Recently I was listening to a program on NPR (National Public Radio). The program was from "On Being" which it describes itself this way:
"On Being is a spacious conversation — and an evolving media space — about the big questions at the center of human life, from the boldest new science of the human brain to the most ancient traditions of the human spirit."
The particular program I was listening to, is part of their Civil Conversations Project.
"The Civil Conversations Project (CCP) — ideas and tools for healing our fractured civic spaces. CCP is a series of radio shows and an online resource for beginning new conversations in families and communities. How do we speak the questions we don't know how to ask each other? Can we find ways to bridge gulfs between us about politics, morality, and life itself? Can we do that even while we continue to disagree, passionately? How is technology playing into all this, and how can we shape it?"
You can find it here: http://being.publicradio.org/first-person/civil-conversations/
Indeed, civil conversation is what is needed in these polarized times. It is so easy to demonize someone we disagree with politically, theologically, or socially.
As I began to work in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut in 1998, I met weekly with a group of other new priests. One of the new priests was a retired military officer who had a call to the ordained ministry later in life. I was fresh out of seminary and only 5 years after my college days at the University of Michigan. He was very conservative and I was not. Despite the differences, we had a friendship that grew over the year. We learned about each others families, our differences and how God had called each of us to the ministry.
In 2003, the Rev. Gene Robinson was elected bishop of New Hampshire. Gene was in a committed relationship with his partner Mark. This led some in the Episcopal Church to leave to find a new faith home. My friend and his congregation left the Episcopal Church. I still remember all those times we sat in the same room, shared a meal, had a conversation but never ever cast the other out. I was sad to see him leave but honor his need to find the right path.
It will take effort in our conversations in Monroe to not disparage others. It will not mean we will come to an agreement but that we can stay talking without the need to cast out the other.
If we expect to walk together as fellow travelers on this planet, we need to take the time to learn about each other, to talk with each other, even to share a meal. When we do this, we will not be able to condemn the other, for the other will now be our friend.
Postscript: Sometime in the winter, I will offer a class one evening at the Library to begin our civil conversations based on the work of that radio show. Stay tuned.