Monday, October 30, 2006

The Ethics of Conversation: A Critical Self-Assessment

No cultural activity may be more fundamental to our humanity than conversation. Conversation is far more than the simple exchange of words. That is, conversation is far more than the sounds created by our mouths which then cause our ear drums to vibrate. Instead, conversation is the encounter of human thoughts and experiences; without conversation, can we even call ourselves human?

Nevertheless, the nature of conversation necessarily makes it a dangerous activity. Words can too easily become verbal daggers. Even if conversation remains productive and positive, conversation still poses a threat, for true conversation makes both sides uniquely vulnerable. Words are alluring, seductive. Words can convince us to turn from the error of our ways. Words can cause us to question everything we know. Truly, conversation is dangerous, for it ultimately puts a mirror before us and asks, “Why?” Why do you believe? How do you know?

In light of the spiritual and personal jeopardy that we face in earnest conversation, what are our responsibilities to one another? How can we care for someone who has exposed her mind and heart to us? I have become convinced that our sacred duty in conversation is a humble, truthful and open disposition. If we enter into conversation unwilling to be changed, we are practitioners of intellectual and theological arrogance, not the productive and potentially sacred encounter of humans. If we enter into conversation willing simply to agree with our partner in dialogue or unwilling to share our views will full conviction, we deprive her of our own sincerity and practice a cheap relativism. If we enter into conversation as a battle of wits, we deprive one another a chance to know another person deeply and thus practice a sophistry that values rhetorical victory over human contact.

Conversation can humanize and dehumanize, uplift us and drag us to the cultural dregs. My prayer is that we choose the former for the sake of God’s kingdom and reject the latter as an outmoded remnant of a sinful perspective that treasures being correct over being fully human.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Prelims continue

I am right in the midst of my second comprehensive exam. I have one week to write a full exegetical treatment on Paul's speech at the Areopagus in Acts.

Looks like fun, doesn't it?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Forgiveness, grace, mercy

For too many of us, the Amish are an exotic specimen on the American landscape, a curious group of people in period costumes with antiquated practices and an irrational fear of modernity. The recent shootings in Nickle Mines, Pennsylvania and the reactions of the Amish community there ought to bring an end to such caricatures.

School shootings in the 90s were a staple of the 24-hour news networks. They provided unending fodder for pundits and so-called cultural commentators to lament the end of western civilization. They inspired see-through backpacks, the commercial lionizing of victims in books and movies, the condemnation of various social ills without a concomitant concern for the deeper causes behind such unspeakable violence. It was video games or Marilyn Manson or the lack of prayer in schools. The various school shootings this country experienced in the 90s led us to be afraid, to point accusatory fingers. More than anything, though, those school shootings did not force us to look within ourselves and our own culture--a culture of violence and fear populated with guns both real and digital, a culture too concerned with possession and too little concerned with belonging.

Contrast these sundry reactions to that of the Amish community in Nickle Mines. They buried their dead children in simplicity and silence. They tore down the now tarnished schoolhouse so as to create a living pasture as a memorial of those girls' lives. They accepted the aid of their neighbors for to reject the outside world would be to reject God's own grace.

Most shocking to us, even those of us who claim to be followers of Christ, they reached out to the perpetrator of this crime and his grieving family. Their public forgiveness was pure, lacking even a subtle, periphrastic condemnation of such a seeming monster. Recently, the man's family thanked the Amish community for their "forgiveness, grace, and mercy."

To a Christian, no other words from our neighbors should be as sweet. Not "successful." Not "nice." Not "enlightened." Not "dogmatic." Not "moral." Not even "Christian." In the end, "forgiveness, grace, and mercy" are the marks of Christ himself, the marks towards which we ourselves should strive.

The faithfulness and piety of the Amish should put us to shame. May I suggest that instead of a roadside oddity, this Amish community is a faithful remnant of true believers within a country in which most of us have forgotten the path Christ led.