A Desire to Dialogue

In the past month or so, I have had the amazing opportunity to attend a couple of different lectures. One was on Violence in the Old Testament (a topic which I have often had trouble with) and the other on Using Privilege & Power for Justice. Both of these events triggered a side of me that I haven’t seen much of in the four years since I graduated from college. This surprised me for a couple of reasons. Not only is it hard for me to believe that it really has been four years since I graduated, but I was surprised by how fired up these lectures got me. I mean, really fired up. Sure, those who know me know that I love nerding out on a variety of topics (especially religion/theology in conjunction with social justice), but I feel like these two events triggered something else that I am still trying to process. Perhaps the best way to describe what I am feeling a is deep desire to dialogue. 

Too often I opt out of conversations because I am afraid they’ll turn into debates or arguments. Not only do I dislike becoming argumentative, but I also hate when people become so focused on proving their own thoughts and opinions that they end up not actually listening to what others have to say. On the other hand, I am beginning to realize that while I am wary of heated conversations, when I simply avoid them all together, I am also missing out on on hearing what other people have to say. I have kept myself in my own little bubble only talking to people who already agree with me or who I know think similarly to me. But what these lecture helped me realize is that there is a much greater spectrum of thought out there and there is so much I have yet to learn.I went into the lecture on Violence in the Old Testament thinking that there was no way I could walk out of there feeling less cynical about the church’s bad history of using God to justify violence. And yet, I walked out of that lecture pleasantly surprised by how well the speaker shed new light on Old Testament context, reshaped the way I understood the Biblical narrative and relevantly challenged the way we interpret these stories today. Additionally, in the Q&A following that lecture, a question regarding Just War theory was brought up. This topic has become increasingly interesting to me as I have recently heard that the Vatican is seeking to reevaluate its support of Just War theory.*

As a self-proclaimed peacemaker, I would usually be all for this, ready to throw Just War out the window in exchange for active nonviolent efforts. However, in light of this lecture, I was surprised to find that I was beginning to question the idea of throwing out the theory altogether. Certainly, the theory has been misused being viewed simply as criteria for justifying war rather than as a set of standards meant to raise the bar on how to pursue justice more humanely, but is the best solution really to get rid of the just war criteria all together? I’m not so sure anymore. But I think it needs to be talked about and I am hoping some of you (anyone reading this) might want to talk about it with me.

But before I get too sidetracked, let me tell you a bit more about the second lecture: Using Privilege & Power for Justice. With a B.A. in Global Studies and a minor in Sociology, this lecture was right up my ally. And yet, I found myself a little taken aback when during a Q&A panel discussion, there were a few somewhat harsh or angry comments made towards people in the room who may have come from places of privilege and power. Even though these comments weren’t directed at me and even though I pretty much agreed with what was being said, I could feel the defenses going up. Now I’m not saying that we should tip-toe around challenging people to wrestle with areas of privilege. Yes, privilege needs to be challenged and people need to wake up and wrestle with these issues. But it seemed to me that there was little grace for those who were there, trying to learn and understand, but haven’t quite had as much exposure to these types of discussions. They were essentially told to back off or that they needed to go and figure out their privilege before they could say or do anything. I get that it’s frustrating for some of us when people don’t even know the place of privilege and power they’re coming from, but what these people need is to be brought into the conversation in a way for them to start learning.

I guess what I’m saying is that through this panel discussion, I realized that I cannot be upset at people for “not getting it” when I haven’t done the work of inviting them into these conversations in the first place. In other words, I realized that while I want to have these kinds of conversations, I can’t always expect people to be on my level. Moreover, with a heated topic like this, I recognize that everyone comes from a variety of backgrounds and has a variety of experiences that influence their perspective. Conversations like this cannot be just about theory; it’s about real life experience. And while yes, personal opinions will run strong, I believe in these situations, it is ever more important to listen and hear the perspectives of others who experience privilege and power differently from you. This lecture helped me to become more aware of the amazing spectrum of experience in the community surrounding me and I so desire to hear more stories and to have more people share their experiences with one another. This for me would be true, heartfelt dialogue.

So, anyone want to nerd it up? We can talk theory, or share stories of experiences that shape our perspective on those theories. Instead of avoiding these types of conversations, I want to do my best to pursue them. I don’t want to argue or debate, but I do want to dialogue and hear the viewpoints of more people from a variety of perspectives.  Seriously, I want to talk about these kinds of things with more people. Coffee date anyone?

– C

*Article on the Vatican & Just War Theory: http://ncronline.org/blogs/making-difference/vatican-conference-urges-church-abandon-just-war-theory

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