Talking About, Talking With

Our nation made many political gains toward equality and justice for sexual minorities last week. Among them was the election of the first openly gay Senator–Tammy Baldwin, from Wisconsin.

In a National Public Radio report, I heard these words from Baldwin: “If you are not in the room, the conversation is about you. If you’re in the room, the conversation is with you, and that … has a very transformative effect.”

Yes. Transformative.

Since I officiated a same-sex wedding two years ago, one of my biggest frustrations has been that the number of people talking about me seems so much greater than the number of people willing to talk with me. Then I, in turn, talk about all of those misguided people who are talking about me.

I doubt anyone would deny that it is quite easy to talk about people with whom we disagree, to talk about people who are different from us.

And it is quite difficult–emotionally, intellectually, often even logistically–to talk with those same people.

But Tammy Baldwin is right. Talking about people is not transformative. It might be informative, validating, stress-relieving, even fun. But transformation will only happen when we let the Others into the room and talk with them.

In many ways this is the essence of Jesus’ ministry. He was condemned by the proper religious folks for the undesirable company he kept–eating with tax collectors and prostitutes. The disciples could not believe their eyes when they saw him talking with a Samaritan woman. The parents must have been astounded to see him embracing and talking with their children. The Gospels are full of stories about Jesus talking with all kinds of people–from the lepers to the religious elite.

I’m afraid that those of us who seek to follow the way of Jesus must, likewise, resist the urge to only talk about people; we must seek out opportunities to talk with people.

On Mondays, I often post a creative prayer practice. So consider this as a spiritual practice: Next time you find yourself talking about someone (or a group of people), make a mental note. Then make an effort to talk with that person (or a representative of that group) as soon as possible.

It will probably not be easy. It will probably not be fun. But it just might be transformative.

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