The Baker Blog
Pastor Mike Baker Of Eastview Christian Church 2017
Words without dialogue

There is a lot of talk these days about some sort of national dialogue. People don’t stand for the anthem because they want to start a dialogue about the issues. To “start a conversation” on a variety of issues, people post everything from well thought out blogs to hateful memes to expletive laced vitriol. The recent presidential election has led to protests, marches, debates, media commentary, and general unrest to express feelings and thoughts in contribution to the social conversation. Honestly, I agree that we need dialogue, the problem is that most people in our culture who have a lot to say are not really interested in hearing what others have to say. In other words, we’re interested in monologue, not dialogue. And this is getting us nowhere.

Why do I care about dialogue? Well, I’m a preacher and words are the tools of my craft. I believe in a God of words (he has spoken). I believe Jesus is God’s greatest word (his living word in flesh). I believe the Bible is God’s written word (his word for my life). I know that words can inspire, encourage and influence. I also know that words can destroy, incite, and divide. And anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m rarely at a loss for words. I’ve got stuff to say. But the older I get, the more I’m learning about dialogue-the art of having conversation as opposed to overpowering you with my words.   

Here are some things I’m learning about this two-way, give and take we seem to be missing. 

1. To dialogue, I must listen. Ideally, dialogue is face-to-face, give and take, both listening and talking. This is why I believe social media is the absolute worst place in the world for dialogue. It is by nature a one-sided, word drive-by that has no consideration for collateral damage. Much of what is said on social media would never be said if we were sitting across the table from the ones we disagree with. As a pastor, I’ve tried to use James 1:19 as my dialogue guide: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry”. I don’t believe social media will lead to social change, but if you must use this media, try following these simple words from the Lord’s brother. 

2. To listen, I must ask questions. I’ve said before, but it needs to be said again, the living word of God, Jesus was great at asking questions. If there was ever a human who could have justified a one-sided word flood, it was Jesus. His words were always right, true, eternal, and powerful. But instead of a continuous string of answers, Jesus mastered the art of the question. By using questions he created dialogue by getting to the heart of the matter and of the person he was talking with. Why do people feel the way they do? What is their life experience? What is their view on important stuff? Why do they believe what they do? Now we’re having dialogue. You are learning by asking questions and if you really listen, you can address the things that have been revealed.

3. To respond, I must be respectful and gentle. As we dialogue with others, we inevitably come to issues, views, and beliefs where we find ourselves in disagreement. My wife is my favorite person on the planet and we don’t agree on many things, but my response to her determines whether or not the dialogue will turn into an argument or a helpful conversation. I’ve been influenced through the years by one of my favorite Proverbs – “a soft answer turns away anger, but a harsh words stirs up wrath” (15:1). This is where this culture is really failing in the meaningful dialogue category. People with opposing views quickly resort to hateful, threatening, and demeaning commentary. Whatever your view, at the moment you become abusive with words, people stop listening to you. As a Christian, I’m aware that much of this culture disagrees with my most deeply held faith convictions. But I don’t have to be abrasive in my response to them. Peter reminds his first century Christian hearers, to “…always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (I Peter 3:15). I have found that just because I disagree with someone doesn’t mean I can not simultaneously love them and respect them. In fact, my faith requires it.

4. To influence, I must be articulate and patient. Finally, there is something to be said for being to articulate why you feel the way you do. In spite of the seemingly powerful influence of hashtag movements and viral videos, they usually come and go quickly, replaced by the latest movement. If you want to influence, then spend some time thinking through what you believe so that you can clearly articulate it. I believe it’s the well-thought out world views shared over coffee that really make a difference. Loud and numerous talkers seem influential in the moment, but they don’t really change things, they just make headlines. Real life change comes with dialogue, often many dialogues and then finally influence. You have influenced another. And surprisingly, they have influenced you as well.

Now we’re talking.

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