one of the things we do every week at our wednesday night house of refuge is read a short paragraph as a reminder of who we are and how to keep the conversation safe. we talk about holding the tension in our differences and remembering what we have in common. in our support groups, we do something similar and review group guidelines to create as safe of space as possible for sharing. we talk about staying with “i” since we’re the ones here, avoiding fixing & advice giving, committing to confidentiality, and honoring the time. they seem simple on one level but the truth is that we are humans and need a lot of reminding. they help us practice being safer people. they help us learn. and they point us toward humility and honesty.
as i mentioned friday, this weekend i was at the denver faith & justice conference with a whole bunch of other people in denver who are passionate about justice. it was lovely in all kinds of ways and i was honored to be part. i shared in the first session about embracing dignity (one of my favorite topics!) and how the starting place for a any conversation related to justice is the basic inherent value & worth of human beings, created in the image of God, no more or no less than another. our work in all kinds of ways is to embrace our own dignity, others’ dignity, and participate actively in fanning greater dignity into flame where it has been stripped. i have always called it dignity restoring but all the same ideas work for dignity embracing.
what i like about the word embrace is that it means “to willingly accept” and i love that imagery–as people of justice we willingly accept each other’s inherent value & worth as people made in the image of God.
in talking through the event, we knew that so many of these conversations about hard justice topics can sometimes incite differences of opinion (especially post-election), so we set the stage for the discussion time with guidelines called “dignified dialogue.” i modified some of what we use at the refuge specifically for the conference and i thought i’d share them here, too, just for fun.
i think they can be helpful to remember when engaging with others in groups & individual conversations in real life or online, too.
5 guidelines for dignified dialogue:
1. consider first: ”that person is first and foremost a child of God, created in God’s image, worthy of dignity and respect”
2. ask questions to clarify understanding instead of only make statements.
3. stick with “i think” or “my opinion is” or “my interpretation is” instead of making generalizations like “God says or God thinks” or “the Bible says”.
4. remember that this is an opportunity to listen and learn not convince, give advice, or change anyone else.
5. honor the time with brevity and give others a chance to finish their thought before sharing yours.
as i’ve been reflecting on these over the past couple of weeks, i am totally convicted by them in different ways. i need to read them every day (and sometimes before i write blog posts, too, ha ha). i don’t think these are meant to shut down passion in any way, but rather to be considerate of those with different views so we can listen and learn. it is hard for me when it comes to certain perspectives, especially in systems i disagree with. in a lot of hot-topic-conversations it is much easier for me to make statements than ask questions, to get in my two cents.
also, i wanted to mention that the importance of #3. saying “but God says…” or “the Bible says…” instead of owning “my interpretation of the Bible is…” or “i think God is saying…” really shuts down a lot of conversation. that subtle switch could help so much over time because it is more honest, more humble. in fact, i have often wondered how much of christianity’s reputation could be radically changed if its followers started using those kinds of phrases instead of playing God/Bible trump cards.
one thing i feel clear on–we can always keep learning how to be in better relationship with each other. we’re never done. we can never master it. we will always need God’s help to keep practicing dignified dialogue!
i’d love to hear your thoughts on these and what you might add, too.
God help us learn to dialogue with dignity so we can reflect you and embrace your image in others, too.
* * * * *
ps: one of the best ways to embrace dignity and call out the image of God in each other is through friendship and learning how to be alongside each other as equals, friends–men & men, women & women, and women & men. cross-gender friendships are a brave conversation that is so necessary if we want healing & change in the body of Christ. i hope you can come join us as we explore this challenging & important topic together at the second sacred friendship gathering called bold boundaries, april 26-27 2013 in chicago. it’s going to be fun!