I was waiting with a friend for a table at a popular restaurant in Atlanta. Next to my friend and me stood two other people, also waiting for a table. While cell phones and PDA's are not permitted in the dining room of this establishment, they are welcome in the waiting area. I must confess that all four of us were holding our precious devices, which is another blog for another day. Those darned devices!
In any event, I noticed that the other two people also owned a device like mine, covered in the same way as mine. So, I couldn't help but take the opportunity to strike up conversation.
"What's your favorite app?" You know what I meant to ask, right? I meant to inquire about the so-called applications this device can use to accomplish myriad things. Guess what she said?
"The spinach and artichoke dip."
After it became plain to all of us that we had just witnessed a failure to communicate, we had a wonderful laugh!
I said "app," as in "application," and she thought I meant "app," as in "appetizer." What a wonderful and difficult thing conversation can be.
And, if it's that way with conversation in general, you know it's that way with theological conversation in particular.
To make a very long historical story short, the Church began with a hunger for unity. And, over the course of the past two thousand years, and especially over the course of the last hundred or so, we have come increasingly to value diversity. This shift has significant implications for the Church and for the various ways in which we followers of Jesus converse with each other--individually, within our congregations, within our denominations, and among our denominations. It can no longer be assumed that that we all think the same things about the terms that have been at the heart of Christian reflection.
Salvation, sin, atonement, Sacrament, belief, Scriptural authority, prayer, resurrection. Where two or more are gathered, there will be great diversity about what these terms mean. And, believe it or not, even terms like God and Jesus and Holy Spirit are not self-evident. When we use these and other theological terms in community, we often have very different things in mind.
So, when Christian people living in a time that values diversity want to talk with one another, it takes time and love and energy and care and commitment and ears. Of course, it makes such conversation more challenging, but I think it also makes it more meaningful, because I have to refine my own understandings about things, be able to articulate them, and be willing to listen to others' different understandings of the same concepts. And, in such conversations, we always learn and grow and deepen.
I do hope your conversations within your faith communities will reflect such nuance and empathic listening! What might we discover if we sat with one another long enough to dig together?
"Come, let us reason together," the Good Book says. It's a good thing.
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