Several years ago a friend of mine suggested I read a book by Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, which I did. It was a challenging read. Last year, as part of my regular time with the Lord, both Barbara and I read his book, Free of Charge, an excellent deep discussion of God’s grace. As a result of both those books I made the decision that Volf would be my mentor this year and that part of my quiet time will consist of reading others of his works.
I am currently reading Allah, A Christian Response. With all that is in the news both within the United States and internationally, that seemed a natural choice. In this book Volf is looking for the common ground between Christianity and Islam as a basis for conversation and dialogue. As a part of his study he references those from both Islam and Christianity who refuse to find any basis for dialogue maintaining that the differences between the two are so profound that no meaningful conversation is possible. Volf disagrees.
As I have been thinking through what I am reading I have been reflecting on a training I attended last year provided by my employer. The company that did the training is Conversant and a good summary is a book written by the founders of the company, The Communication Catalyst. The authors are Richard Rianoshek and Mickey Connelly. I had the delightful experience of spending an entire day with Mickey along with another of my colleagues. A fundamental concept of their approach to communication is that every human being on the planet has purpose (what we are for), concerns (what we want to avoid), and real circumstances. Valuable conversations happen when we find a place of intersection in purpose, concern and circumstances. When we focus outside the intersection very little of value happens.
My thought for today is then, are we looking for common ground or are we looking for that which divides? Because, whichever it is we will find what we are looking for. There is no question that there are vast differences between the beliefs of Christianity and Islam. But, then, there is also no question there are vast differences between you and me. Still, you are reading this because there is some common ground between us, some place in which we intersect, and so you are willing to spend some of your precious time in conversation with me through reading this blog. Maybe you are family, or a friend, or even someone who wants to see what kind of off the wall thing I am up to these days. There is some kind of common ground.
There are also things that divide us all. Even with Barbara and me there are things in us that divide. In 42 years of marriage we have found a way around all that with our primary focus on the common ground but that doesn’t change the fact that there is still that which divides. While not always the case it is all to often true that we make up our minds about something and then find the evidence to prove a choice we have already made. If you decide that I am a “good” person you will hold on to the things I do that prove you correct in your choice. On the other hand, if you decide I am a real snake in the grass you can find evidence to support that as well.
So, my question remains are you looking for common ground or that which divides? What is the common ground between you and that co-worker who is getting under your skin? What is the common ground between you and your obnoxious neighbor, who by the way probably thinks you are the obnoxious one? What is the common ground between you and your enemy? Aren’t you glad that God chose to stand on the common ground He created for us all, transcending the divide between us which is far greater than any human divide could ever be and, in Christ, has reconciled us to Him?
What will you look for, common ground or that which divides??
March 21st, 2015 at 10:53 pm
E.Stanley Jones has some valuable comments on this–so much of his ministry was spent in respectful dialogue with Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. This ability to find that common ground and still hold dear and proclaim that which is so very different is not easily found among men! (or women!)
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March 22nd, 2015 at 8:52 am
E. Stanley Jones was an amazing man. I have a book in my library that he wrote in the 1930’s call Christ’s Alternative to Communism. In that book he maintained that Communism was addressing the right questions but with all the wrong answers. He wrote then that Communism would rise in influence because of the questions addressed but then collapse in on itself because of its spiritual bankruptcy. The book was written to challenge to Church to engage the conversation, which unfortunately, it did not do until much later. Thanks for reminding us of the power of this man and the power of conversation for us all.