Echo Chamber—A situation in which people only hear opinions of one type, or opinions that are similar to their own—Cambridge Dictionary Definition
In the Comfort Zone
If you’re like me, you like to be comfortable. It’s nice and easy being in a space where everyone gets along and there is no conflict. Most of the time anyway. Perhaps without consciously thinking about it we tend to gravitate to what’s known as an “echo chamber”. Everyone in our little circle or community for the most part is on the same page. Things go on smoothly because we share the same opinions and worldviews and we reinforce them by repetition and being together. Many years ago, I realized that simply working for a Christian organization surrounded me with those who thought like I did. Now like I said, this can become comfortable and good, but good can become the enemy of what is best.
In my last blog, I talked about our country being caught up in a Culture War. A war over extremes of truth and grace, which only Jesus can do perfectly (see John 1:12-14). One extreme sacrifices grace over truth, becoming rigid, condemning and exclusionary. The other extreme sacrifices truth for grace becoming unboundaried, enabling and entitled. Both extremes perpetuate the same negative ideas of being intolerant, combative and judgmental against others with different world views. It’s easy to hunker down in your own private echo chamber when the insults begin to fly. Sadly we can see these global and national differences filtering down into communities and churches. We can even be at mutually exclusive odds with family members.
The Need for a Bigger Table
Over the last several years, I’ve been very fortunate to forge some different kinds of friendships. These are friends who have very different views on gender and sexuality and how they are walking out their faith. We can differ theologically, how we handle chastity, sex and relationships, which can get tricky. It would be very easy for the paths we’ve chosen to invalidate the others experience and what each of us value. But we have made a commitment to our friendships. Sometimes that means conflict and hard conversations which might include anger or tears. Rough. It is not easy. We constantly work towards resolution or respect “hot button” topics by leaving them off the table sometimes.
A friend of mine eloquently put it that “we need to enlarge our table”. We allow and even encourage those outside the echo chamber to share a space in our lives. This helpful and even hopeful analogy has really stuck with me. When I engage with those who have a different or radically different world view it causes a deeper spiritual work in me. I’m thankful to the friend who offered this pearl of wisdom and a place at her enlarged table.
A Deeper Spiritual Work
Recently Roger and I attended a conference here in Denver that had speakers and workshops on faith, gender and sexual identity. About 90% of what we heard over the next several days would be coming from a different perspective. The way we would navigate faith, gender and sexual identity would be almost the exact opposite—talk about hard spiritual work! The same has happened with over three decades of ministry. Friends have landed all across a spectrum of belief and ways they are living out their faith and sexuality. These are just a few things I’ve learned and am grateful for when we leave the echo chamber and include some different voices around the table.
I need to think through what I believe and why
It’s a good thing when in the midst of hearing different world views to take a step back and rethink. Why do I believe what I believe? Why am I living out my convictions in this way? What has this cost me in good and bad ways? Going back and remembering is a good thing. It can even strengthen and deepen our convictions and be a source of encouragement.
I need to learn how to articulate well what I believe
I certainly don’t feel the need to apologize for what I believe. On the other hand I don’t need to be unnecessarily offensive either. How do I share my story and convictions in a way that is truthful and graceful? I would also add that it’s not good to communicate in soundbites (though that is the unhelpful way our culture communicates currently). A truth and grace response needs to be face to face with time—like over coffee.
I need to empathize, listen and put myself in their shoes
You mean the goal isn’t to win or put someone in their place? Correct. James 1:19 encourages us “to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”. This causes me to go to a place of humility, humility, humility. It really takes time and space to hear someone. How did they come to the conclusions and path they’re on for their lives? What influenced their choices? When we are free from having to “win” or “be right” we can actually see people. This is probably the most difficult but beneficial spiritual work.
A staff member since June of 1992, Scott is a key player in the WGA discipleship ministry. He plans, organizes, and implements every aspect of the Thursday night support group. In addition to public speaking, counseling group participants and training leaders, Scott maintains personal contact with many group members and it is to Scott’s credit that many group members feel personally welcomed, cared for and loved.
Although he holds a degree in graphic arts, he attributes his ministry qualifications to the “school of hard knocks.” God’s abundant grace continues to be the instrument of growth in his life, and he desires to be firmly grounded in the forgiveness and freedom of relationship with Jesus Christ.
Scott attends a Presbyterian Church.
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