As we sat around our cabin living room chatting about various current events, awake only via caffeinated beverage, the conversation quickly turned into debate. And it was the sort of debate where there was clearly a Side A arguing with Side B. After an hour or so we'd accomplished very little in persuading our opponent, but our debate did seem to hint at a better conversation, one about our values and why we felt so strongly about our perspectives. And so I piped in with that thought, and soon it was as if a giant weight had lifted in the room. Facial expressions grew less tense, eyebrows lifted, and it was as if we all suddenly agreed on something rather important. Suddenly we were all on the same team, even while talking about something close to heart like each other's values.
My boss had the staff read a book recently called Seven Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, and Lane Jones (hey, I work at a church now, what do you want??). The book gives this tip to leaders, "When you're looking over your lesson or sermon notes, the question to ask yourself is not... Is it true? Is it interesting? Is it creative? Is it passionate? Is it entertaining? Instead, ask yourself, 'Is it helpful?'" It's about sermons, yes, but it's also a bit of advice that me and the band, I think, followed in our conversation without knowing it, and with some success.
I'd say I came to faith in Jesus during a markedly "Rules-Driven" period of my life. It was the lens through which I saw God, the world, my family, and friends. I'd also say I'm more gifted than most of you in a frustratingly specific way: I draw people to 'deeper' conversations like flies to a hot bulb, and then, much like that analogy, I eventually kill the conversation and/or offend my convo partner by saying something totally unhelpful. I do that better than most people I know. What do you get with a Stage 2 conversation magnet with bad timing? For me, someone who states what he thinks is truth at all the wrong times. Dead flies. So... not exactly the ideal environment for the give-and-take needed in good discussion. Yet I at least want that good give-and-take, even if I blow it more times than not, and judging from my Snow Camp chat it would seem I'm not alone. So, how do we get in on this, especially in the middle of highly mixed-culture environments?
I mentioned an illustration in early January on this NTRT blog that was given to me and my wife by some friends, which might get the ball rolling. When Annie and I have a disagreement, there's a way we communicate to each other that can create, in effect, a fence between us such that we're no longer teammates; we're opponents. And when I talk to Annie as if she's my opponent (or vice versa), we get much less accomplished, and much more hurt. So we might continue to work out our disagreement, and we may even resolve it, but we end up with this giant fence between us. And I'm left distant with the person I'm supposed to be closest with in my life. So, in the end, who cares if we resolve the issue? We're still far apart from each other. And, if I may put it scientifically, that sucks. I HATE it when I'm "far" from my wife in that way. I'd rather be close to her, with issues, than far apart and, say, have the dishes done.
Experience tells me it's similar with discussions on faith, and I wonder if Stage 4 has something to offer us here. I'd assert that this "mystical" stage is uniquely concerned with other people above and beyond the first three (criminal, rules-based, and rebellious). And this relationship component -- if my Snow Camp trip is any indicator -- seems far more crucial in meaningful conversations than the power to persuade. So as a way to get in on this, I can't help but wonder if it all comes down to asking ourselves first about our opinions (before sharing them, even!), "Is it helpful?" What do you think?