How to Have Hard Conversations

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Without a commitment to having hard conversations, and without healthy outlets for them, disagreements can be terrifying. They can seem like the end of the world, especially in the rarified atmosphere of our churches.

Unfortunately, Christians often deal with disagreements in their congregations in one of a handful of ways. We might disagree only in public, or only in denominational forums; we might talk only to our pastor, or only to the people who agree with us; we might let our money do the talking for us; we might not say anything at all; or we might split — leave, get kicked out, break fellowship.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can create a culture of rich dialogue, even around our disagreements. We can cultivate community conversations marked by gracious space and spacious grace. This unity is possible because we are bound by a covenant 

Facing Up to Our Broken Covenants

Broken fence. Image courtesy mervas/

Broken fence. Image courtesy mervas/

Lent is our season of honesty. It is a time when we may break out of our illusions to face the reality of our life in preparation for Easter, a radical new beginning.

When, through this illusion-breaking homework, we connect with reality, we see that in our society the fabric of human community is almost totally broken. One glaring evidence of such brokenness is the current unrelieved tension between police and citizens in Ferguson, Missouri.

That tension is rooted in very old racism. It also reflects the deep and growing gap between “the ownership class” that employs the police and those who have no serious access to ownership who become victims of legalized violence.

This is one frontal manifestation of “the covenant that they broke,” as referred to in the Jeremiah text for this week: a refusal of neighborly solidarity that leads, with seeming certitude, to disastrous social consequences.

Of course the issue is not limited to Ferguson but is massively systemic in U.S. society. The brokenness consists not so much in the actual street violence perpetrated in that unequal contest. The brokenness is that such brutalizing force is accepted as conventional, necessary, and routine. It is a policy and a practice of violence acted out as “ordinary” that indicates a complete failure of neighborly imagination.

Lent is a time for honesty that may disrupt the illusion of well-being that is fostered by the advocates of indulgent privilege and strident exceptionalism that disregards the facts on the ground. Against such ideological self-sufficiency, the prophetic tradition speaks of the brokenness of the covenant that makes healthy life possible.

As long as there is denial and illusion, nothing genuinely new can happen. But when reality is faced — in this case the reality of a failed covenant between legal power and vulnerable citizens — new possibility becomes imaginable.

The Sacrifice of Covenant Relationship

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Biblical Ten Commandments inscribed on stone tablets in the Paleo-hebrew script. Photo via jsp /

On any given Saturday, people join Habitat for Humanity teams and commit to work to help eradicate poverty housing.  The individual volunteers give of their time, energy and physical ability because they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  Similarly, in the HBO TV drama “Game of Thrones,” individuals from the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos volunteer to serve as The Night’s Watch.  Members of The Night’s Watch live as a self-sufficient military order that defends the Wall that protects the Seven Kingdoms and patrols the Haunted Forest.  The Night’s Watch oath details the sacrifice of its members:

"Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come."

Although the members of The Night’s Watch are fictitious, they exist in a recognizable bond – a commitment that theologians call a covenant relationship. 

In the Book of Exodus, readers find the beginnings of the formalized covenant relationship between the Israelites and their god. 

From Generation to Generation

Photo via asife /

Photo via asife /

What do you want to pass on to your grandchildren? What will you give to future generations?

There’s a special spot on my shelf for books my grandparents handed down to me over the years. I cherish the collection of love poetry my grandfather gave my grandmother for a wedding anniversary decades ago. I treasure my grandfather’s old prayer book and hymnal. Depending on your family history, most of us will have at least a few old treasures from generations before.

Some things pass from one generation to another with special care—a family wedding ring, a chess set from the home country, old pictures. Other items, however, pass with less care and planning. My wife, for instance, has her grandmother’s old cookie jar. It’s made of cheap, simple glass and is completely unremarkable except for the memories of cookies eaten at grandma’s house it evokes.

Families aren’t the only ones thinking of passing things along. Politicians, skilled at tugging heartstrings, speak often of “future generations.” 

‘Covenant’ to Bind Anglican Communion Appears Dead

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Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams attends the Vespers Prayer Service. Franco Origlia/Getty Images

A proposed "Covenant" aimed at ensuring unity across the worldwide Anglican Communion appears to have failed, leaving the world's third-largest Christian body facing an uncertain and likely fragmented future.

The covenant, born of an idea in 2004 to try to set boundaries in belief and practice for the Communion's 40 members churches, appears dead after a majority of dioceses within the Church of England voted to reject it.

With results still being counted, supporters of the Covenant effectively lost their battle within the Church of England when the Diocese of Lincoln cast the 23rd vote against it last week.

"The covenant is either buried or disabled," said Simon Barrow, co-director of the independent British think tank Ekklesia, in the aftermath of the decision.