Thursday, October 24, 2013

Opening Devotional Delivered at Kentucky Council of Churches Assembly

Acts 17:16-34

dialegomai - ("getting a conclusion across") occurs 13 times in the NT, usually of believers exercising "dialectical reasoning." This is the process of giving and receiving information with someone to reach deeper understanding – a "going back-and-forth" of thoughts and ideas so people can better know the Lord, His word, and His will.

Dialogue — defined as “the flow of meaning that requires people to listen respectfully, suspend judgment, offer a full hearing and seek common ground and mutual understanding — to a variety of interpersonal and public communication forums.” (Kim Phipps, president of Messiah College). She continues:

...common ground does not require individuals to surrender strongly held convictions or values, and it does not mean that we cannot engage in debate with people with whom we disagree. But it does mean that both the speaker and the listener commit to articulating their positions in a respectful and thoughtful manner as they earnestly seek to discover points of shared understanding.

In an age of contentious presidential debates, pundit panels and polarizing conversations taking place among state and federal government leaders, the process of citizens engaging in constructive listening, articulating carefully considered positions and determining appropriate actions should be at the very heart of who we are as a nation and a regional community.

My brothers and sisters - that is an ideal. But it is not the current reality. With MSNBC and Fox News, Democratic and Republican members of congress, and several other polar entities modeling debate and discussion in our society, civil dialogue is, pardon the phrase, taking a beating.

In my own life, I have two very strong convictions that come from my life in living with Christ. One is capital punishment - in 2000, I served as the pastor to Robert Glen Coe's family; Robert was the first person in Tennessee to be executed in 40 years, and I find our willingness to so easily embrace what is in essence a premeditated murder to be against all New Testament ethical understandings of justice and moral behavior in times of peace. It is a very strongly held conviction for me. Likewise, I also have a strong conviction about abortion - for the same exact ethical and moral reasons. While these public convictions pretty much assure me that I'll never hold public office in either political party, they have often put me into some interesting conversations.

How we choose to enter these conversations - and in what manner - requires those of faith to choose a more excellent way than the ways of our media, political pundits, and politicians. They require us to embrace the biblical understanding of dialogue/ διάλογος: maintaining our convictions, but articulating them in such a manner that we seek to understand at LEAST as well as we seek to be understood. I think it is instructive that when Paul was in Athens, he spoke gently, firmly, yet civily - as he was in a foreign country seeking to bring a foreign Faith to those who would hear.

My brothers and sisters - we who walk in Faith are foreigners in this country; if we are faithful, we will find ourselves as maladjusted as the prophets and as counter-cultural as Jesus. For us to “adjust” to the debate style that is prevalent in our society today is to give up our salt and light - and our unique message of a crucified and risen Christ.

As a good Methodist, I would be remiss if I didn’t quote John Wesley at least once – and in doing so, I would lift up the General Rules that John Wesley gave those small societies who sought to be more faithful: “Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.”

Regardless of the issue.

If we bite and devour each other, we may find ourselves destroying each other - the antithesis of civil dialogue, as well as our prayer for "Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done."

Let us pray:

Almighty God - in the beginning was the Word. Your word. Your logos. As we meet during this week, may we seek more to understand than to be understood, to love more than we seek to be loved, and to find relationships with others - those that we know, and especially those that we don't. Bless those who speak this week, and bless us as we hear. May our prayers increase to where we listen more than we speak, and do more for others than ask for You to do for us. All in Your gracious name we pray. Amen.

Sky McCracken+
Opening Devotional - Kentucky Council of Churches

October 24, 2013