Last week I told you about a dozen or so Christians—gay, straight, conservative, liberal, and people who identify in other ways—who will gather in November to have a two-day conversation about LGBT issues. I mentioned how thrilled I am to be part of this, and how encouraging I’ve found the emails from participants.
I didn’t mention anxiety. But that’s part of the package too.
Why anxiety? It’s not about disagreement. It may be about the intensity this gathering will inevitably generate: no matter how gentle we are with one another, a conversation about LGBT issues in 2011 across divides is not a walk in the park.
What really stirs my anxiety, however, is the risk of being wrong. What if, as a result of this meeting, I have to change my mind about something? What if that something is important to me?
I write a lot about the need to relax our grip on our sacred cows. I don’t spend enough time acknowledging how difficult—and, at times, even inappropriate—that is. Our beliefs and values come from a lifetime of experience. In some cases we have expended a lot of thought and energy to arrive at them. Some of them strike at the heart of what it means to be uniquely us in the world. They shouldn’t be given up easily.
But I don’t think dialogue can come to full fruition unless we set them aside temporarily (as best we can). Otherwise, it is too easy to listen to others through the filter of our own beliefs. This filter can distort the message of others and prevent us from hearing what they are really saying.
Conversely, suspending our beliefs frees us to hear other people with full attention. It gives us the space to explore their thinking from the inside out: to sit with their viewpoint, probe this or that line of thought, gain a deeper grasp of why they think that way.
We get to know them in a way we never could with our filter up.
Is this inherently risky? Sure it is. In exploring new ways of thinking, we might come to see their validity.. If a new thought contradicts our beliefs, we may have to wrestle with that contradiction. Our beliefs may have to change.
But here’s the good news, particularly for people of faith like the ones gathering in November: we don’t have to hold our faith together by ourselves. As members of an Abrahamic faith tradition in particular, we believe in a Presence beyond ourselves that can—and, I think, does—safeguard us. This sense of safety gives us the freedom to explore without worrying what we might lose.
My trust in that safety isn’t nearly what it should be. My hope is that it’s stronger come November, so I can be fully present to those around me, listening with my whole self, free to explore ideas, so that we might move closer to our ultimate goal: deepening our grasp of truth and our compassion for one another, no matter what we believe.