Shutting Down Conversation – Or a Mea Culpa Post

Normally I’m pretty adept at asking non judgmental questions and waiting for answers that may lead to conversation, but for some reason there are a couple of triggers that stop me dead.  It happened twice this weekend.  
The first was on Main Street.  Several people had set up a political kiosk with literature demanding the impeachment on President Obama, declaring, among other things, that he had sold out the country by giving away our nuclear capabilities.  I was surprised that most of the literature on the table was under the name of Lyndon LaRouche.  I thought he was dead, or at least his movement was.  More than that, the several people handing this stuff out were young adults in their early to mid-twenties who showed some evidence of being reasonably well educated.   What I would like to have done is visit with them enough to find out what inspired them to follow a man like LaRouche who is, if nothing else, strange.  It’s not just that he is affectionately regarded by Maoists and Tea Party types alike, but neither seems to see the irony in that.  I would like to have patiently asked questions and listened, but I didn’t.  Instead I challenged with the unanswerable question; Why would you follow a nut like LaRouche?  That pretty much ended it. 
The second was equally cold hearted on my part.  An elderly man and his wife stopped me, and many others, in the grocery store.  He was handing out his own non denominational religious tracts.  I took one to be polite.  Glancing at it, one sentence  caught my eye:  “Your standing before God depends on your acceptance of Jesus Christ.”  He said, hopefully, “I see you are interested.”  What I should have done was ask him to tell me more about what inspired him to hand them out and what he hoped might happen as a result.  What I said instead was, “I think you need to rethink your theology a bit.  This sentence puts all the burden of our salvation on us.  My standing, and anyone’s standing, before God is dependent on God, not on me.”  Now let’s face it, not only did my rudeness stop any useful conversation, but my own sentence needs more than a little unpacking to hold any water as a theological position.  
The point is that I shut down two opportunities to learn something from people whose world views are vastly different from mine.  I don’t think I’m the only one who does that.  I suspect it’s a common fault.  If I am to be an effective minister of God’s grace it might be helpful to know how to talk to a follower of LaRouche or exchange the peace of God with someone whose understanding of salvation is so very much at odds with my own.  It’s getting a little late in life to work on that, but I’ll give it a shot. 

11 thoughts on “Shutting Down Conversation – Or a Mea Culpa Post”

  1. I am not sure there is anyone listening. I have, in the past been a proponent of \”conversation\” and to a degree still am (it is a hard place to move out of). What I have found is that there is more dogmatic bleating than engaged thinking going on. Conversation requires two or more willing to be engaged and open and if the dogma one holds is from a place of fear, particularly fear of loss, more than mere conversation is needed.

  2. I happened to be on the sidewalk when the exchange with the students and their Obama images with Hitler-like mustaches took place. Your commenter viderepercipere is correct in saying that a conversation has to involve more than one person and the moment you identified yourself as an Obama supporter, the young man looked away and ignored your presence as though you were a criminal – the opportunity between the two was stopped immediately by both parties. I struggle with the same issue of engaging in a conversation in that my mind jumps to – right and wrong statements – generally….I'm right, you're wrong! So guilty here, I am so guilty. Maybe the mere idea of reflection upon one's hardness of heart toward another \”child of God\”is a step in the right direction. I pray that I'll have the nerve to continue that stepping.xo

  3. About a week ago, Patrick Henry, the retired Whitman professor with unabashed radical liberal views, had a letter to the editor in the Union-Bulletin in which he spoke of \”two unnecessary wars\” etc. In the past, he has always been able to stir up vehement opposition in the letters/opinion pages, but this time there was no reaction. Either the readers just said to themselves, \”ho hum, Patrick Henry again\”, or else the letters were so threatening (\”pugilistic\”) that the editor, Rick Eskil, declined to publish them. Prof. Henry could not get a dialogue started! What is your take on this? Dr B

  4. \”It’s getting a little late in life to work on that, but I’ll give it a shot.\”it's only too late if you don't start now. 🙂 (barbara sher)it does take two to remain in conversation, but only one to at least attempt starting it.

  5. I preached a bit on this on Sunday – how the love we are commanded includes being in real conversation with people who vehemently disagree with us, and how this is a love I have failed to attain. sigh. sometimes I simply do not have the energy for the really hard work that it involves, sometimes I think it would be as foolish as trying to teach a pig to sing. But I still am convicted by the example of Christ.

  6. I am poor at this kind of cross-cultural conversation. I typically don't want to give offense, and in the moment I usually can't think of what to say anyway. I think you have to have a quick mind to take part in this kind of conversation. I find my best response is the closed-mouth 'hmmm'. But blessings to you if you can do it. Peace to you. Chris

  7. RE: SS's comment about Obama images with Hitler mustaches.I think asking the question, \”how is Obama like Hitler? is that a fair representation?\” might be a good start however I think you might end up dealing with a lot of falsehoods and misinformation. There are some people I am afraid who are not interested in honesty or truth and having been on the receiving end of a fist as the reply to my attempt at \”conversation\” I am much more careful when faced with the likes of people who are willing to present such unthinking deceptions.

  8. Greetings all,I was a little surprised by all the comments. This was one of those posts where I did not expect any at all. However, it is comforting to discover that I'm not the only one that stumbles in these situations.

  9. on the larouche question, anyone at all can go to his website. Larouche may not be the nut you think he is, or is he?

  10. CP:It is a clear sign of your integrity that you have posted this. And, yes, we have all been there. While I too like to foster healthy discussion, at times, I have let my snarkiness shine through to my embarrassment.You remind us of the necessity of civil dialogue even while we hold on to our convictions in a passionate way.

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