“So, What Do You Do?” — Meditations from the Dentist’s Chair
I’ve been thinking about the dentist. You know, the sour-tastelessness of cotton balls, the awkwardness of having a numb mouth full of other people’s fingers, various sharp implements, and a small vacuum cleaner, and being asked a question? The question never has a “yes” or “no” answer (I’ve a suspicion that SAT prompts are written by dentists). It’s usually something like: “So, what do you do?” I’ve been having a hard time describing my job, even outside of the dentist chair. It’s funny because I probably know a hundred words for “communications.” Yet, when someone asks me what I do, I’m tempted to go for the short, easy answer: “I do communications for a local non-profit.” I was convicted recently, when the person I was speaking with responded, “Oh wow, non-profits! You’re a good person.” She meant it as a compliment. I felt pride, and then a twinge of guilt. Ironically, I’d failed at my literal job description: communicating the mission of The Colossian Forum. Instead, I’d emphasized me. And generalized everything else. How often do we cut the tricky words right out of our conversations? It’s easy just to state my opinion or give generalized, safe answers, rather than engage with the complexity of human experiences and wrestle with the “whys” of what we believe. It might protect my feelings, my security in my own correctness, but a conversation where I state my opinion and you state yours in the most general and least prickly words possible isn’t a conversation; it’s barely small talk. Good communication, on the other hand, carries concepts and meaning from one mind to another. If I receive and understand what you really mean, your words have been good transport for your thoughts, like a sturdy envelope or a strong Wi-Fi connection. I love being a “word person,” but finding the right words to carry my meaning is a humbling experience. Initially, I introduced The Colossian Forum as: A non-profit which reconciles churches in conflict. But this implied to some people that TCF works in personal disputes, rather than deep societal and philosophical divisions that touch every member of the Christian community. But the truth is, we have made a lot of arguments in the church fiercely personal. If our opinion is critiqued, we feel our dignity has been attacked. If we have the better argument, we think it means we’re smarter, better Christians, and we urgently put down our brothers and sisters to prove our superiority. It’s still all about us, not Christ. So, I developed this second attempt at explaining TCF: It’s a Christian non-profit which helps people reclaim conflicts—like faith and science, sexuality, and politics—by focusing on Christ’s redemptive love. But those words aren’t quite right either. “Reclaim” has a territorial sound, and we have been so entrenched in a mindset of warfare that the fear and anger are reflexive. Some people physically recoil from me when I mention “origins, sexuality, and politics.” It hurts. Never mind finding a “solution” or “resolution.” Is there any way to overcome the emotional fallout of the debate? Any salve for the burned relationships and festering bitterness? Any way to stanch the hemorrhage of people leaving the church? As Christians, we end up finally numb to the pain and avoidant, or mouths full of sharp arguments. And, like my dentist, the world is asking, “So, what do you do?” I truly believe we have to become better Word people. John, in his Gospel, calls Jesus “the Word.” In a way, Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection are the ultimate acts of good communication. Jesus is the Word which carries God to us, into our understanding, into our lives. Jesus shows us who God is and what God does: God heals. God reconciles. God loves. Jesus says over and over again that he came to express God’s law and love, not his own independent will, wants, or opinions. If we imitate Jesus, it’s not about us anymore, either. We speak, like Jesus, to carry the Word of God to those around us. At TCF, we work on this good communication, on being better witnesses to the reconciliation, love, and hope God calls us to through our unity in Christ and our community with each other. If you feel called to be Word people with us, we invite you to connect with us. Peruse resources that might be useful to you and your faith community, subscribe to our blog, or attend an event. Or, sign up for training to become a Colossian Way Leader and help your faith community become a place of reconciliation. Get more information or register here.