As we (hopefully) close the door on a long political season that can easily be described using many not-so-nice adjectives, this is a good opportunity to reflect on the value of having intentional space for real conversation with one another. Real Conversation, of course, is one of Middletown’s Core Values, along with Radical Love, Freedom of Belief, Sacrificial Service, and Infectious Community. All five of these values are at their best when they’re together. It’s hard to truly have one without the others, and that mix was an intentional choice for our church as we thought about who we wanted to be in the world.
The core value that seems to be hurting the most right now is Real Conversations. Over the last year or so, as the political rhetoric began to really ramp up, our society witnessed the total breakdown of real conversation. Social media posts became breeding grounds for hatred, friendships literally ended, people avoided each other, and fingers were pointed. It’s unfortunate and it hurts. This season created a lot of negativity. So, how do we rebound from that? Fortunately, this negativity doesn’t have to be the end of the story.
The simple answer is that we, as a community of faith, need to work to restore the value of Real Conversations in our church, our family, and with our friends. Please hear me say this: having real conversation doesn’t mean everyone has to agree. Real conversation doesn’t mean one opinion dominates over the others. And real conversation definitely doesn’t include attacking the person who holds an opinion contrary to yours. Real conversation means creating a safe space where everyone can share, everyone can be heard, and everyone keeps an open mind about what others are saying. When we talk—actually talk—we learn from each other, we grow, and we become better citizens of the world.
What does this look like? Good question. This looks like having friends who are different from you. A difference in politics is a fine place to start, but ideally these conversations also take place with people of different races, faith backgrounds, sexualities, economic levels, and family histories. When we open our hearts, our minds, and our living rooms to people for the purpose of genuine Real Conversations, we all learn and we all grow.
Here’s a good example. Last spring, during Lent, we started a conversation group called Theology on Tap. We meet once a month at an area restaurant for good food, good beer, and good conversation. Each month has a topic pre-chosen by the group and we come prepared to talk openly and honestly about how we engage with that topic. Some of the topics have been lighter (anxiety, doubt, prayer) and some have been heavier (Heaven and Hell, God and Gender, Free Will vs God’s Will), but all of them have sparked open discussion in a safe place for people to share where they are, what they’ve experienced, and how that impacts their faith journey. Agreement around the table is not a requirement (in fact, we’ve had some very different views expressed many times), but civility and openness and respect are requirements.
Real Conversation takes place at Theology on Tap around a table with friends, food, and beer. Even outside of formal events like these, however, real conversation practices can and should extend to how we interact with other people on social media, at the store, in our homes, and (yes) at church. The political season has made all of us at least a little cynical—it’s time we put that behind us, love each other, and engage in real conversations that advance relationships forward.
Note: If you’d like to know more about Theology on Tap, feel free to contact Youth Minister Chris Cherry at [email protected]. There’s room at the table for you!