Learning to Communicate Again

Author Jeff Chu, in his book Does Jesus Really Love Me?, confesses that one of the elements that contributed to his lack of faith in the Church includes how we use (abuse) language: "We don't know how to speak with one another anymore. We think we speak the same language, yet we find it nearly impossible to communicate -- not to mention commune -- with one another."1 I think this problem of language-use is not solely a faith-communicative problem but, rather, a cultural one. An apt example of such a communication problem is obvious in the field of politics.

The now-deceased perpetrator of a hate crime against Republicans, James Hodgkinson, wore his political opinions on his sleeve, as we say, and so identified with his politics, and his vitriolic hatred for the GOP, that he pre-meditatively planned to end the lives of Republican congressman during a baseball practice early in the morning of 14 June 2017. But this was as much an attack on our democracy, and of all American people, as it was on the GOP; for when Hodgkinson decided to attack Republicans, with whom he disagreed ideologically, he attacked all of us who cherish freedom of conscience and the right to hold dissenting opinions. I view this attack as no less than an overt hate crime.

Too often we talk past one another, intent solely on spreading our own opinions, rather than actually conversing with each other. I have discovered this only recently, actually, as a friend (Hugh) and I exchanged brief emails about the manner in which I communicate on this site (and elsewhere). He communicated to me, forthrightly yet fairly, and I welcomed that communication. But what aided me to welcome his critiques is the manner in which he treats me: we do not always agree on all issues (politically or theologically), as hardly anyone agrees on all issues with others, but we care about each other enough to communicate out of love and respect rather than dogmatism and agenda.

Jeff Chu confesses that even a concept such as love is complicated, confusing, divisive and multiply defined today.2 We can't even discuss love without either parsing the life out of it or conflating it with concepts that are lesser or unworthy of its richness and beauty. But the ease with which we lodge words as weapons at each other is alarming; and I've been just as guilty of using those words at conservatives and evangelicals as they have been lodging them at me and liberals. Jeff writes: "Words are bricks, which, depending on how you use them, can pave pathways or build high walls."3 I'm fairly certain we, and by "we," I mean "I," should be using words in the former rather than the latter, inherently obstructive sense.

Too often, I think, we forget that every notion held by us all is a matter of hermeneutics; I know I do sometimes. We each maintain a perspective that shapes how we think about all of life: whether politics or religion or human sexuality or rights or science or philosophy or biology, we perpetuate a way of thinking about issues because of an ingrained set of principles that acts as boundaries, and they keep us along a rather narrow pathway of concluding as we do. Those principles can change and, thus, our perspective(s) can change. But that perspective will only maintain the potential for change if we engage other counter-perspectives.



But we, friends, are ontologically -- in our being or existence -- more than certain sustained cherished beliefs. Believing Buddhist principles does not make your essence Buddhist. You will still be "you" whether you hold to Buddhist or Hindu or Christian or atheistic views. If you hold to basic Republican views, "you" do not become a Republican metaphysically, since "you" would still be "you" whether you maintain Republican or Independent or Democrat points of view. You, then, are not the sum of your beliefs. The reason why too many people take politics and even theological challenges so personally is because people identify with their beliefs as they do their own essence or existence. This must change.

If this does not change then we will become an utterly violent nation.  Failing to respectfully communicate with each other, we will objectify one another, which can instrumentally lead us toward committing acts of violence against one another. James Hodgkinson was not aiming to kill husbands and fathers and friends and lovers; he aimed to kill objects, things, disposable and expendable gadgets he named "Republicans." This is a demoralizing and dehumanizing way to think about other human beings with whom we may disagree ideologically or politically.

One result of Hodgkinson's despicable cowardice is that we can all learn to communicate again. We need to step away from our treasured worldviews and embrace a little humility. The possibility always remains that each one of us holds to some errors of which we are unaware. I know I do! So, I want this humble opinion to inform how I address others, and teach me how to listen to others. I may still disagree with the likes of Franklin Graham or James Dobson or Donald Trump or Mike Pence; but at least I can learn (re-learn) to communicate properly with their ideas without demeaning their person or humanity. (Thank you, Hugh, for helping me to realign my thinking. Here is the fruit of your patience.)

__________

1 Jeff Chu, Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America (New York: Harper, 2013), 344.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

My photo

My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.