The Goal of Conversation: How Shall We Live in 2018?

In many ways, 2017 was the year of “the national conversation.”

#metoo and #churchtoo have brought to the fore the conversation about sexual harassment and sexual violence perpetrated by men in the halls of power and in the church.

Mass shootings have raised the gun control conversation time and again.

Our present political climate has added fuel to the conversation about Christian engagement in the political process.

Evangelical support of Donald Trump and Roy Moore has led to a polarizing conversation around the term “evangelical” and its usefulness in the modern-day United States.

The important conversation about race in America and the Church continues with new complexities being frequently revealed and discussed like the plight of Puerto Rico, the future for DACA recipients, the land rights of Native Americans, and the specter of a border wall.

And these are just the first ones that come to mind. It seems like every time we turn around we are engaged in a new national conversation.

It’s important to have these conversations. As we continue to speak about these issues, we are afforded the opportunity to learn from one another and grow in our love for one another. No longer can we see these as issues in the media and the “outside world.” These are things that affect our sisters, our brothers, our family members.

There is a danger, however. And that is when we think that having the conversation is enough. We can fool ourselves into believing that, as long as we think the right way about the right issues, we’ve somehow gone far enough.

We haven’t.

In addition to caring about how we think about the issues in our world, we also need to move toward the goal of all this conversation — action.

But what if you’re reading this article and you’re thinking, “My hands are full enough. I’m already doing everything I can just to raise a family, participate in my local church, and love my neighbors. I don’t have time to consider the latest ’national conversation.’”

I empathize with this. We’re all busy and there’s a ton going on. Sometimes it just feels like too much to think about so we shut it all out and focus on what’s at hand.

Consider for a moment, however, how these national conversations might help us as we do the work that God has called us to, be it our jobs or our families or our local churches.

How might #metoo and #churchtoo influence the way we raise our sons and daughters? How might we hear the voices of these women and work to ensure that our local churches are safe places for women to be able to worship without fear of harassment and where women might be able to find a caring friend willing to listen if/when they do experience harassment (hopefully outside the church)?

How might the national conversation on race influence the way we serve the poor in our neighborhoods and advocate for just policies? And how might the reality of race in America impact the way we raise our children to see the world? How might these conversations challenge the way we approach Dr. King’s “most segregated hour of the week”?

And how might these conversations encourage us in our work of neighbor-love? Does the rhetoric of President Trump scare your neighbors? Does it make them feel unsafe? Are your neighbors weeping over the plight of Puerto Rican family members? Are they wondering if they’ll be separated from their children because of the repeal of DACA? How can the national conversations help us to love our neighbors in the ways they need it most?

These are all hard questions. And, to be honest, I don’t really have a neat “to do list” or a picture of what living out the conversation will look like. We will have to live it in the moment as moments arise. It’s more a trajectory of life than a legalistic obedience to dictates.

In fact, living in light of the conversations we’re having is much like applying the truths of Scripture.

Actually, it’s exactly like it.

Two New Testament writers, John and James, emphasize the importance of lived out faith, going so far as reminding us that dead faith looks like talking a big game without allowing it to affect the day-to-day-ness of our lives (James 2:26). In fact, John questions the very salvation of those who would “make a practice of sinning” because they don’t show a change in the way they live (1 John 3:9).

An analogy can be drawn from the relation between faith and works and the relation between “the conversation” and the way we live. Can we really say we “understand” if our lives look the same as they did before “the conversation”?

We know that God stands against racism, white supremacy, and the division those things cause. We know that the Spirit is grieved by violence against women and that the devastation caused by mass shootings is an affront to the mission of God. We know that he has called us to be a united Church, a church knit together by the Holy Spirit on the foundation of Christ’s life and work and unto the glory of the Father, regardless of the labels that people use to self-identify. This is the matrix into which we have been called to live and it is impossible to do so if we refuse to acknowledge, name, and repent of the sins that keep us apart.

So we must live it. We must seek out ways to live as the unified people that Christ calls us to. I don’t know what this will mean for you with your already-full hands (isn’t this all of us?). But here are a couple things it will mean for me.

It will mean sitting down with the writings of people of color, particularly women. I will listen to their voices and learn from them. I will allow their wisdom to shape me so that I can better serve the Lord and serve my brothers and sisters.

It will mean that I will make sure I’m registered to vote, study the issues on the ballot and the platforms and character of the candidates. I’ll be sure to understand how ballot initiatives and potential elected officials will impact communities of color, women, and the poor. And then I’ll be sure to go to my local polling place on the day of the midterm elections.

It will also mean, Lord willing, finishing the ordination process and becoming a Pastor in Christ’s Church. I will then begin putting into practice the things that I have learned as I join those faithful men and women called to serve as undershepherds for the people of God.

Other than that, I can’t get specific. But I pray that the dual truths of God’s perfect mission for this world and the sinful rebellion of humankind against this mission would both ring in my ears.

I pray that the next time a national conversation takes us by storm I won’t be content just listening or even taking part in the conversation. I pray that I will ask, “How then shall I live?”

Marcos Ortega

Marcos Ortega (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is an Assistant Pastor at Goodwill Church (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) and lives in the Hudson River Valley in New York with his wife and two daughters.

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