Monday, March 31, 2014

Flashback Post: The Superpower of Creating Dialogue

Below you will see an article from the May 2013 edition of our church newsletter, The Spire.  I felt the need to republish it here so that I could link it to our soon-to-be new website! 

Dear church family,
I do believe that the ability to create dialogue is the most incredible Superpower that we have as human beings.  No other creature on earth can participate in conversation the way that we can.  Surely other species can signal to one another about hunting and gathering or about the need to nurture their young, and as research evolves I am awestruck by how the communication that goes on between other species is far beyond what we originally thought possible.  Regardless, we can be sure that human beings are able to talk about issues that are infinitely more sophisticated and intellectual than any other species.  What a blessing we have!  Or is it a curse? 
Our Dialoguing Superpower allows us to talk about deeply emotional issues with people who disagree with us (e.g.: politics and religion; ways of raising children; the definition of a “healthy” lifestyle).  And when we make the decision to use this Superpower, we have to make another decision at the same time—will we let the alternate opinions of others make or break our relationships with them?  Though at times it may seem difficult, the best decision is to allow differing opinions to form and strengthen us as individuals.  In college, for example, several courses in Asian religions and belief systems made me more certain that Jesus was The Way for me.  My husband’s advocacy of plain black coffee made me more certain that I take cream and sugar.  My brother’s confidence that it doesn’t get better than living in Washington D.C. prepared me to move to a small rural town. 
This all has a point and is relevant to our current church context.  The Open and Affirming (ONA) process that has begun in our congregation is a time when we are invited to put on our Superhero capes and become Dialoguers.  ONA is a designation given to congregations which “make a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.” This is one of those deeply emotional conversations, isn’t it?  But it is one that we have to have in the 21st century, because the Church has a call to stay relevant and maintain a voice in the conversations of our society.  Since its foundation, the Church (our own and the institution as a whole) has been at the forefront of social justice and civil rights dialogue and now, in a time when church conversations revolve around potlucks and building maintenance more often than issues of caring for the marginalized and downtrodden, it’s time for the First Congregational Church of Ripon to say once again, “Hold on, we have a Superpower and we’re going to use it.” 
When we use this Superpower, we won’t all agree.  And that’s why we have to remember to make the decision to allow differing opinions to form and strengthen us as individuals.  We will be a diverse community of God’s children whether we agree or not.  And that, in itself, is a gift; we learn little when we are only exposed to those who agree with us.  So for the next year and a half to two years, we will occasionally get together and talk about becoming an ONA church.  I want us all to feel free to put our true opinions on the table in the form of healthy, respectful dialogue in which many viewpoints are represented by speakers with open ears and open hearts.  When we take the vote, it may pass and it may not, but we can be assured that as a church we will have a voice in this extremely important issue of our time, and that’s what makes us a strong, vital part of the Body of Christ. 
As we begin this process, there are a few points that I want to make very clear.  One: Your voice matters.  I don’t want to see anyone hiding in the shadows because they think their opinion is the unpopular one.  No one will be kicked out of our church for a different opinion.  Which brings me to point two: There is no pre-determined outcome of this vote. Whether our congregation votes yes or no, we will emerge from the process a stronger church family for having asked the question.  Furthermore, we will remain a church family that, like any other family, has differences and disagreements but continues to be bound by love for each other and our common desire to learn what it means to be Christian in a world that is always in transformation.  And finally I want to make point three: No matter where you stand on the issue, I am your pastor.  That means I’m here to listen when times are tough, show up in the toughest and most amazing times of your life, and pray for your peace and well-being because I care deeply about you.  Please let me know if you want to visit over coffee or in my office and have a conversation about the process.  I’m always glad to get to know each of you better anyway!
With the hope and peace of May’s flowers,

Pastor Joanna 

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