I can just feel it; I am sitting in a public space and someone says something that I find offensive, patronizing, ignorant or otherwise infuriating. I can barely think. Then, I may flush from emotion, I feel my own “fight or flight” hormones rushing through my body. Usually, within an hour or two, I find some “snappy comeback” that isn’t snappy at all because it took me two hours to think of it. Without a doubt, the experience is disorienting and uncomfortable, even if all I do is pay for my coffee and keep walking. The experience lingers and I wonder if I wish I could just forget.
But without a doubt, I know that I am called to engage in difficult conversations.
Whether it is at home, or with the pastor at Mars Hill. I cannot ignore the worlds and words of others, sticking only with those who “think just like me.”
It is very difficult and I do a lot of reading about this, how to have those difficult conversations. As a pastor, I am called to go into situations that are full of discomfort and I need tools to help me survive the experience, learn and grow through them.
Here are some of what I I have found I need to put in my toolkit for difficult situations and difficult conversations:
- Humility. I know my experience and interpretation of experience, but not another person’s. I have limited information. I’d better go out to coffee with you!
- Curiosity. Tell me about your experience, tell me about how you see things, what you value. I’d better listen hard!
- Self awareness. I know a lot about my own inner rules, my personal values that motivate me. This I will articulate, without assuming that you know it, or necessarily share it.
- Self assurance. I can hear someone else speak from a different value system without it destroying my own. And over time, I have also learned that I will not find common ground or even respect, in every difficult conversation. Sometimes, I find, the only thing to do is walk away. We may never have coffee again.
That is just a little of what I find is needed for the difficult conversations of my life.
I would sure love to hear what others have in their toolkits.
And yes, I wonder if anybody in the church community is going to offer a “welcome to Spokane” chat with the leaders of Mars Hill Church when they come to town? It is sure to include difficult conversations sooner or later! Well? Coffee anyone?
Andy CastroLang is senior pastor at Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ. She is deeply committed to civil discourse between individuals and throughout our community; in interreligious conversation, private conversation, intergenerational conversation and yes, even in political conversation. She has been a supporter of SpokaneFaVS since its inception because she supports this creative effort at thoughtful community conversation.
Great tools for our toolkit, thanks for sharing them. I’ve tangoed and slam danced a bit on this subject with people who are against Mars Hill and people connected to some of the players, including Driscol in all this Mars Hills/Spokane stuff. It’s going to be a bumpy ride and anyone whose going to get in the debate will need seatbelts & helmet. I’m pretty disappointed by what I’m hearing from supporters, opponents and victims. I’m seeing and hearing evidence of human failure and sin and I’m losing my passion for rock throwing because now I don’t know who to defend or throw them at?
I would enjoy hearing from you about this…I have been staying “on the sidelines” for now.
how about that cup of coffee?!?
Andy, well done!
It’s an honor to have you as a friend and colleague in town. The list of attributes for healthy, even if heated, conversation is just what we need. And it is so hard in the real world to keep to those principles. I need all kinds of rehearsal. Thanks for the invitation. Coffee with you is way over due!
Yes, I feel like I need lots of practice so let’s practice together! I know that these are the most exhausting conversations for me, because my personal sense of worth gets dragged in, and to keep my centeredness, and a sense of calm identity, makes this less exhausting. It still may be “fruitless”, but I don’t know that for sure, and I will try, and try, and try. So, how about that coffee, after Christmas, OK?
Awesome! TOOLS is the perfect word when it comes to participating in dialogue. Thanks for sharing yours, Andy!
Lately, I’ve been acknowledging thanks for my recent participation in FAVS for illuminating the difference between DEBATE and DIALOGUE. While there’s no definitive line in the sand between the two, there can definitely be either debate peppered with dialogue or dialogue peppered with debate. I’m most fond of the latter and I think that’s what FAVS is all about. It definitely requires a lot more effort, but I think it’s what makes a difference in the long run. I sincerely hope Mars Hill folks choose to join in the conversation with SpokaneFAVS!
(And, my favorite tool is imagining myself in others’ shoes.)
I think we are already seeing “fruit” based on these comments. Interaction and dialog that strives to offer an extravagant welcome to Mars Hill between the pastors here in Spokane surely serves to draw the Church together, and that that is love and joy and peace…
Great, Andy and all. I like those tools. One I try to have on hand is the focusing on the values that the other is trying to live out by their beliefs or positions on issues. Often if I can find they are similar to mine, and we can move on to answerable pragmatic questions, more or less, about how to realize those values.
I must admit that I have little success with some literalists who see adherence to correct doctrine as more of a value than , say, love of neighbor, or justice. Yet, often the search for commonality is productive.
A good resource for al would be the current issue of Sojourners that features the traditions of patriarchy on the unequal treatment of women, and the world, in past and present Christianity. Clear, in everyday language, and with what I see as impeccable biblical scholarship. A must read.