Emergent Village recently posted an interview of Brian McLaren regarding his latest book by fellow Emergent Village Council member Melvin Bray. Before Melvin begins the interview, he openly admits to a friendship between the two. He reminds readers that this doesn’t keep him from asking Brian hard questions because for those of us in the Village, “friendship is a full-contact sport.”
Today I read Samir Selmanovic’s thoughts on Emerging Church dogma. He wrote: “There is a hill on which we are willing to die, and it is called conversation. We don’t think of conversation as a method of communication. Or as an agent of change, or even as a virtue. We see conversation as the teaching, the truth, the doctrine. We confess it. Conversation is deeply biblical, rooted in Christian history and theology, and, importantly, in the life and teachings of Jesus. Conversation involves incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, both God’s and ours. If you think of faith as something that can be lived outside of a continual experience of living and dying through conversation with the divine and human other, we emergents maintain that you are wrong, terribly wrong.”
These two images have been quite beautiful for me this week. And if Journey ever decides to write a doctrinal statement, Samir’s first sentence might be all that’s needed. We are committed above all to respectful conversation- and that also means that we lay strong ground rules about how we engage each other fairly rather than ungraciously. This is a conviction we refuse to set down. We will dialogue with anyone, but we will not allow one conversation partner to belittle or dehumanize or degrade another. (I for one consider it a spiritual discipline to walk away from those who will not play by these rules. This rules out, sadly, what feels like half of the blogosphere.)
Friendship is a full-contact sport because when you have respect and trust between two people, robust conversation is not scary but life-giving. It’s a game you can play without fear of losing your friendship. You can play your hardest on the field, and go out for drinks afterward. In an increasingly diverse world, I believe this deeply held commitment to respectful conversation is one of the most potentially transformational gifts we can offer the world. One of my biggest hopes is for the Church to embody and practice the spiritual discipline of true conversation. In a world where infighting, slander, name-calling, media manipulation and back room chatter seem to dominate, respectful conversation may be our most powerful form of witness.