Respectful dialogue: a missing ingredient in today’s world

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Larry Stevens
Pastor, Noble Avenue Baptist Church

An old Ethiopian proverb says: when spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.  I like that wisdom because I’ve been wondering what it will take for us to unite on every level of life from our homes to our communities to our states to our nations to our world. 

Larry Stevens is the pastor of Noble Avenue Baptist Church in Guthrie.

It seems everywhere we look people are living in the miserable chaos of contention rather than the joyful peace of cooperation.  No longer can we disagree with one another respectfully and calmly.  Disagreement of any kind is now considered an attack to be rebuffed, rebuked and regurgitated with all the fury and venom possible.  This attitude and conduct is seen in families, communities, churches and denominations, state and national politics, and international relationships.

Mairead Corrigan, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and co-founder of the Community of Peace People in Northern Ireland (a region well-acquainted with the pain of violence and contention) writes: Our common humanity is more important than all the things that divide us.  As I understand it, her words are a reflection of the biblical message.

I’ve also considered the wisdom of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who said: We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together, and if we are to live together we have to talk.  Respectful dialogue seems to be a missing ingredient in today’s world.

Contemporary author/theologian Richard Rohr reminds us that God is not threatened by our differences.  It is we who are.  One only has to look at the social, political, career and personality diversity of Jesus’ first followers to see that the biblical notion seems to affirm a unified diversity—it takes all kinds.

As the Ethiopian proverb suggests, unified spider webs can do both good and harm.  We know all too well how individuals bent on destruction and chaos can unify to destroy just as easily as people can unify to bring harmony and growth.

Tragically, we often use God’s name as a way of justifying our fury and venom, trying to sell our rage as righteous indignation or God’s will.  But does this really reflect God’s nature?  Consider these words from Hebrews 12:14 [New International Version]–Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  And these words in 2 Corinthians 13:11 to all who have ears to hear: Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

I guess it’s up to each of us to decide what kind of home, community, church, denomination, state, nation and world we want to live in, and then live the kind of life that will create such a world.  But begin by listening to God.

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