Everyone laments that we don’t talk to people different than ourselves and that it’s killing our culture, and then almost nobody does it. This annoys me – not just that people are hypocritical about this, but because I am too. Recently I’ve gotten together with three “progressive” Christian clergy to do something called theology pub or spirituality on tap. Essentially the concept is from the emergent movement, but is simple enough. Some people don’t like coming to churches or being on religious people’s home turf. However, this doesn’t mean they are shallow and don’t like talking about spirituality, God, morality, meaning and so on. So, you take the conversations about those things to their turf and of course that means going to a pub/bar.
I was invited to The Fountain in downtown Madison, described to me as a hotbed of progressive activism related to the Walker protests. There we ate food basically like everyone else eats for about the same price in almost exactly the same environment. And we discussed how to pull off a monthly gathering on Sunday nights where we talked about spiritual issues in a way that would be inviting to nonreligious people and that would include all of us from different perspectives. Because I didn’t know two of the three, it wasn’t a conducive moment to really dig into anything of substance. We had a nice lunch, and I suspect that won’t be hard to do.
Selfishly, engaging with other people spiritually is actually one of my lesser goals in this sort of gathering. My main goal is to simply get around people that aren’t like me. It’s not out of some misguided sense of pluralism – that I really should be more like them. It’s really out of a sense of exclusivism – that the right way to be is to be the sort of person that can be around any kind of person. I do think that is personally expanding, and in that sense “open-minded”. But I find most of these politically correct imperatives to have little concrete meaning – they strike me as vague platitudes. For analytical people like me, vague platitudes are just intellectual insults.
I’m hoping it will be an experience well worth my time, that I will meet some interesting people, and that I will have some even more interesting discussions. I expect them to be challenging, that they will be sending me a way to verify things I think are facts, and they will be challenging premises and conclusions I have come to. It is exactly their judgment that I’m seeking; though not their approval. I think to be open to other human beings requires being open to their judgment, and whether I get diplomatic suggestions for both barrels of righteous indignation, either way I’ll be happy. I think every public intellectual should be regularly put to the test by people who don’t agree with him/her.
However, this doesn’t mean I’m looking for a fight. To really be judged by the discernment of others, I have to be extremely diplomatic – which also is very good practice. Learning to say things clearly and directly and yet still kindly, civilly and with compassion to the hearer is a skill I could never have too honed.
Let me know if you’d like to come, and pray for me that I will get out of this what God intends.