communication

Celebrating Interdependence

Image via STILLFX/Shutterstock
Image via /Shutterstock

I did not celebrate Independence Day this past weekend.

The truth is the United States has never been an independent nation. Built on stolen land by stolen labor, sacrificing Natives and Africans and their descendants to the mythology of “manifest destiny,” greed, oppression, and white supremacy, this has never been a nation of liberty and justice for all.

The ignoble myth of white supremacy that permeates the foundation of this country and underlies the policies and institutions that form the context of our lives has been rearing its ugly head so much lately that it cannot be as easily ignored or denied as it has been in the past. The recent massacre in Charleston and the burning of African-American churches add even more reasons to the hundreds of thousands to awaken to the reality of racism that undermines best ideals of this nation. Our country has failed to atone for, or even critically examine, its history of racial oppression.

A Challenge to My White Brothers and Sisters — Acknowledge Your Defensiveness and Learn to Listen

Communication breakdown illustration, durantelallera / Shutterstock.com.
Communication breakdown illustration, durantelallera / Shutterstock.com.

Our tenth anniversary kicked off a season of unprecedented strife, most of which was circumstantial. My husband and I were homeschooling our three sons (all under the age of six), navigating multiple part-time jobs, and trying to manage my sudden health crisis. Both of us lacked sleep, energy, and patience. Prior to this time period, conflicts had not been an issue for us. We had them, processed them, forgave each other, and moved on. But a decade in, something shifted. And it wasn’t for the better.

In retrospect, we regressed to deeply embedded patterns from our families of origin. My northern European clan silently withdrew from one another and stoically pretended nothing was wrong. His Italian American household vocalized anger in operatic fashion. Tempers flared, voices cracked — and then someone made a joke and served dessert. That dynamic may have worked for them but when my husband applied it to our marriage, he unequivocally trumped me. Unable to match his emotional output, I resentfully deferred.

In the midst of one blowup, I made a tearful plea. When I’m angry, what if you listened rather than responded defensively? Based on his expression, this was indeed a new concept. As soon as he stopped matching my anger, the tenor, severity, and duration of our conflicts changed — this time for the better.

When he dialed down, he created a safe space for me to talk, which de-escalated my anger and validated my concerns. From his side of the equation, quieting his defensive tendencies allowed him to see that I was not imagining problems but rather responding to something real. When he was culpable — which was certainly not all the time — and offered me an apology, it calmed the raging sea and allowed us to address the actual issues rather than endlessly reacting toward one another.

This was not an easy or quick shift for us. I had to coach myself to speak up, present my side without blaming or accusing, and choose to trust him. He had to weather my tempest and face a degree of powerlessness. Fourteen years later, we’re still learning how to do this well.

I’m not a sociologist but I wonder if is this same dynamic contributing to the racial tension that we are now experiencing in the United States.

Disarming Our Speech

POLICE BRUTALITY, the Affordable Care Act, climate change: When people with differing convictions on issues such as these come together for conversation, some prefer to first set aside the issues and focus on building relationships, while others want disagreements front and center. In his book I Beg to Differ: Navigating Difficult Conversations With Truth and Love, Biola University communications professor Tim Muehlhoff says relationship and honesty are necessary for progress to be made.

“If every conversation we have with others is about the issues that divide us, the intensity will hurt the communication climate,” he writes.

For example, he offers the hypothetical story of an evangelical Christian who wants to share his faith with a Muslim co-worker. Over lunch, the colleagues take time to learn about each other’s differing religious convictions, but the conversation doesn’t invade their work relationship. Back at the office, they return to their easygoing, day-to-day relational habits.

It’s a mistake to begin conversations by trying to convince others of our position, Muehlhoff says. It is better to listen with a sincere desire to understand what the other person believes and why they believe it.

“Position-centered individuals view others as a collective whole based on gender, race, education level, social position, political affiliation, religion, and so on. Individuals are grouped into large, often stereotypical categories and are treated accordingly,” Muehlhoff writes.

Person-centered communication views those with whom we disagree as “unrepeatable souls created by God.”

As we approach differences, he advises that we ask ourselves: “Are we relating to a person or someone’s analysis of them? Do we allow individuals the freedom of self-definition? Have we boxed people in according to stereotype? How much of my communication is shaped by pre-judgment?”

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What God Has Joined

WITH TROUBLING DIVORCE RATES, the trend among younger couples to postpone marriage or abstain from it altogether, and other factors, some feel we are in danger of losing marriage in this society. The institution is arguably in serious trouble.

This period of intense media focus on marriage—while more and more states legally affirm marriage equality and the Supreme Court ponders two related cases—offers the opportunity to examine the institution of marriage itself. How can we strengthen and support marriage, a critical foundation of a healthy society? How can we, as church and society, encourage the values of monogamy, fidelity, mutuality, loyalty, and commitment between couples?

A study by the Barna Research Group a few years ago found that “born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce,” a fact that pollster George Barna said “raises questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families.” Our authors in this issue wrestle with what it takes to build long-lasting marriages, rooted in and offering a witness to God’s covenantal love. —The Editors

MY HUSBAND AND I have been married to each other for 42 years. Does this make me an expert on heterosexual marriage? Not really.

My experience over 40 years as a pastor, teacher, and theologian helps some in thinking about marriage, as I have counseled couples and performed countless weddings, in addition to my personal experience. But as a contextual theologian of liberation, I know that to extrapolate from your own experience, or even from that of a small group, means you end up colonizing other people’s experiences through ideological privilege. In short, what that means is you think you know more than you really do. Hence, using social, political, and economic analysis is crucial if we are to think theologically in context about marriage.

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Pope Francis Calls for Intensified Dialogue with Muslims

RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini
Pope Francis waves during his inauguration Mass at St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Friday called for more intense dialogue between religious leaders, particularly Muslims, as he tries to recalibrate relations between the world’s two largest religious groups.

Speaking in the Vatican’s majestic Sala Regia, the Argentine pontiff said that part of his mission is to connect “all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister.”

In a meeting with Vatican diplomats and foreign leaders, Francis also reaffirmed the church’s commitment to protect the poor and the environment, an early theme in his young pontificate.

“Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up,” the pope said.

Citizens United, Freedom of Speech, and the Liberation of Listening

Listening illustration, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com
Listening illustration, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

The impact of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) is experienced with increased intensity as we approach Election Day. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions have a First Amendment right to independent political expenditures, certain portions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act were reversed.

As a result, the voices surrounding political campaigns have risen in strength and size. And so, while a variety of viewpoints exist on the consequences of Citizens United, most agree that it has dramatically altered the culture of U.S. politics, and has thus sparked major discussion on the reach and limits of freedom of speech. 

Due to the ramifications of Citizens United, we should indeed recognize and critique the role that freedom of speech holds within a mature democracy. However, as we focus on free speech, the time has come to also consider the contributions of its equally important companion, the responsibility to listen. In other words, as we ponder the primary ingredients of a healthy society, the delicate balance between freedom of speech and the responsibility to listen should be held as a critical priority. 

'Croon Her to Sleep with Freedom Songs'

How do you get your kid to care about social justice? Well, you can bring her to marches and protests on important issues before she’s old enough to walk; croon her to sleep with freedom songs; or fill her Christmas stocking with fair-trade goodies.

My parents did all that when I was little. Some of my earliest memories involve talking to homeless people in my neighborhood, attending demonstrations with my church, door-to-door lobbying with my mom, even dressing up as Winnie the Pooh on a couple occasions to raise awareness about corporate child labor practices. But these events were just the side effects of having activist Christian parents; they say little about our family life and my own formation as a young person.

Perhaps one of the keys to social justice parenting is to ignore the question above. You can’t get your kid to care about social justice issues. Much like you can’t force your child to be a Christian, to dress a certain way, or to listen to certain music, you can’t set out with a goal to shape your child’s passions and interests. Parents who do this either get lucky or, more likely, meet strong resistance from their young ones. My father tells me that the question parents should continuously ask themselves is this: How can I reflect a vision for a more just and compassionate society within my family?

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