looking out at the vast desert space
There is a big difference between "having a discussion" and "entering into dialogue." The goal of a discussion is to "get your point across." Very often, people in a discussion attempt to persuade the other person, to convert them to their point of view - "I am right, you are wrong, let's have a discussion so you can see the error of your ways and come over to my side."
People enter into a dialogue for very different reasons. The goal of a dialogue is "mutual understanding." In a dialogue people try to really "listen" to what the other person has to say, and perhaps find some areas of mutual agreement or at least come to a place where they can agree to disagree, while still respecting one another.
Discussion and debate often lead to dissension and division. Community emerges out of dialogue.
I have been amazed at how posting a daily blog on the internet has afforded me so many rich opportunities for entering into dialogue with so many different people from all over the world.
Living out here in a vast and beautiful, fierce and awesome desert, I write a daily blog to share my spiritual journey. I write the blog as a Christian, but I also draw from the wisdom of many diverse spiritual traditions. I write this blog as a believer, but I also honor and respect those who struggle with faith or do not believe in God.
My original idea for posting a blog was to invite people out there in the "internet -world" to drop by and visit me in my virtual space (the desert retreat house) where I share something of my daily journey; but I think I had the direction reversed. Every day when I press the key to publish this blog, the world doesn't come to me, I go out to the world.
Every day, I post this blog in many different communities of the social media. I post it so that my friends and fellow Christians can readily access it. I post it in Buddhist communities, in inter-religious communities, in internet communities devoted to yoga, meditation and spirituality. I also post it in communities of people who have generally defined themselves as atheists or agnostics. I go out into the world and post a blog; and I am always amazed at how often people (from all over the world) enter into dialogue with me over what I have posted.
Interestingly enough, many of the people who respond to the blog posts are not Christians and many are not very "religious" people -they are the people who, when asked about their religious affiliation respond, "none." Some have left the church they once attended, many have never been involved in any established religion at all. Often I will get questions about something I have written, and I will ask about their own life's journeys.
Recently I was chatting with a young man who claimed he was an "avowed atheist." After several back and forth conversations, he told me he isn't really a hard-core atheist, he's just never been in a conversation with someone who didn't try to convert him, so he pushes back. We agreed to send a series of emails to one another (I think they used to call them "letters"back in the day) to see if we could arrive at some mutual understanding; and this is something that I am really looking forward to doing.
Back in the fifth century, Saint Patrick was sent to convert the people of Ireland to the Christian faith. However, he soon discovered that the Celts he was supposed to convert were already a very spiritual people. They had a profound sense of God's presence abiding in the world of nature. They already believed in a transcendent power flowing in and through all things and all people, connecting everything and everyone together.
So Patrick and his missionaries didn't actually try to "convert" those already-spiritual people, but instead entered into a dialogue with them. The missionaries and the native Irish people shared their stories and their journeys. They shared their faith and their beliefs and a new form of "Celtic Christianity" emerged from the dialogue.
I sometimes think about Patrick when I go out into the vast expansive internet world. Every day I meet deeply spiritual people. Every day I encounter people who are searching for something deeper on the path of life. We enter into dialogue and something new emerges. Community emerges out of dialogue.
Today, more and more people are fleeing organized religion. I wonder what might happen if, instead of trying to get these people to come back to religion- back to church, or instead of trying to convert them, religious people would go out onto the "world" and enter into dialogue?
What might yet emerge in these exciting times?