Online Conversation | Speaking Peace and Seeking Reconciliation in a Fractured Culture
with David Bailey and Marilyn McEntyre
On Friday, November 6th, we were delighted to partner again with our friends at Coracle to present Speaking Peace and Seeking Reconciliation in a Fractured Culture, an Online Conversation with David Bailey and Marilyn McEntyre. At the end of the election week, we heard from David and Marilyn, exemplars of peace and reconciliation both in word and action, who discussed what we can do, as individuals and the Church to walk in the way of true shalom, love of neighbor, and truth telling.
The painting is Marine Solitude by Anton Melbye, 1852.
The song is The Olive Grove by Steffany Gretzinger
Transcript of Speaking Peace and Seeking Reconciliation Culture with David Bailey and Marilyn McEntyre
Cherie Harder: [Thank you for joining us for] this afternoon’s Online Conversation with David Bailey and Dr. Marilyn McIntyre on speaking peace and seeking reconciliation in a fractured culture. It has been a tough week in the midst of a truly ugly year, fairly extraordinary divisions, distortions, and even national duress. Through that time, our public language has grown ever more overheated and vitriolic, our echo chambers more narrow. Our sense of identity, studies have shown, have grown increasingly politicized, even as our political views in the aggregate have grown more extreme, contemptuous, and incoherent. The result has been a growing confusion about what’s true or false, significant or trivial, wise or foolish, right or wrong. And in a vicious cycle, as we grow more angry and addled, we also grow increasingly alienated with our communities fraying, relationships suffering, and our friendships fracturing.
While there are those who inevitably benefit and profit from stoking conflict, biblical wisdom holds that it is the peacemakers who are blessed. So how can we, in the midst of such chaos, learn to act, relate, write, and speak so as, in the words of one of our guests, to survive and subvert organized confusion and to seek both justice and reconciliation? Our guests today have in very different ways undertaken the challenging and deeply creative work of speaking peace and seeking reconciliation in a fractured and fractious culture. Whether through creating, catalyzing art and culture as a means of building community, or considering and stewarding language as a source of health and healing, their experience and wisdom helps clarify both the call to serve as makers of peace and seekers of justice, and spurs the imagination as to new possibilities for doing so in our own spheres.
And so it is a great pleasure to introduce today our guests, David Bailey and Dr. Marilyn McIntyre. David Bailey is the founder and executive director of Arrabon, a ministry that equips churches in effective cross-cultural engagement in their specific context. And in that role, he’s also served as a consultant, strategist, and frequent speaker, including as a TED-talker. He’s also the executive producer of the Urban Doxology Project, the author of Arrabon: Learning Reconciliation through Community and Worship Music, and was named by Christianity Today as one of the “20 Most Creative Christians We Know.”
Dr. Marilyn McIntyre is a writer, speaker, and professor of medical humanities at UC Berkeley and UCSF, their joint medical program, as well as a faculty member at Westmont College. A prolific and poetic author, she’s written dozens of articles and reviews in journals such as The Washington Post, Books and Culture, Comment, Journal of the American Medical Association, and Christianity Today, and is the author of more than 20 books, including four volumes of poetry, her wonderful book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, which we hosted her in the summer to discuss, and her latest, Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict, which we’ve invited her to discuss today.
David and Marilyn, welcome.
Marilyn McIntyre: Thank you.
David Bailey: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Cherie Harder: Absolutely. Glad to have you both here. So as we start off, you both are in unusual fields and it’s definitely the road less traveled. How did you get to the place where so much of your vocation is spent seeking reconciliation and stewarding language? So, David, let’s start with you on that.
David Bailey: Well, I mean, I think I oftentimes say that I feel like the work of reconciliation chose me. I didn’t really choose it. I mean, my parents were really involved in a lot of like urban ministry, even though we lived in the suburbs. And so they did a lot of urban-suburban partnerships. So I think for me, one of the things that was really important, that I didn’t know was formative for my life until I was in college, I was in a sociology class and I heard people talk about “those people.” And sometimes “those people” were poor people. Sometimes “those people” were rich people. But then I realized that folks had strong opinions about “those people,” but did not know anybody by name. And so there were these, I mean, super, super strong opinions, and I realized, “Oh, most people grow up with people that have the same racial-ethnic background as them, the same socio-economic educational levels as them, and they can kind of categorize folks in different spaces.”
And I spent a significant part of my life as a professional musician. I started like doing gigs around 14 and through college. I’m playing at country clubs and I play in urban inner city areas and I really got a chance to engage with a lot of folks of different races, ethnicities. And so my friendships go deep. You know, like I genuinely have friends who are on the left, who are on the right, who are in the center, people who are Christians and those who are not. And I hear the same thing about the “other people,” and I realized that like, your life is a lot richer, my life is a lot richer because when I’m talking about the other, I’m not talking about somebody in the abstract. I’m talking about people that I actually know, people that I do disagree with, but I do have friendships with.
And I just fundamentally believe that this is what the church ought to be doing. I fundamentally believe that if anywhere else, in the Christian community should be a place where—Jesus had the zealots, and he had the tax collector. The person that was part of the system and the person that was trying to dismantle the system were a part of Jesus’ discipleship crew, like part of Jesus’s community. And the Kingdom of God that he was preaching was bigger than whatever vision of flourishing that each of those that the tax collector and the zealot had.
Cherie Harder: That’s great. Marilyn, you’ve spent much of your professional life as well as your personal life thinking deeply about language and writing several books about the care of language. How did you get onto this road less taken?
Marilyn McIntyre: Well, I think there are lots of answers to that. The short one is I lived in a family in which conversation really mattered, and I had a grandmother in our home who was very good at gentle correction, so it wasn’t all about proper English, but it was about a clarity. And so I think I learned very early on that clarity is a gift to the people around you. But also then spending most of my adult life in classrooms, teaching literature in one venue or another. It seems to me that literature is a good training ground for life in all kinds of ways, every story is organized around a conflict. And so learning to imagine our way with the writers through conflicts, with all of their complexities at so many levels, provides a good lab for life. One of my favorite critics, Kenneth Burke, said “literature is the equipment for living.” So I think that the people from whom I learned to read the Bible carefully and my Sunday school teachers who had me memorize scripture and then later, so, so many people who have engaged with me in the life of reading, have helped me to see how reading equips us to enter into conversations private and public with more attention to the language we’re using and the images and the metaphors and all that equipment.
Cherie Harder: So, David, I’ve noticed that in many of your talks, you stress that a basic building block in reconciliation is what you call a robust biblical anthropology, which sounds intriguing, but perhaps a little bit unclear. What is a robust biblical anthropology and why is it necessary to effect a reconciliation?
David Bailey: Yeah, I think one of the big questions that we are wrestling with in our society right now is “what does it mean to be human?” And I think that the Bible has a very accurate and healthy way—I think one of the most accurate worldviews—of what does it mean to be human. At the same time, I think American Christianity has a very sordid history and has not been living into what it means to be human. So if you just go into the scriptures, you just read, hey, what’s the Bible about? You get only 26 verses in and it says that, “Hey, let us make humanity in our image and likeness, both male and female.” So it’s a unity and diversity that is both a reflection of image of God. It’s not the maleness, it’s not the femaleness, it’s not one particular ethnicity or group of people. It is like the unity and diversity that’s supposed to image of God. And then you see, like in chapter 2, that like the first task is to cultivate a garden that was already good. And so in many ways, we’re like cultivating culture. Before weeds get into the garden, before pesky insects and all that kind of stuff starts to bring death into a garden, we’re supposed to cultivate and maintain goodness. And then you see, like, God invites us in to then name things and make sense of our world, and then name things in our world. And so these are ideas, you know, that Andy Crouch kind of put in his book Culture Making and this is true, like, this is what it means to be human.
And so, unfortunately, in a time when we like as a country and as Christians wanted to like engage in greed and had to justify that greed. And if you commit an act of violence against somebody, you just can’t just punch a person in the face or say something, you have to justify it in some type of way. And particularly, if you’re going to do it for economic reasons, then you know, you can’t just say, “Well, these people deserve it.” And so the narrative that our country told—and Christianity was used as a tool to tell this false narrative—is that some people are human and other people aren’t. Some people are predestined to be in control and dominate other people and other people aren’t. And that is something that we’ve practiced for hundreds of years, and culture doesn’t change [just] like that, you know? And so this is something where— that was a co-opting. That was a, that was an identity theft of God’s intention and the work that Jesus is doing. And so we have to go back to what the text says and says that all people are made in the image of God before the fall. All people have something valuable to give before the fall, whether we agree with them or not. And we have to start there as Christians.
Cherie Harder: You mentioned cultivation and how that was an essential part of being human even before the fall. And it seems like another one of the building blocks you have talked about quite a bit as being essential to reconciliation is community co-creation, creating cultural artifacts with those with whom one has a difference. Why is that so important?
David Bailey: Yeah, I mean, I think it reminds me of this like proverb that I’ve heard contributed as an African proverb, says, “Hey, when I saw them far away, I thought they were a demon. When they got closer, I thought they were animal. When they got closer, I realized they were human. When they got face to face, I realized they were my brother and sister.” And so, you know, Jason Caine says it this way, that “proximity leads towards empathy and empathy leads towards unity.” And so a lot of times we demonize the folks that we’re furthest away from. And as you get closer to one another, whether you agree with somebody or not, you see their humanity and you see the similarities and you see our commonness that we have as brothers and sisters, either of faith or brothers and sisters just in the human experience.
And so one of the best ways to engage in this is to actually engage in culture making. Actually, diversity is really helpful to make great culture. You know, we’re here today because of the culture that was made yesterday, so if we want to see something different tomorrow, if there’s something that we feel like we’re lacking today, then we need to create new culture for what we want to see tomorrow. And I think a lot of times we could spend more time cursing the darkness. We could spend more time complaining about what’s wrong versus, “Hey, if you’re not satisfied with what’s going on in the world, and I’m not satisfied with what’s going on in the world, what can we do together to co-create something?” And that co-creation process creates this like pressure-cooker that allows us to, one, get the chance to get in proximity with one another to build some empathy with one another, to build some stuff together. And that helps to build some actual unity.
Cherie Harder: Marilyn, one of the really interesting points of convergence that I saw, at least, between your work caring for language and David’s work of community-building and reconciliation-building is one of the strategies you recommend is to promote poetry, which you called a public responsibility and not just a private practice. And promoting poetry by making it, enjoying it, promoting it. And of course, poetry comes from the word poesis, which literally means “to make.” So it seems like there’s all this interesting point of convergence and that both of you from your different spheres advocate creation-making as part of the peace-building process. In your view, how does poetry contribute to peacemaking?
Marilyn McIntyre: Well, I guess I would start by referencing David’s work in helping people to make hymns, you know, which is just one of the most common places where poetry is shared, in songs and hymns. And it seems to me that in most of the cultures I know about outside of our own poets have an important function, even as political, a function in the political conversation. People in Eastern Europe know that poets are dangerous people because they have a particular way of introducing truth-telling that is subversive. It’s sometimes, it’s surprising. When you cut off a sentence in the middle, and that’s the end of the line, something happens to the words that are sitting there on the line. And so poets, I think really, to go back to the garden metaphor, they’re the people who plow up the ground, the soil of language that we grow in. And I think they help to refresh that soil when it’s being depleted.
So I also think that poetry broadly defined—and that includes just any word work that people are doing with intention and clarity—is a way of fostering the wide conversation where people are thinking about words. Right now, it seems to me that one of the best things we can do in the conversations we enter is to periodically call each other’s attention to the very words we’re using and to keep asking, “What exactly do you mean by that? That’s an interesting image.” And to play out or tease out the implications of the metaphors and the images and the turns of phrase and the allusions that we appropriate. That lifts everyone’s attention into a more complex place of understanding what’s going on. What’s going on among us is always, at one level, language.
Cherie Harder: That raises so many different questions. I think it’s intriguing, your point about specificity being important. Of course, you elaborate on this in your book and have talked both in that book and your previous one about how often simplification can be a tool of oppression, sort of a cudgel used quite crudely. How does one sort of simultaneously encourage necessary complexity with the clarity that you’ve also talked about as being so essential to the peace-making process?
Marilyn McIntyre: Well, there’s sure a big difference between simplification and oversimplification. I really make sure that students understand the difference between “simple” and “simplistic” because they think that some very deep truths are also simple in the sense that they can be stated in one sentence like “God is love” or “all the commandments come down to this: love the Lord your God, love your neighbor.” So there’s that condensation towards a deep simplicity, but the kind of simplification or oversimplification that’s so dangerous is what we see in so many political slogans that become trigger words and that sort of prevent thought by presuming to offer an abstraction in the place of a clarification, to suppress ambiguity, to suppress paradox. If you think about the fact that Jesus and pretty much every other spiritual teacher works in paradox, that should tell us that truth-telling is always paradoxical and always has many dimensions. So it even bothers me when people say, “Oh well, let’s make sure we hear both sides.” And I think that’s the trouble with a two-party system, you know, this notion that somehow there’s either one side or the other, and that huge gray area where we all live in the middle and we all have to learn to navigate is not served by the notion that there are only two sides to a question.
Cherie Harder: So, David, part of reconciliation is not just the words that we speak or even the artifacts that we make, but the ways that we listen. And you’ve talked about the fact that in the work of reconciliation, we have to make a choice as to whether we listen as conversation partners or as debate partners. What are the different markers or mindset of a conversation partner rather than a debater? And how does one kind of inculcate that in their own life?
David Bailey: That’s really great. You know, and I talk about this, and I actually want to pick up a little bit of what Marilyn talked about with just the whole deal of paradox, you know, and like the multidimensional understanding of things. And I think this is a really, really important aspect of stuff because we just have different perspectives, like even on a Zoom call, like we’re all on a Zoom call together, but our experience of the Zoom call is not the same, right, like the order of what’s happening. And we oftentimes get in debates about each person’s experience versus listening to each other’s experience. And you can have two different approaches to listening. So one approach to listening is listening as a conversation partner where you’re listening to continue the conversation, you’re listening for understanding, you’re listening to learn and to contribute. The other way of listening is listening as a debate partner. And when you’re listening as a debate partner, you’re listening because you have a perspective and you’re trying to defeat your enemy.
And here’s the thing, particularly, I think that as Christians we have a unique problem. We have a very unique problem that I realized when I went, I got a chance to go to Israel with Telos in 2017 and got a chance to talk to people who were Christians, who were Jewish Christians, and Israelis who were in the Judaism religion. And I talked to Christians who were Palestinians and those who were Muslims that were Palestinians. And I talked to people who weren’t religious at all. And here’s the thing that I learned: In Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, you’re supposed to love God and you’re also supposed to love your family. In Judaism and Christianity, you’re supposed to love God and love your neighbor. It’s only in Christianity you’re supposed to love your enemy. And not love your enemy in a theoretical sense, but actually, we’re followers of Jesus, so while we were the enemies of God, God got in proximity with us, took on flesh, got to know who we were, understand our culture, understand our narratives, understand our stories, and sacrificially died for us.
And so this is a very uniquely Christian challenge to have in any of these conversations because so often we don’t listen, like we’re listening and we’re treating people as enemies in the way that the world deals with people as enemies. So whether somebody is your actual enemy, your perceived enemy, we’re supposed to listen as conversation partners, as folks to understand in empathy with the goal of sacrificially dying and serving and loving somebody for their flourishing. And so it’s such a, you talk about paradox, like our faith is a faith of paradox. And so this is, I think, an approach that is really, really important for us to engage in, particularly today in the times that we’re living in.
Cherie Harder: So one of the paradoxes you both bring up is that seeking peace is not antithetical to delving into conflict. And, Marilyn, this is a point you have made several times. You know, you caution not to play to win or argue to win, but you actually encourage at times addressing conflict head on. How does one speak peace in addressing conflict?
Marilyn McIntyre: Well, it’s interesting. Even the expression “head on” kind of borrows from a confrontational idea, right? So I think “confronting” means “face to face.” I think really to go back to something you said, David, to face the person who is coming toward you until you recognize in them your brother, your sister, a dimension of the self that we are to love God as we love our neighbors and ourselves. That seems to me to set a relational standard for authentic conflict, to begin by reminding oneself of the humanity of the person you’re talking with, and then I think to ask questions like, “What do you mean? Could you tell me more about what you mean? Could you help me understand?” It seems to me that one kind of equipment we could help ourselves and others develop is a repertoire of questions that would really keep the conversational space open. Allowing things to be said in a clear way in a safe space by really modeling and seeking a desire for understanding that says, “I really want to understand what you mean here. Could you rephrase that?” But also what that serves to do is to catch people out if they’re just trying to hide behind vapid abstractions that don’t mean anything. I love quoting Ezra Pound, who said, “Go in fear of abstraction.” And if you listen to so much political discourse, all the words that end with “-tion” and “-ness” and all the “-isms,” there are whole stories behind those. And so I think trying to keep the pathways open into those stories to say, “Could you tell me a story?” To elicit parables from each other, so to speak, is one way of reframing a conversation that can otherwise just degenerate into an exchange of slogans or abstract terms that become, you know, weaponized.
Cherie Harder: David, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this as well. You have said at one point that conflict is an opportunity for God to be glorified. But for many people who sort of relish that opportunity, they may not be sort of inclined in their sensibility to seek peace. And a lot of times peace-seekers see conflict more as the threat of fracture and loss of a relationship, rather than an opportunity for God’s glorification. So would love your thoughts on what does that mean: “Conflict is an opportunity for shalom and God’s glorification”?
David Bailey: Yeah, I mean, there’s this, I mean, book probably almost 30 years old now called Peacemakers, and Ken Sandy kind of introduces that concept, but a general— like at Arraban, and we talk about these five pillars of being a reconciled community. And this is distinctly Christian philosophy. This is a distinctly Christian way of engaging. And one is to understand that reconciliation is really about spiritual formation. It’s about how we are transformed and changed. And you know, Marilyn, you know, her expertise is in literature, but you literally, like, whether it’s a movie or a good book, if the conflict isn’t clear and if the conflict isn’t meaningful, then it’s a terrible book. It’s a terrible story. Like conflict is essential to a great story. And so ultimately, like, there’s an expectation, there’s some type of violation, and there’s a path towards resolving or reconciliation, right? That’s the story of humanity, right?
And so if, let’s just say, for example, Marilyn and I or Cherie and I have a conflict, God doesn’t care if David’s right, Marilyn’s right, or Cherie is right. God cares more about how do we honor one another in that process? God cares about how do we take— like, we’re encouraged to say, like, “Hey, I could call a fault out in Cherie or Marilyn. But before I do that, I have to examine my own self. I have to take the plank out of my own eye first. I have to do some self-examination.” And then even when I point something out in them, I have to do it in humility, knowing that, you know, I am a sinner saved by grace also, right? And then I have my faults. And so that’s like a distinctly Christian thing.
And I’m very grieved and disappointed that that is, that’s thrown out the window these days. If you put whatever political party you’re part of, you know, it’s just like that supersedes your Christian identity and the way that we engage. And that God cares about how we’re being formed, the way that God cares about how we’re being transformed, and that we see that a conflict is an opportunity for maturity, a conflict is an opportunity for growth. Then we could change in a totally different way. I mean, I learned that the most in my own marriage. My marriage counselor told me, she said, “Hey, y’all could take your spouse to court if you want to, but you never really win.” You know, right? Like in an argument, you never, really, really win. So even like— and our relationship has matured so much as a result of us seeing conflict as an opportunity for God to be glorified and an opportunity for our own transformation, than winning whatever argument, you know, we have.
Cherie Harder: We’re going to go to questions in just a second, but before we do, Marilyn, I was really intrigued in your book and towards the end where you drew the connection between laughter and grace. And you invoked G.K. Chesterton in doing so and suggested that laughter is actually key to our ability to make peace and reconcile. And I’d love for you to just to discuss that idea a bit. Why is laughter so important? And, David, please feel free to jump in.
Marilyn McIntyre: Well, I do think that humor ought to be on the list of the gifts of the spirit. It seems to me that where there’s authentic laughter, it’s not just laughing at something that is, at a punch line. There’s a kind of delight in life itself. There’s something about laughter, especially children’s laughter, that reminds us that underneath all the areas of conflict, there’s something quite amazing about just being alive on this planet. And there is constant surprise available. And another dimension of that, this laughter for adults, is that we can afford to laugh. That I think really to laugh even in the midst of the darkness, to find those occasions when we can share laughter, is to affirm something more ultimate than the immediate crises in which we find ourselves.
I’ve taken some comfort these last days and, of course, this week in thinking about the image of the Earth from the Moon that first came out, was it in the 60s? It was amazing to think about this, what one of the Episcopal prayers calls “this fragile earth, our island home.” But also, to go back to what David was saying about perspective, when you back up far enough, there is a place of spaciousness and graciousness and amazement that it seems to me is related to that deep laughter that is an affirmation of life itself. And I think of people like Brian Doyle, who recently died, a wonderful writer from Oregon who wrote often for The Christian Century, and he did a number of books, wrote poems, wrote a Book of Uncommon Prayer. These prayers were really authentic prayers for very earnestly held concerns. There were also funny. So the playfulness that he brought to his own very articulate spirituality was such a source of delight and comfort for all of us. So I think laughter is part of the mandate to comfort my people.
David Bailey: That’s great.
Cherie Harder: David, how have you seen playfulness and laughter play out, so to speak?
David Bailey: I mean, one of the things that, as a discipline for me is, I love watching stand-up comedians just to try to get perspective. You know, what stand-up comedy is about is the art of noticing. And what makes something funny is that you have a set-up and it misses expectation. And particularly it’s the truth of it or the irony of it that makes it humorous. And so I think we all need to like engage in the art of noticing and look at the irony of the contradictions of humanity and to not take ourselves so seriously, right? Like to not be ruled by fear and anger, but to actually have laughter and joy that’s in the space and great storytelling. So and it’s awesome that also God identifies God’s-self as one that laughs also, right, like, and so that is, I think that’s something that’s like, wow, that’s an interesting observation. Like, maybe we should learn from that.
Cherie Harder: So we’re going to turn to questions from our viewers. And as Alyssa mentioned, you can not only ask a question, but you can also “like” a question and that helps us get an idea of some of the questions that are the most popular, the most concerning, to those of you watching. So our first question comes from Bill Haley, the executive director of Coricle, our co-host. And Bill asks, he says, “Thank you so much for this great wisdom. This one’s for my dear brother David, or for both of you. What are the deep truths or spiritual practices that keep you personally grounded in such divisive times, intense emotions, and real challenge?” So, David, we’ll start with you.
David Bailey: Oh man. Well, one of it— there’s a prayer by a guy named Oscar Romero, and I just find myself reading it and praying it. And in essence, you know, it says that we’re messengers, not messiahs. You know, we are— I forgot what, it’s like, like builders, but not like the ultimate like architect, right? Like we’re just, we all have a part to play in it. And so one of the things that I really try to do is I just have a practice of meeting with a spiritual director twice a month. I meet with a therapist once a month. I have a hobby. I mean, I try to do things like play golf and just try to hang out with friends and laugh and like and just be with like a meal and with friends. It’s like a thing that I just would do. And I also don’t spend a lot of time on social media and watching the media. I noticed that my soul, I just get really apocalyptic. I get like, “Man, the world is going to come to an end.” Because I know that no matter what the channel news station is, it’s a business. It’s a business trying to stoke the fires to keep things going, and bad news always travels faster than good news, no matter what it is. And so I find that my soul status is just a lot healthier and more vibrant when I’m not watching the media. And I actually tend to know what’s going on, because people, it’s the same thing cycling over and over again for weeks on end. So then I can find I could read a little deeper about the whatever topic that’s in the news today. Whatever happened today didn’t happen like yesterday, it took a little time to get there. And so it’s not that I’m not informed, but I’m just able to kind of engage. So those are some practices that are really important for me.
Cherie Harder: Great. Marilyn, anything to add?
Marilyn McIntyre: I’m thinking about just, you were talking about your personal practices, David, and I’m thinking about how when we get up in the morning, I love the rituals that my husband and I have evolved, especially during the pandemic, but we had them even before, of talking about dreams, which I think are often a source of invitation to reflection, and I think wisdom can come from dreams, so that’s fun. And then we read the lectionary or at least part of it. And lectio divina, listening for the word or phrase that you can carry through the day, has been very helpful for me just as a life practice. And then sometimes reflecting on it a little and then having a period of silence together. The silence is so important, especially because we’re in such a noisy crossfire right now. And then we go listen to Democracy Now and read the news and read good columnists. But I think staying in conversation and also making spaces between conversations with family, with our wonderful adult kids who have generational perspectives to provide us and with students. I’m so grateful for still being engaged with students who bring perspectives that I wouldn’t encounter just walking around my own neighborhood. So all of that, I think all of it threads back to the silence and the listening for the word or phrase as the guidance of the Spirit at the beginning of the day.
Cherie Harder: That’s great. So, Marilyn, this next one is for you, and it’s from Sarah George who asked, “I’m curious, what is one word in common use today that you think needs to be rehabilitated or done away with for a time? And what is one word that you wish more people would inscribe on their hearts and minds?”
Marilyn McIntyre: Hmm. Wow. Well, I’m just going to offer a word that I haven’t talked about much, but I thought of it this morning when you were talking about argument and listening as a conversation partner rather than listening as a debate partner. I thought about all the different ways, alternatives, to “fighting” or “arguing.” I love the way the British talk about, “Well, we’ll sort it out.” But the word that I thought of that I think we might reclaim is a Quaker expression. They talk about “threshing session.” They borrow a lot of their language from this old agrarian culture. But threshing, separating the wheat from the chaff, just trying to do discernment together is a wonderful word to remind us that there are alternatives to argument. Not that there isn’t a place for argument, there is, but threshing seems to me to be something very earthbound and organic and antique enough to be surprising. So that’s a word I would love to rehabilitate.
But, gosh, there are a lot of words to retire. And I honestly think that “conservative” and “liberal” have gotten pretty worn thin. And they mean so little now because they’ve been spread over so much bandwidth that I would love to see us find alternatives to those. You know that game Taboo where you have to avoid the five obvious words when you’re trying to get people to guess what word you’re thinking of? I think, imagine if we could have a conversation about immigration or health care, for instance, but you couldn’t say “Republican” or “Democrat” or “conservative” or “liberal” or “progressive.” Now have the conversation. So it seems to me that the labels that have gotten so contentious and have become trigger words, if we could find ways to navigate around those, we might have more engaging conversation.
Cherie Harder: That’s great. So, David, our next question comes from Tony Kato, and Tony asks, “What should a Christian do when they’re willing to get close to the ‘other’ to experience their humanness and still don’t like what they see? Beyond that, what should they do if the ‘other’ harms them? Is it as simple as forgiveness or is it more complex?”
David Bailey: I mean, yeah, I mean, I think it’s complex because humans are complex, you know? So a couple of things that I try to do is, one, is I just realize that when Jesus gets close to me, he doesn’t like everything he sees, right? You know, and I don’t think that like while Jesus was walking around on the Earth for 33 years or however long it was that he liked everything that he encountered, you know. And I think there’s a level of humility that I try to engage in. I also, while I’m there, and even before I get there, I try to understand different viewpoints as well as I can, that I can argue other people’s viewpoints, and they think that that’s my viewpoint. And I think a lot of times we don’t engage in intellectual honesty. But I think when you can kind of actually like kind of get into somebody else’s shoes, it’s never as comfortable as being in your own shoes. But it’s worthwhile doing because it helps to build some empathy. And I think that’s something that’s really, really important to understand because I think a lot of times we can get close enough, but it’s almost like we’re getting close enough to kind of like feel to just, “I think that they’re wrong. Let me just make sure, and let me just double-check, go through my investigation to see.” So I just want to make sure that we’re having that posture of humility. I want to also make sure that we are being disciplined to understand as much as we can to be able to really represent people as best that they would represent themselves.
And then the third piece of it is, is that, I mean, that is one aspect of it that you do need to pay attention to. If somebody is causing harm, to be able to name it, to be able to say like, “Hey, is this like a perception of this or is this like me being inconvenienced? Is this like me being uncomfortable? Or is this actually really damaging?” And I think sometimes it’s kind of hard for us to understand that. And then if it’s really, really damaging, then I think it’s discernment like to say, “OK, what is it that we can do?” But I mean, we just live in a day and time where folks feel like just because somebody disagrees with me then that’s damaging. Like, disagreement is not damaging, like disagreement is just humans being humans. But if there truly is some kind of damaging thing then I think use discernment to figure out, “How could we have a healthy— what are the healthy boundaries that we need to have in order to have a healthy relationship?”
Cherie Harder: So Marilyn, a question comes from Claire Likert, and Claire says, “You emphasize poetry and carefully choosing our words. What advice would you give to someone who feels like they never have the right words to say?”
Marilyn McIntyre: Well, first of all, we can always borrow and steal words from other people. I think it was T.S. Eliot who said, “Good poets borrow; great poets steal.” But that is to say, what he was talking about was when you’ve received and claimed the vast, beautiful legacy of words that have come down through the long conversation among the vast communion of saints, you get to claim that. So I think maybe just saying, you know, being able each day to say, “I heard a phrase I really liked” and to pay attention to words and carry a few of them each day and bring them into conversation. That’s a way of equipping yourself. And also, I think it’s important to help one another create enough space in conversation so that you’re not constantly pressured to come up with the next quip. I have been so appreciative of a couple of colleagues and teachers that I can remember, and I don’t model this very well, but who spoke a little more slowly than was the norm. But I always felt as though they were making space for me to consider my own words and enter in, so I think maybe one thing I would say is slow down. Encourage other people to slow down. Let there be some rests in the music. And make space for questions or simply say, “You know, I need a moment to think about that.” I really love one of my friends who does that, and I so appreciate his just saying, “I need a moment to think about that.”
Cherie Harder: David, Amy Ross asked, “Are there differences between reconciliation work corporately versus individually?”
David Bailey: Yeah, I mean, I think there is, and I think this is something, I think this is a little bit of the challenge we have particularly when it comes into the conversation, particularly around race. I think this happens for a couple of reasons. I think one like culturally, there’s some cultural people groups that are more individualistic in their identity and others are more collectivist in their identity. This is true, like, I mean, so just to say, if you have a continuum, America is going to be more individualistic in its understanding of identity than, you know, a country like either in Africa or Asia. And so like these are, there’s a continuum that happens. And then even within American society and culture, there are certain people groups and ethnic groups that have a different identity and space. And so I think what’s a little challenging, even when we have conversations about this, when you talk about topics of race because sometimes people are talking about as individuals and what am I responsible for as an individual? Or what am I to blame for as an individual? Versus what are we as a society? And it’s just a lot of talking past one another in this particular topic.
And so I would say that there’s a couple of ways to think about this. Responsibility and blame are two different things. And so, you know, there are some things in our society that nobody born here today is to be blamed for. Yet as fellow citizens and as Kingdom citizens, we’re definitely called to share responsibility of things that we aren’t to be blamed for. And so that is the invitation I think of like with Christ reconciling all things. Like, that’s part of things that, I mean, yeah, I’m responsible for the things that David has done, but I’m also responsible for the things that Christ is reconciling that includes things that I’m not to blame for. And so there is a difference and there’s a distinction, and I think as Christians, we’re supposed to be responsible not only for our own individual actions, but then also there are corporate actions and wider societal things that Christ is reconciling all things, which includes both the individual and the collective, that we are to be responsible for.
Cherie Harder: So the next question comes from an anonymous attendee, and they are interested in hearing from both of you on this. She asks or he asks, “Can our guests comment on the place of social media in efforts of peacemaking and discussion in these days of simplistic and often very angry posts and retweeting?” Marilyn, why don’t we start with you?
Marilyn McIntyre: Yeah, that’s such a good question, and we’re all wrestling with it, living with it. I do recommend the documentary The Social Dilemma, where people who are working at fairly high levels within the social media corporations are reflecting on the mushrooming consequences of their own work and how two-sided or many-sided it is. I think that this is where we can help one another in community through the sorting and threshing and sifting that has to happen and to help one another, as a group of students did who were living together in an off-campus program. A couple of years ago, they decided for Lent to do a media fast and just not use social media for a while, partly to remind themselves to stay in real and present conversation with the people that they were given in their lives at the moment, and partly to just do a check about how much of an addiction they had gotten into. It really is addictive.
That said, I also know that we can create circles of trust through social media and reach out to people in so many areas that we wouldn’t have access to in our own community and exchange valuable material. So I think if we use it discerningly and carefully and cross-check with each other about how we’re using it, we can keep it as a tool rather than an addictive substance.
Cherie Harder: David?
David Bailey: I mean, I would amen what Marilyn says, and I think for me, a general rule of thumb for me, is that I’m not going to say a thing that I wouldn’t say in front of somebody’s face. You know, I think there was something good about proximity, right? Because if you said the wrong thing, you potentially—you know, let’s just say, 20, 25 years ago—you said the wrong thing and you were really harsh, you could get punched in the face. And so you would just kind of like, hold back a little bit from what you say because you didn’t want to get punched in the face. You know, nowadays, folks act like there’s no consequences for saying the things that we say, you know? And I think also a great practice is to engage in the different perspectives that people have. Like, I mean, I literally, like, when the debates happened, I listened—I generally, again, I try not to consume a ton of media—but I was like, “Hey, let me see how people are reporting on the different, like, what are people talking about?” And whether it’s the pandemic, whether it’s the election, whether it’s race, depending on the source, like, you wouldn’t think you’re talking about the same thing because people are talking about— If there’s three different perspectives—and let’s say conservative, progressive, liberal and again, I’m totally up for for retiring those words. But let’s just say, if those are the three options, they would not talk about the same thing in the same way. And whatever your bias is, we tend to listen within our own bias. And then we cannot imagine somebody else thinking a different way. And then therefore people are stupid, we realize people are stupid. But I think that’s actually a violation of the image of God. I don’t think people are stupid. I think people do things that’s logical to them, and understanding what is their logical path is really important to understand that. Like, we just didn’t wake up one day and all of a sudden think the way that we think. Like, there’s a formation that happened that makes us to think in this particular way. And so I think when we’re engaging people on social media, it’s one to, like, understand where they’re coming from and understand, like, what has caused them to think that way and not just why do they think that way, but what has caused that they think that way.
Cherie Harder: We’ll try to fit in one more question, which comes from Mike Brennan and, Marilyn, since this references the title of your previous book, we’ll start with you. He asked, “Why should we care for words in a culture of lies, and why do the words we use matter for reconciliation?”
Marilyn McIntyre: Well, that’s a very large question. I think one answer to it is that words are what we, words are the tools that we have. I mean, and I really at some level, beyond metaphor, believe that words are ways of exchanging energy, creating the habitation we live in. People talk about the discursive environment we inhabit. So when we exchange words, we are really creating a kind of vibrational network or environment that can be either life-giving or can drain us of life. So paying attention to the words that we use is like, going back to the soil metaphor, paying attention to the health of the soil, weeding the garden, really caring for what we are trying to cultivate and ultimately feed on. I love the phrase in the Episcopal liturgy about the Eucharist—”feed on it in your hearts with Thanksgiving”—but I think we feed on words and we carry them in us in some quite important way. And we can either make them into weapons or we can make them into gifts. But I don’t think that we are called into human life to live without language, language with “in the beginning.”
Cherie Harder: David, I’d love for you to add to that vibrational network as well.
David Bailey: Yeah. I mean, I think, I think we have a great opportunity. You know, culture is what we make of the world and what will make sense of the world, right? And it’s these norms and values and things, and it’s always changing, it’s always evolving. And there are some things that need to stay the same, some things that need to change. And I definitely want to say it’s really important for us to continue to be rooted in scripture. That’s one of the things that I’m—to go back to Bill’s question—in my life, I try to spend more time in scripture than I do in media consumption, you know, because I don’t want my media consumption to interpret how I read the scriptures; I want the scriptures to interpret how I read the media. And we are just habits, we are creatures of habits. And I think, as it relates to words, I think I try to communicate and have a practice of communicating in ways to bring connection with people, to love and to serve people, versus to even try to just not only get my point of view across. And so I just think like those are some things that I just would encourage, like a big takeaway for, you know, in this time, it’s the— Because words are powerful, you know, and I mean, the Word literally became flesh, right, like the world was created out of words that God created, like, and our own worlds are created out of ideas and words and the things that come out of that, the stories that we tell.
Marilyn McIntyre: Well, I was thinking about the ways in which peacemaking happens in quiet places among quiet people, that it’s not all public and it’s not even all institutionalized or organized. But it’s in the way we live our lives. And so that brought to mind, what many of you know, the last few lines of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. So I’ll just read you that, one of my favorite lines. She says, “And that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Cherie Harder: Beautiful.
Cherie Harder: David?
David Bailey: That’s great. Well, I want to just, I mean, I referenced this prayer earlier and I want to just close it out. This prayer of Oscar Romero, who’s giving us credit, he says, “It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in a few lifetimes only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s word. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lasts beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives include everything. This is what we are about. We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there’s a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step forward along the way. An opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and to do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own. Amen.”
Cherie Harder: David, Marilynn, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and insights with us today. Thank you to each of you for joining us. Have a great weekend.