By Duncan Smith, Glennon Heights Mennonite Church and member of MSMC Dialogue Resource Team
The grounded prophets in the Bible were often skilled in naming things in the culture and in religious community. For instances, these words from Jeremiah 6 spoken to the priests and prophets of the day: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”
In our “With Care” articles we often focus on how to reach toward real “peace”, not a false “peace”. We encourage people to listen to each other, especially those of a different point of view, in order to build relationships and work at reconciliation.
There is an inherent dissonance, however, in speaking boldly like the prophets and taking a position of listening. I hear it reflected in questions like: “What about those strong values and positions, am I just supposed to listen and not express those?” This dissonance is really where the rubber hits the road.
1) Respect. When we have conversations with people with whom we disagree it helps to go in with a respect for the personhood of the other.
I find it helpful to remember that the person with whom I am relating is also created in the image of God, this helps create openness.
2) Love. Going into a conversation with an attitude of love, or at least a willingness to care for the other helps me to be less defensive, more open and gracious. This is not always easy, but it is a “non-violent”, Christ-like way of going into a conversation.
3) Firmness. I have found that if I can go into the conversation with the above posture then I can listen and also respond firmly to areas of disagreement. When respect and love are present it does not mean that we give up our values or beliefs. One does not have to yell to name things like a prophet.
Michael Sharp, former MCC worker, and UN worker in Congo, was kidnapped and killed by taking the above principles as far as one could take them. He went into the camps of those with whom he was trying to build relationships and offer a different way of being and living than violence. Most of us do not put ourselves out to such a high degree of risk. However, our conversations have their own risk, too. There is much to be gained by these simple, but sometimes hard-to-implement concepts.