By: Diana Small
These are the expectations of every interfaither when attending a dialogue at Church Lab:
1. Seek first to understand before being understood.
2. If your faith tradition is evangelistic, please be transparent about that conviction, yet suspend proselytizing during the dialogue.
3. We refrain from speaking on behalf of traditions not present in the room.
4. Speak from your personal experience. We do not represent our entire tradition.
5. Carrie is an advocate for all perspectives in the room, curating a safe space for the group as a whole.
6. Carrie has no agenda or moral lesson for the dialogue. We will jointly see where this conversation takes us and find a stopping point, then continue the work at the subsequent session.
These expectations seem simple and fair, but at last night’s dialogue, before the dialogue even started, these expectations needed to be written down for everyone to see. It would be a kind of dialogue that has never happened before at The Church Lab because just last week, the United States experienced an unprecedented and nationally dividing presidential election; its outcome revealing itself every hour as rallies, living rooms, protests, schools and social media pages roaring with diverse personal experience. So, before the Post-Election Dialogue begins, Carrie writes these expectations on a white board--which most Church Lab regulars know by heart--to remind everyone of why they’re here.
Let me tell you now, there was no great secret to solving the world’s problem revealed last night. Dialogue participants did not leave the two and a half hour conversation with perfect solutions for how to negotiate the fear, anger, mistrust and isolation many U.S. residents are experiencing. But that’s not really the goal of The Church Lab.
The goal is to practice the expectations written on the dry erase board, knowing they are in fact fair, but not simple to practice. In exercising two and a half hours of concentrated empathy, interfaithers hope to venture back into their homes, workplaces and places of worship having practiced listening, seeking understanding, articulating their personal experience, and exchanging experiences with someone from another perspective without imposing intentions.
Other irregularities to last night’s gathering: the group of dialoguers was larger than usual, not wanting to turn anyone away, but also, the divisions between even Christian faith groups called for a larger spread of Protestant representation. There were also participants who have never participated in a dialogue before (including me), but when invited, sensed the value and urgency to participate in a safe interfaith post-election gathering.
Those represented were Protestants across the political spectrum,a Latter-Day Saints member, Shia Muslims, an Ahmadi Muslim, a pagan, agnostic, Native American and unassociated spiritual members with the affectionate nickname of “the ish contingency.” Folks of varying convictions and embodiments of sexual orientation and gender identity were present, and thanks to Google hangout, a variety of geographic perspectives was present between Austin, Houston, DC and New York. There was also significant representation missing—representation too long to list and worth lamenting.
The Church Lab dialogues are not a one-stop shop to solving the world’s problems. It’s a gym of sorts; you show up, do what exercise you can today, maybe you push yourself, maybe you give yourself a break, hopeful you’ll leave a little more able.
And what can I report back to you to bring clarity to your new day, as your Facebook feed piles up? A few simple gifts: I sat on the floor in a living room with twenty other people
(and three on a Google hangout ) and for three hours, my smart phone stayed silent in my backpack across the room. When was the last time I was apart from that device? I met a woman who’s only lived in the United States for five months and she reminded me that there are nations and communities across the world, experiencing their own political upset; there is always unrest about which to be concerned and prayerful, or in other words, this won’t be the last dialogue of this nature. And there were moments when everyone in that room laughed together—over our shared unnerving and over pictures of puppies and babies.
The world can contain the emotions of every creature as they experience them. It takes practice to care for them and to transition those emotions into fruitful action that will create safer and richer communities. The Church Lab dialogues are the reminder that there is room for me and room for you in this country; we don’t have to fight to determine a winner and loser.