i wish you could meet…

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014

Maybe it’s the way I’m “wired,” but for me one of the joys of going on tour is being welcomed into people’s homes and having many, many conversations across dinner tables (and living rooms, and gardens, and swing sets, and hiking trails, and cars). In the past decade of regular touring, I have stayed in a hotel for a grand total of one night – and that’s because it was the choice of the hosting congregation. My preference is to be hosted in people’s homes, and it’s one of the great joys and blessings of my life.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about conversations. Partly because I’m participating in a bunch of conversations right now that are challenging in a variety of ways – conversations between people with passionate views and convictions who are not in agreement. How can we have good, healthy, meaningful, honest, fruitful, respectful conversations with each other, even when (especially when) we disagree?

On this recent tour I spent a number of days with a wonderful family on a farm – members of an intentional Christian community, passionate about the environment and sustainable agriculture, passionate about peace and justice, passionate about following Jesus. They modelled for me an approach to conversation that I think we desperately need. Here’s what they said:

“Bryan – it’s obvious that you travel a lot and interact with lots of different communities. I get the sense from our conversation last night that you’re open to different points of view, and open to some “liberal” points of view on homosexuality. Can you help us understand… those who think the church should bless same-sex marriage – how do they justify their position biblically?”

And we had a wonderful conversation, lasting about three hours, that was one of the highlights of my trip. A trip that included communities across the the theological spectrum in Mennonite Church USA – from rural Illinois to the Mountain States Mennonite Conference…  from lay Franciscans in Iowa to a progressive emergent church near Boston and a conservative Congregational church down the coast. Everywhere I went, there were meaningful and honest conversations about things – understandings of sexuality, economics, ecology – that are “hot topics” all over.

I was struck by what an enormous difference it makes to be having these conversations in person, across dinner tables (and living rooms, and gardens, and swing sets, and hiking trails, and cars), rather than in the so-often shrill and “gotcha” online world of blogs and status updates. To be talking directly with one another, instead of just talking at or about each other through the various technologies that make it so easy to demonize each other, to assume and believe the worst about each other’s motives and agenda, and so on.

Tomorrow morning it’s off to the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina, and the following week to Winnipeg for the Mennonite Church Canada Assembly. There are very important and timely – and challenging and difficult – conversations and discernment going on all over the place. This is good. I trust and hope and pray that we can be diligent at finding good ways of talking together, even when we disagree.

In that spirit, here’s a random and incomplete sampling of some of the amazing people that I was blessed to be in conversation with over the past weeks of my spring tour. O how I wish you could meet…

– the elderly couple who grew up Amish, and are now Mennonite, that hosted me and included me with their circle of friends who get together every Sunday night (for the past 12 years!) to play dominos.

– the young family that put me up (and put up with me) for the better part of a week while I was supposedly on a “writing retreat” but while in actuality I tried to dig my way out of an overwhelming and stressful pile of email.

– the Conservative Mennonite family (who also had grown up Amish) in Iowa who traveled 3 hours out of their way to pick me up when the train was 5 hours late, and who shared their passion for finding (and promoting and selling) natural alternatives to chemical fertilizers.

– the mandolin player in a bluegrass band who also happens to pastor (much to his own amazement) a church that includes both pacifist Mennonites and “God and guns” right-wing evangelicals, learning to worship together and care for each other.

– the organic vegetable farmer in Iowa who manages to be Catholic, attend a Mennonite church, participate in not one but two lay Franciscan groups, and be a spiritual director all at once (with a firmly entrenched tradition of baking pies for all visitors).

– the couple where one spouse is a Mennonite pastor (and sometime cookbook author), and the other is a Mennonite scholar/theologian who has become Catholic, and who also plays a mean acoustic guitar…

– the two gentleman who spent the afternoon picking me up near Boston one Saturday and driving me to their church… One says he is “almost” a pacifist (except for the World War II – Hitler kind of situation), and the other one drives a pickup truck with a bumper sticker that says “Support our troops – we’re going to need them when it’s time to overthrow our government” (not a direct quote, but something along those lines). Oh – and they sang two songs together at the church talent show that night – the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” and Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn”…

And I could go on…

How I wish you could meet these amazing people. Then again, you probably have. I expect these descriptions make you think of some folks in your own neighbourhood. Maybe some folks that think differently than you.

Let’s talk together, shall we?