Archives for the month of: October, 2013

Early in our relationship (it was actually before we started dating), Jill and I had a philosophical conversation. I paced around my sophomore dorm room as I always do when I talk on the phone. The topic for the day was littering. Earlier that morning, I added to the clutter on the Abilene Christian campus, and Jill took notice.  For more than an hour, we took turns upholding our positions. I will have you know that I have long since changed my position on littering, likely in part because of Jill’s well-argued position.

This exercise was the first of a custom in our marriage. Even this morning we had a similar conversation, it is the reality of life with me I guess. The truth is I love to discuss things with others. Thoughtful argument is one of my favorite past times.

The sharing of ideas is central to growth and transformation. Dialogue needs to be central to our lives because it opens us up to the things we do not see. With a little openness, dialogue will open you up to the world in new and different ways.

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I grew up a picky eater. My mom let me get away with it because she worked so hard to take care of her boys. The menu was set to our unadventurous taste buds. This pickiness wore on well through college into grad school where I was placed in a mentor group. This group held many of its meetings at a restaurant called Ann Thai kitchen, even though I tried to steer the meetings to Arby’s or something lame.

I remember the first time I fumbled through an order at Ann Thai. It came out and I was instantly suspicious. It was well beyond the comfort food of my 23 years, and I struggled through that first meal. I did not get the flavors and I left that meal with no intention to go back.

As the week continued, I was shocked by a craving. The Thai flavors were drawing me back to Ann’s table. I wanted another helping of her Panang chicken. That Friday I went back to Ann’s Thai kitchen to reprise my struggling order, and it did not disappoint. Ann’s became my go-to spot in Abilene. Now, a place is not home until I have found a Thai food restaurant with great Panang chicken.

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Although we are interested in quick changes, swift shifts in thought rarely happen. The transforming work of dialogue points to the kind of changes that happened through my experience with Thai food. Transformation bubbles well after a particular conversation. Slowly we find ourselves in a different place because our mind is slowly changing.

The trouble is dialogue is so difficult to come by in our society. As I write, our government leaders stand galaxies apart as to how to lead this nation forward. Regardless of the side of the aisle you lean, you are hard pressed to support the current situation. The trouble is both sides are entrenched. Even before the dialogue begins, all the critical issues have been settled.

Our government is an extreme example of the state of dialogue. Too often we step into disagreement with our position already decided. There is no place to go but away from each other. When I am in these kinds of situations, I fall into the practice of talking past the other person. I choose the talking points of “my camp,” upholding the party line. This kind of conversation builds subjects and objects, and destroys trust.

Communicative reason, on the other hand, seeks understanding. This does not mean it is a dialogue simply for dialogue’s sake. This use of language assumes change can happen if we are all committed to understanding the other. Instead of the vilification of the other, this way works to build trust. These conversations are helpful because both sides are open to a posture of humility. Their positions are left open because they are aware that truth is elusive. Likely, something new will be produced as those involved learn and draw from each other’s worldview, giftedness, and experience. This is much more than compromise it is the product of a community of people sharing their expertise, wisdom, and passion.

The reality is our ideas are not always the direct opposite of our opponents. Dialogue can open us  to a preferred future. A future where the many voices are trusted and allowed to function.

I find this kind of rhetoric compelling because I have experienced this kind of change. Throughout my life, I have changed my mind on both large and small issues. Some of these changes came from life with intellectuals and academics. Other changes happened as I lived around folks who lived well. It was not necessarily their intellect or articulate words that changed me. Rather it was the full experience of their story. I found their wisdom as I continued to understand them. Slowly, I found myself in a new territory.

Although the credits rolled on the brillant show Breaking Bad last week, I cannot seem to get it off of my mind. Its final episode ran to the high praise most directors hope, but few execute. Vince Gilligan and his team of writers told a fantastic story. For the darkness of its content, it was a shining light of storytelling. Everything from acting to directing to writing came together to be an instant classic.

[This post does not reveal any major spoilers, but some of the show content is discussed, so stop reading if you intend to watch the show and you are concerned about possible spoilers.]

The story of a high school teacher and family man turned meth cook and eventually drug lord forced us to deal with serious themes. The pilot episode brings us into the lives of Walt and his family as things are difficult. Mounting debt combined with a pregnancy and a cancer prognosis that is less than optimistic spells a seemingly insurmountable situation. In Walt’s mind, he cannot leave his family in this horrible situation. He must provide for them. He must leave his namesake and the child on the way a better life.

Family. It gets prime billing in our lives. We work to protect our loved ones, to provide for them, to defend them . . . No one faults Mr. White for this drive to provide and protect his family. The illegal and immoral activity is shaded by a noble and moral drive. The means might not be the best, but they are grounded in the right place. So if you are like me, Walter White gets my favor and is my rooting interest.

As Walt continues to transform, the weight of his rationale rests on its original impetus. Towards the end of the series, Walter and his wife Skyler have a conversation. She has found her way into Walt’s dark world, and she has tried her hand at manipulating outcomes. Unlike Walter, the magic man, whose plans always seem to work out, hers has gone terribly wrong. Left to deal with damage Walt assures her, “You did what you did to protect this family and no one can fault you for that.” Notice the power of rationalization. He has taken a noble and moral pattern and turned it into dangerous ground.

Family was a foil for his actions. He worked hard to stand on the moral high ground, but that ground was gone. The family was a simple justification for his ego, a rationale for power and control.

The truth is all of us fall prey to this kind of thinking. Do not get me wrong, Gilligan’s anti-hero is an exaggerated story, but we are pushed and pulled on all sides to rationalize our actions. Maybe ours lies under the guise of family or holiness or helping others or a number of other moral grounds. All of these noble pursuits can tilt toward our ego.

Ethics, morality, justice, and truth are slippery things. Our ego can find its way into the most legitimate of pursuits. I think Jesus was getting after some of this when he said, do not let mother or brother or sister or wife stand in the way of the kingdom of God. This kind of weird teaching does not necessarily mean we are to withdraw familial relatedness. Just as a statement like “The poor will always be with you,” does not invite us to withdraw our acts of charity. Instead Jesus calls us to rethink how we have put our life together. Jesus demands we learn what it means to live as he lived. The way of Jesus is the way of giving up his will for the sake of others and the world.