Yesterday, I wrote a post complaining about an article in Credo Magazine, a very conservative Protestant magazine that I call The Gospel Coalition on crack.
Then I took it down.
I found the article shallow and infuriating. It’s author failed to address the real questions at stake, simply stating the Protestant position as if we were all expected to nod along without question. I hate it when people don’t engage properly in conversation. It pisses me off.
But I realised that even if I believed I was right about what I was saying, the way I said it was wrong.
I wasn’t addressing the real questions, I wasn’t engaging in conversation; in fact, I was just being aggressive and cranky.
For those who read the post, I am sorry you had to put up with that. My response had nothing to do with love, or pursuing unity or even having decent conversations.
But having those sorts of decent conversations, the kind that I believe can draw us closer together, is not something you can switch on and off – which is why that post had to come down.
You can’t blast a Protestant for being Protestant and then pretend you’re all about the dialogue. You can’t demand charity from others and skewer others on the merest misstep.
Dialogue has to go deeper than that.
I’m coming to see that we don’t just have conversations, we live conversations.
Conversation comes from the Latin conversari which means to live with, to dwell with, to keep company with and to pass one’s life with. Conversation is more than just talking to each other, it’s living with each and passing our days with each other.
It is through this sort of living conversation, “through true conversation [that] justice is done, and kindness learnt.” (Biblical Reflections for Day 1, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity)
With the Fall, confusion and division entered the world; and with the tower of Babel, that spread to our language too.
The Bible records that “the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen 11:9) Confusion and scattering; misunderstanding and division. This pattern repeats itself throughout history. Is there a time when we’re not divided against each other?
This division is so insidious because it becomes part of our identity. We define ourselves by defining what we are not. This is generally called ‘othering’. It’s where we invest difference and otherness with all the negative qualities we can think of so we can feel better about ourselves. Of course, we can only do this when we don’t actually understand each other.
Confusion breeds hate and division. And Babel was the beginning of this sort of xenophobia, the fear and hatred of all things foreign and strange and Other. But part of the Christian hope is that the God of all peoples is gathering us back together to become one people; speaking one language of love which is far greater than any tongues of men or angels (c.f. 1 Co 13:1).
At Pentecost, we see this – or rather, we hear this. When the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles, the men and women of Jerusalem heard “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind” and “each heard their own language being spoken.”
Christians have long realised that this xenoglossia (speaking supernaturally in an unknown language) is the decisive repeal of God’s judgment at Babel. Where there was confusion and division, God is bringing understanding and unity.
Where there is fear, God is bringing love.
Because perfect love drives out phobia. (C.f. 1 Jn 4:18) Reflecting on the tower of Babel, the resources conclude that “from now on we must learn our proper humanity through patient attentiveness to the other who is strange to us.”
Which is why I took down that post. I wasn’t being patient, I was being pissed off. And cranky. And self-entitled. And really, I was just blabbing along, filling up words about how clever I am and how stupid other people are. (Sound familiar?)
I don’t want that.
And I don’t just want to have conversations, I want to live them – because I don’t want to live in fear of all the unknowns and what-ifs, imaging that every debate could imperil my beliefs and thus my identity. I want to live in conversation, in patient attentiveness.
I want to live in love.
Elizabeth Esther says what I wanted to say but a hundred times better – with a GREAT ending! You definitely want to read this.
By trying to persuade my husband of the truths I’d discovered, I actually got in the way of the Holy Spirit.
I finally stopped talking about it.