Good Letters: Jars of Clay

I’ve got a post up today on Good Letters, the fine blog offered by that Image Journal magazine I like so much. If you’ve got a moment take time to check it out. In light of the heat the band (and front man, Dan Haseltine in particular) took a few weeks ago over a Twitter discussion on marriage equality I just wanted to check in with my friend, Stephen Mason. He delivers some lovely words and sage thinking. Hope you’ll give it a read! 20130614-jarsofclay-600x-1371228007-300x240

What I heard you say…

It’s been a weird week since the Supreme Court offered up it’s long awaited opinion on equal rights for homosexual couples where marriage is concerned. I expected a flurry of activity on social media feeds and I braced for it because I have a fairly diverse group of friends on Facebook and Twitter.

It was strangely quiet.

There were a couple of heated discussions but I’m relieved to say that for the most part there was no over the top grandstanding from anyone. There was quiet gratitude and quiet disappointment. Apart from those vocal few I expected, there were not many ripples in the calm water of adorable cat pictures and anticipated Game of Thrones memes and for that I am thankful.

Just to prove that social media is not always a reflection of what’s happening in real life there were certainly backlashes from the religious community and grand showings of glee (the emotion, not the tv show) from those supportive of the measure. Facebook is, of course, a self constructed reality. It can be a very comforting bubble if I hide and show posts with any success. I cruised through the Supreme Court ruling news without losing sleep over posts at all. I call that a win, even if it’s a self constructed win.

Then today I read a blog post from Frank Schaeffer on Patheos.com. I read it because it was highlighted on Facebook by Sojourners and because I tend to like Sojourners and the other friends who subsequently posted links to it. To be fair, the friends who posted the link to the article did so with some caveats, often stating that they don’t agree with everything Frank says and yet there was something in his article they felt needed to be said.

I don’t know Frank Schaeffer, really. Though I’ve read him a few times, I don’t know much about him or his history because I was raised Catholic. His history isn’t mine, I don’t know his struggle much or his scandal or his family issues. I did meet him once in person at the first Wild Goose Festival. I was introduced by a real life friend of both of us. We sat at a picnic table and I batted away mosquitos and Daddy Long Leg spiders while my husband and I talked with him and drank lemonade in the “presenters” section behind an old farm house. The four of us sat there and he spoke of his grandchildren for the most part. We talked about parenting, Dave and I still very much in the throes of it with our four and we all talked of our failures and our proud moments. He brought it back to his grandchildren every time. He was most proud of his grandparent self and I respect that.

So, I read the article by Frank because though I often don’t care much for his writing I do remember meeting him and I remember the conversation about his grandchildren. It’s clear to me, from our brief conversation how much he thinks about the future and it was tremendously clear how much he loves and cares for his family so I read the piece, with that in my head.

And I was sad then when I read it because it felt strange and off and judgmental and marginalizing. I was sad because I think Frank has some great influence on the next generation of Christians and that’s important but this piece while “raw but not without merit” as my Facebook friend suggested, took me away from the conversation. I did not nod my head and share my own views and it made me not want to share my views, not because we disagree, but because it was not safe to agree or disagree. It made the conversation and the place of the conversation toxic and I feel sad about that because I do think we need to talk about it.

I work hard to practice what is called “active listening.” Active Listening looks something like this- a person gives a statement and then I reflect back not what I think or feel but what I hear them saying, using as many of their actual words as possible. The aim is not to read between the lines or to project my own fears and doubts on their words but to really take their words, reflect them back and see if I “get” what they said, not what I think they said or what I know they want to say but what they actually say.

I have to practice it because I suck at it. My default mechanism is listening while formulating what I’m going to say in response or reading between the lines to get what they really mean, deep in their hearts, you know, because I’m so very intuitive like that (NOT.) I admit, maybe even responding to Frank’s article is in effect, another offshoot of my default mechanism even so, it’s what comes to me around the piece because I don’t disagree that many conservative outlets practice hypocrisy and yet, I don’t know that reading their words and then telling “us” what they really mean by adding in what’s unspoken is terribly productive. There is a way to engage the struggle here, by letting the statements people make stand on their own and then responding. “Here is what I heard you say…” and then “This is how I feel about it…” is far more powerful a conversation in my estimation.

Even if I agree that Frank is right in his assessment, we’re all smart enough, I hope, to read between the lines on these statements ourselves. These are not new, super secret sentiments. There is something profoundly discouraging about having someone I heard speak so beautifully in person about his family tell us what people really mean. It dispels hope. It stops the conversation. It’s not active listening and in the end, I fear it only makes the divide between us all further and deeper and more desperate.

I respect the lovely and articulate grandfather I met at Wild Goose two years ago with whom I shared my parenting struggles and proud moments. This response to the tensions around this issue doesn’t represent the version of him I met that day and for that I am sad.