The Heart of Good Dialogue

“Let the peace that Christ gives control your thinking. You were all called together in one body to have peace. Always be thankful.” Colossians 3:15 (International Childrens Bible)

After something like fifteen hours of intense dialogue this past weekend during the Discerning Retreat, I felt like I needed a silence transfusion. But that need did not diminish my joy over the radical thing I got to do. We were definitely called together in one body – for real, not just in theory. And we had remarkable peace.

Dialogue is not easy. It is easy to talk (or at least think of what you would talk about if you dared to talk); it is harder to listen. It is easier to speak inauthentically– playing a part, following a line of thinking; it is harder to take oneself and others seriously as expressions of God’s Spirit. In this day, it is hard not to succumb to the prevailing thought that “everyone has a right to their own opinion” and merely “agree to disagree,” as if that thought and action were somehow supremely moral.

In Paul’s thinking, I think he would say, “The good news is that everyone has a restored right to God’s word of truth.” And, “For the sake of living in the peace Christ gives I would gladly give up all my so-called rights.”

A partner came up to me after the retreat was over and was so happy that we managed not to fight. It was the first time she had been involved in our discerning process directly. She had never seen a group of believers talk about difficult things with mutual understanding, patience and hope like we did. Another person said a similar thing. She was amazed that we could disagree so well.

I hope they didn’t think we just had a remarkable affection for each other. That is true. But we have to agree on some basics things in order to disagree well — like the scripture that heads this post. We can’t accept what we discern as practical application of our faith unless we do agree on some foundational realities of that faith. As in the words Paul wrote to the Colossians above, we have to agree that the peace of Christ is more important than our latest brainstorm or our latest desire to rise to the surface. We have to agree that we have been called together in one body and that our fears won’t protect that or our brilliance create it. We do need to be alert for what can destroy us, and we do need to passionately exercise our gifts to be the body, but, at the bottom of it, being called together and lead by God is the basis of any discernment we might have.

I have to admit that when I entered the retreat time, I was at peace, but I was not very thankful, yet. I was more anxious about what was going to happen. The pastors ran out of planning time and wished there had been more; we didn’t get our logistics right and ran into last-minute glitches; significant partners were absent or indisposed – there is always something. But during the prayer walk in the neighborhood, about when I was buying old china from a neighbor’s yard sale (which Gwen actually liked, even though it did not match what she already had, as I’d hoped), I was moved with a great feeling of gratitude. It hit me.

I managed to let Jesus rule the situation. I let my joy over being called into the body and having a real one to live in rise to the top. I listened to the hearts of my prayerwalking buddies as they prayed. I admired the burgeoning neighborhood into which God has plopped us. I realized I was astounded.

Maybe always be thankful is even more the essence of discerning dialogue. Conversation with someone who is grateful for what they have been given and grateful for who they have been given to be is a pleasure. Their receptivity to God’s grace makes them the most able discerners. I long to be one of those kind of followers of Jesus.

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About Rod White

Pastor for Circle of Hope. Graduate of Fuller Seminary, PhD in MFT from Eastern University.
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