Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Disagreeable Congregations?

One of the things I love about this remarkable congregation is the way we disagree with each other.

Now, that sentence is not as weird as it might look initially. Because to "disagree with each other" assumes the "with each other" part; in order to disagree with someone, a relationship with them is implied. And the relationship is really what it's all about, anyway - not the agreeing or the disagreeing.

Let me sort of flesh that out a bit. Obviously, I can disagree with an idea stated by a person whom I've never met. In other words, I can disagree in the absence of relationship. But then I'm not really disagreeing with the person, I'm disagreeing with the idea that they have articulated. That may seem like splitting hairs, but I think there is an important difference.

For example, I read Jonah Golberg's column every time it is published, and I disagree with the ideas he presents almost every time. (btw, why does it shock me to learn that he is just two years older than me?) But I have never met Jonah Goldberg, so the only relationship there is between his ideas as expressed in a short column and my reaction to them. Contrast that to a conversation our Staff/Parish Relations Committee is having about our Youth Ministry. I disagreed with something somebody said should be a goal of the congregation's ministry, and I said so. But because I know and love the person who was saying the thing I was disagreeing with, it was a different situation altogether.

The congregation I serve really knows how to disagree well. You know what I mean? There is respect and grace, even among sometimes diametrically opposed perspectives. After the meeting where we disagreed about the youth ministry, we prayed together, then the people I was disagreeing with and I had a great conversation about the NCAA tournament, shared a few laughs, said good night and went on our way.

And for the most part, there's no bitterness, no lingering animosity, nobody takes personal offense at the disagreement, and everybody pretty much loves each other anyway. Not to imply that the situation is perfect, of course. I know that there is some gossipy crap that goes on with a few people, speaking negatively of others behind their backs and such. But generally we can disagree together, mull it over for a while, have some more conversation, weigh some pros and cons, and then reach a pretty good consensus decision.

(Consensus, by the way, does not mean everyone agrees. Consensus means that even if everyone doesn't agree, everyone will go along with the decision for the good of the whole.)

Having experienced this atmosphere at North KC UMC, I'm wondering: Can we move this model of life together beyond the walls of a local congregation? Can we take this to Annual Conference? How about General Conference? How about ecumenically as the Church universal? How about at a global, inter-faith level even? Whoa - think of the possibilities!

Why is is sometimes so hard to say both "I love you" and "I disagree with you" in the same breath, and be genuinely sincere about both statements?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

there are points where I believe one needs to say "I love you...I need to leave your presence right now." I agree that we need to strive to be in community with eachother as much as possible, I do, I think I do. What are we to do when that conversation turns hateful, violent, fearful. What happens when the "power" of the conversation turns from mutual to the conversation being a tool for one person to overcome the other. Is there time then for the conversation to be dead, to say that "I can't let this conversation happen, it is hurting me,it is hurting you...let's be done" Isn't this healthy as well to know when to say "enough is enough". I believe a wise man once said "Pick your battles Justin" Who could that have been? Not that conversations are battles, but I think there are times just to stop talking. To not get into it.

yeah, I'm probably wrong...I don't care, don't talk to me about it, I don't find it healthy. ha, ha, ha.