Tag Archives: Conversation

I wish I had said that…

It’s been quite awhile since I have posted anything. I have received a new assignment at work that, quite frankly, has been consuming most of my thinking energy.

One of our blog followers forwarded an article to me that I found captures the heart of what I am hoping to accomplish through this blog with some real insight as well. The article is, “The Splintering of the Evangelical Soul” by Timothy Dalrymple. It speaks to one of our principles for healthy conversation, humility.

Just this quote provides a challenge and good food for thought. “Rather than withdrawing into communities of common loathing, the church should be offering a community of common love, a sanctuary from the fragmentation and polarization, from the loneliness and isolation of the present moment. The church should model what it means to care for one another in spite of our differences on social and political matters and affirm the incomparably deeper rootedness of our identity in Christ.”

I would love to hear your thoughts…

Happy Mother’s Day!

Resist the spirit…

To my Christian friends, before you start reacting make note of the small “s” in the spelling for spirit.

It has been awhile since I have written and I want to complete a short explanation of our guidelines. I have previously addressed (1) the assumption of good will, and (2) listening to understand. I need to find a more succinct way to say it but (3) is don’t get into the spirit of anger and fear that is going on all around us. Social media is rife with it. Many years ago I heard a marriage seminar persons say, “If you fight with your spouse to win, both lose.”

No matter what they are saying and who is right or wrong this isn’t going to end well for these two. It is entirely possible to be completely correct in an argument and dead wrong. Unfortunately, this is what too many look like today. Instead of honoring the other, or listening to understand we are trying to out shout and the other. Actually, it seems as though we are trying to out shame each other these days in our public conversations.

I’ll write more about this as we go along but a number of years ago I realized that I could over power some with my force of argument, but any subsequent behavior change never lasted, because it was a change forced by power, soul power, that produced compliance and not genuine understanding or change. I know the media plays this up and loves to show the conflict, but when two sides of an issue face off in the streets and it gets into a shouting match with anger and hatred being expressed the argument no longer matters and everyone lose.

I am trying to resist the sarcasm and anger that rises up on me when I encounter perspectives that radically differ from my own. When I read the angry comment of the other if it provokes anger in me then the enemy of us all has us both right where he wants us. But I need to speak, I need to express my thoughts. This is not a time to disengage but a time to engage constructively and in a spirit that is seeking accord even if we can’t find it. I have been paying close attention to what is going on in my emotions as I read the news or an op ed about some current issue. Learning to listen to understand starts with listening to yourself. Am I getting angry or bitter because I am afraid. Then I have a faith issue. Is it because I feel threatened? If so, am I? If I get into the same spirit that is coming at me from the “other” then that spirit has won already. I know I already wrote that, but I need to remind myself over and over.

I titled this “Resist the spirit…”. If you are a Christ follower you know that comes from a Bible verse that says, “Resist the devil and he will flee.” My challenge to those following this conversation is to resist the hatred, the sarcasm (both sides are filled with sarcastic comments), the fear, the disrespect and the dehumanization of anyone, even your worst enemy.

I’ll end this with an experience I had today on Facebook. There is a pastor in Canada who refused to allow the authorities to come into his church for an inspection. He had every right to do so and eventually forced them to leave. The post I saw was celebrating how he handled the authorities and putting him up as an example of how we should all resist unwarranted intrusion from unauthorized officials. I believe he may be an example of doing the right thing in a completely inappropriate way including calling the officials the gestapo and Nazis. He was violent in his opposition and could have accomplished even more had he made his stand with respect, without name calling and in the Spirit of his Lord rather than the spirit of those with whom he was in conflict.

Lord help us to be bold with quiet strength and not the rancor of our age.

Core Value: Assumption of Good Will

Certain values and commitments are necessary to real conversation with the “other.” My thought is to define those we will adhere to going forward and let them determine what is appropriate and what is not. Before we can safely and constructively engage “issues” there should be agreement on values. I foresee establishing a charter that our follower travelers would agree to and be guided by in their conversations.

It is my sincere desire that we collaborate in forming and, then, declaring those values. Someone has to get the ball rolling and I will gladly accept that role. But my voice alone isn’t sufficient for the need. Help me out, please. Engage, suggest, admonish and think with me.

I’ll probably repeat certain themes over and over again. I am committed to a conversation of “others.” I don’t like labels because they short circuit understanding. But I think I have to use them to make my point here. I am not looking to create a Christian/Bahai conversation, nor a liberal/conservative, nor a brown/white, nor a young/old; nor any other x/x you can think of. I would like to create a conversation with all the either/or severely muted. I don’t suppose we can get rid of it entirely, but we can certainly stop leading with our differences and find the common ground that might lead to a celebration of those differences.

I thought about starting with the core value of listening but without the assumption of good will in the “other” listening rarely happens, not real listening anyway. So, what do I mean by an assumption of good will? As I said in an earlier blog (The Roaring Middle) I will be sharing from my faith in Jesus Christ as a Christ follower. That said, I long to hear from other faiths traditions and how they address similar issues. The assumption of good will is rooted in the belief that every person on the planet is created by God and created with purpose. As a follower of Jesus I believe that every person has both good and bad as a part of who they are. Some seem to have far more of one or the other but the very best have their faults and the very worst have a glimmer of the Creator’s spark in them. If I begin the conversation with the assumption that the bad is far more prevalent than the good I am likely to find the evidence to prove my point. It is at that point that all real conversation stops even if the words don’t. On the other hand if I start with the assumption of good will I will be looking for that evidence and far more likely to find it. You tend to find what you are looking for.

I know there are some truly malevolent people out there. I know you may have to look pretty hard to find the “good” in the “other,” but if you don’t at least try, then there is no hope of a conversation. Let me hasten to add that I am not suggesting that we instantly give trust to anyone or everyone. I am suggesting that you look for common cause and start the conversation from there. Let me close this with a simple illustration and then a challenge. Some time ago I was locked in conflict with an attorney who had an agenda that I was vehemently opposed to. In the midst of our heated exchange she mentioned a client that needed a neutral home for a baby they were hoping to adopt. If I remember correctly she was actually throwing that in my face believing it would shut me up. Within seconds I told her I would be glad to be the child’s neutral home until the adoption either went through or fell through. We stood on that common ground and accomplished something good, a home for the child. We didn’t have to resolve our disagreement to create that good.

So, the challenge. Take a moment and think of someone you are having a really hard time with, even better if it is a public figure. Now, get on the internet and find something good about them (if they are a public figure). See if you can find a common motive or concern. Sure, your solutions may diverge widely, but if your concerns are the same you have a starting place.

Finally, I want this to be a conversation. Add to my thoughts, challenge them, broaden them. Suggest other core values. I am not in a hurry. I know I already wrote this earlier, but I did say that I would repeat myself. Let me know what you think.


I received this today from a blog follower.


Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines…The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adore the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.

I believe this is from Henri Nouwen.

A couple of quick thoughts. I love the line, “Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place.” It could well be that change will take place in me rather than the “other.” It is just as likely that it will take place in us both.

The second thought is I would love to see this same kind of input from other faith traditions. More to come as I start describing the components of the charter being contemplated.

The Roaring Middle: Passionate Reasoned Discourse

I have been mulling this idea over for the last month or more. Let me tell you what I am thinking and invite your thoughts. I am looking for a place to have passionate conversation that is civil and respects all reasonable attempts to create understanding. I have been appalled and disturbed by the level of anger, dismissal and hatred expressed in the public conversation. In my personal experience either my friends are oblivious to any opinions other than their own or they are afraid to say anything at all, not knowing who will be offended and how.

I don’t believe that ugly rancor is the state of the vast majority of people here in America or the rest of the world. It is not my experience with my neighbors, my co-workers and the overwhelming majority of my friends and family. The extremists on both sides are dominating the news and social media feeds as the quiet middle watches. If you have been like me you may have thought there is no sense in even trying to engage in that melee, but we must. It is time for the middle voice to begin a relentless, quiet, steady roar. I am going to suggest resisting all labels but for now “liberal” or “conservative,” “left” or “right,” “urban” or “rural,” “Muslim” or “Christian,” or any other community of faith, let your voices be heard and stop letting the radical fringes paint the picture of life.

Before sharing my proposal, I am strongly considering abandoning main stream social media, in particular those driven by interest algorithms. A primary reason for the algorithms is to target advertising stimulating our already robust consumerism. I haven’t decided yet, but what if we create other pathways that don’t play into the immense power of Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Or what if we used them only for newsy connections with real “friends?” I am not sure but I have a thought how that might work and welcome any of yours as well.


  1. I am a follower of Christ. My faith is filled with admonitions to love and not hate. I propose that all people of faith regularly and consistently draw on their faith documents to advocate for strong conversation that remains open and loving. My faith calls that speaking the truth in love. I urge my Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Native religionist, atheist, and all other faith brothers and sisters to share your similar admonitions. I grieve for my Muslim friends defined by a radical element abusing their faith. I grieve the same for my Christian friends defined in the same way. They are distortions and it is time for the middle voice to begin a relentless, quiet, steady roar.
  2. I propose making a commitment to principles of conversation that I will adhere to personally and call my friends to the same. I invite you to join me in that commitment. I will start with three but really want to hear your input as well. When Barbara and I were first married we quickly realized that neither of us had been prepared for healthy relationships in the way we needed. Because we are who we are that led to very intense conflict. We were committed to finding health together and had to develop rules for our fighting. Though we broke most of them in the beginning they have now shaped our relationship for nearly 5 decades. That’s a pretty good track record, I think. Some suggestions to get us started:
    • Stop the name calling. What is a “fascist” anyway? I am pretty certain that if you asked 10 different people what they mean when they use that label you would get just about as many different definitions. The same can be said for “socialist.” Labels stop conversation because as soon as you label someone you have already pre-determined what you think of them and their input.
    • Believe that 99.9% of people are motivated for the common good. This includes the public figures with whom you struggle the most. Even if that opening statement is not true believing it will put you in a place of discovery and searching for understanding rather than drawing a line in the sand forcing you both on one side or the other. Another way of saying this is stop demonizing those with whom you disagree. Rarely is anyone either all good or all bad.
    • If your conversation gets heated and emotional disengage. But, disengage with the intention of re-engaging when you have your emotions in check. More than any political extreme I am deeply concerned by the profound alienation trying to invade our social fabric.

If my thoughts strike a chord with you, respond and let me know. What principles of civil discourse would you add. I have some thoughts about how to facilitate an ongoing conversation. If you are a blogger I will happily promote your blog links as long as they are consistent with our agreed upon principles of conversation. I long to hear from all positions across all spectrums; provided we are reaching for understanding and community.

It is time for the middle voice to begin a relentless, quiet, steady roar.

Assumption of Good Will

Our average fellow-citizen is a sane and healthy man, who believes in decency and has a wholesome mind.  He therefore feels an equal scorn alike for the man of wealth guilty of the mean and base spirit of arrogance toward those who are less well off, and for the man of small means who in his turn either feels or seeks to excite in others the feeling of mean and base envy for those who are better off.  The two feelings, envy and arrogance, are but opposite sides of the same shield, but different developments of the same spirit.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Was Roosevelt correct? Was he correct for his day and his time? Is this possibly an statement that is still valid today? Let’s start with his thesis statement, “Our average fellow-citizen is a sane and healthy man (substitute person here), who believes in decency and has a wholesome mind.” Quite frankly, this is my predominant experience of the people I know and encounter on a daily basis. In the company culture in which I work this is called assuming positive intent. I believe that most people want to do the right thing for others as well as for themselves. I certainly want to do the right thing, that which will create positive contribution for those around me. Are there times when my actions suggest otherwise? Absolutely, right smack dab in the middle of my positive intent is my own self-centeredness and my own limited view of all that is going on around me.

A number of years ago Barbara and I took a parenting course. One of the principles we picked up through that course was to evaluate our childrens’ behavior based on what they were characterized by. In other words, as we responded to their bad behavior we asked ourselves, “Is this normal consistent behavior on their part or does this seem to be more of an exception?” If the answer was they weren’t characterized by that kind of behavior then to discipline them as though it were patterned behavior would inevitably miss the mark and be unfair to them. So when you evaluate my behavior, or that of anyone else it would be wise to apply the same test. Is this person characterized by that behavior or is this an anomaly. Let’s start digging for the deeper reasons behind the behaviors we encounter in people.

“Okay, Bill,” you ask, “so what? Why are you writing about this?” I have expressed before how disturbed I am by the rancor and vitriol going on in the public conversation here in the United States of America. Maybe it is going on all over the world but it seems particularly pronounced in my home country these days. Roosevelt begins by saying, “Our average fellow-citizen…”. I think most of the public screaming matches we see on our news stations and hear on the airwaves are from people making a living by exploiting the fringes beyond our average fellow-citizen.

I hear strong opinions from those around me, but not closed minds that refuse to listen to anything I have to say because their minds are already made up. I see people making huge contributions to those around them. Some of them are “poor” and some are “rich” but I see them working side by side to try and make this world a better place in which to live. I see people wrestling with their latent racism and prejudices trying to overcome them and accept all people at face value. I see people fighting to get past the labels and into genuine encounters of discovery and understanding. Is it flawed? Sure. Do we have a lot of progress still to make? You bet. But in my experience my average fellow-citizen is generally assuming positive intent and reaching toward genuine fellowship with those around them.

Let’s start celebrating those conversations and start rejecting the vitriol and the attempt of those who sell us the news to convince us that we are irreparably separated.



All are labels. In the arena of human discourse they are completely counter productive.  We put labels on people to pretend to understand them.  “Oh, you are (pick your label) therefore I know you think this, and that, and so on and so forth.”  Once the label is firmly affixed to a fellow human being all meaningful conversation stops because we “know” who that person is and discovery becomes unnecessary.

I have been so labeled.  I’m sure anyone reading this has been as well.  I remember being very open with someone I was adding to a leadership team for which I had responsibility.  He was asking a lot of questions and as far as I was concerned that was a good thing.  Yet something was nagging at me and I was uncomfortable.  I finally asked him, “Are you asking questions because you genuinely want to understand the context of all that we are engaging, or are you asking questions because you have already made up your mind and you are gathering intelligence for your agenda in the future?”  It turned out to be the latter and as soon as he had a position on the leadership team he went to work undermining what I thought was our common agenda.

Putting a label on someone means we have already made up our minds who they are and what they will say and why.  It’s just too easy and doesn’t require us to actually have an exchange of ideas.  Let’s get rid of the labels.

First, stop using labels on others.  Ask them what they are thinking and why.  I spoke with a friend of mine within a couple of days after the presidential election.  He was very upset. We had a lengthy conversation about what he thought electing Donald Trump as our new president meant and the results he anticipates as a result of that election.  While I don’t agree with his conclusions, after listening to him if I interpreted things the way he is I would be profoundly upset as well.

Secondly, when someone uses a label on you ask them to get specific.  If they accuse you of being a racist ask them to specifically tell you what you said or did that made them think that is true of you.  Be prepared to listen.  It could be a word you used intending one thing that they interpreted differently.  Nine times out of ten I am going to guess that when you ask for specifics most people won’t be able to come up with them.  But if they do really listen to what they have to say.  You may discover a behavior or way that you talk that is being interpreted incorrectly by them and you might actually be able to mature in some way.

If they have something specific but it is genuinely a misinterpretation ask them if they would like to hear what you really meant, or your thinking behind the word or deed.  You should be able to gauge whether or not they are open to hear you.  If so, have the dialogue and see what you can do to find common ground somewhere.  Even if you respectfully agree to disagree you have created civility and healthy dialogue.  If you can see they aren’t really interested in what you meant, my suggestion is to drop the conversation rather than escalating an emotional non-discovery conversation.  There is an ancient proverb that says, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city.”  If the offense is there nothing you say will have any value to the one offended.  It is best to just walk away from the conversation.

I am going to do all I can to leave my labels behind.  Frankly, I don’t think liberal and conservative mean a whole lot these days.  Liberal about what and what is being conserved anyway.  I want to know what people really think.  What are the circumstances they are dealing with?  What dreams and hopes do they have and what are they afraid will keep them from living  into that hope?  I would invite you to join me and let’s see if we can restore real conversation motivated from real concern and caring into our public conversation once again.


Common Ground or That Which Divides

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??