty judgments and harsh words for those sitting on the other side of the ideological fence. (Mea culpa!)

The reading above is worth pondering…

faith with virtue

Be vocal in your beliefs, and you automatically open yourself up to accusations of hypocrisy. (I feel the sting myself.  Hubby often gently nudges me to live the nice words I write….sigh…) No one is perfect, but our faith is best expressed not through passionate evangelizing, but through our actions.

virtue with knowledge

Knowledge IS important in a dialogue. We might feel strongly for or against a specific issue, but if we want to engage in an effective discussion we must do the necessary head-work to understand the back-ground and roots of the issue we are discussing. (See an informed conscience…please!)

knowledge with self control

Ah, self control. Knowledge is never meant to be used as a battering ram or a means to inflate our egos. Dialogue is about effective listening and effective speaking. Speaking effectively allows others to understand what we are trying to say. This doesn’t mean that we need to “dumb down” our discourse, but some of the smartest and most educated people I know are also the most humble. They have an economy of words that draws you to listen and ponder what they have said. Pope Francis is a perfect example of this.

self control with endurance

For dialogue to succeed, we need to “stay at the table” when the going gets tough. I struggle with this, especially if faced with a bully. I hate confrontation, and usually respond with silence instead of sharing my views. We all have a right to be heard, and need to exercise that right.

endurance with devotion

Being committed to dialogue requires a passion for the process itself. We enter into dialogue not to change another’s mind, but with the hope to seek common ground. Each dialogue is a small step to mutual understanding. It’s not always easy and seldom gives you the satisfaction of having “won”.  We do it because we believe it is worthwhile.

devotion with mutual affection

Now here’s the crunch. Dialogue is almost impossible when the parties are divided by deep seated hatred. Think of the fragility of peace processes around the world. We need to let go of our own, personal bigotry against the “other” if we want to commit to dialogue. (I can already hear Hubby challenging me again!)

mutual affection with love

Ok…it’s one thing to ask me to “like” the person in a difficult dialogue…but, love? Yet, we all know that love is at the root of Christianity. Blog writers, columnists, and discussion board commentators that call themselves Catholic while spewing vitriol and venom are far from shining examples of Christian love.

Love. So Simple. So hard. So necessary.