Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Seasoned with salt: grace-filled conversations I

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.     - Colossians 4.6.

A new series
I thought I'd start a new series about "salty" conversations, the kind that are tasty and keep people coming back for more. Too often, I seem to meet Christians who think that discussing matters of faith, hope and love involves being obnoxious, pulling out a tract, trapping people, monologising or desperately cramming everything that "must be said" into this exchange. Sadly, even more often I meet Christians who keep their heads down and mouths shut out of fear of falling into one of the categories just mentioned.

Instead, I hope to start some conversations about what makes for good conversation. Obviously, insights into this rare and delightful phenomenon are not limited to believers. I'll post real situations I've been in (with a few details changed to keep it anonymous) and ask for your advice on how you might have handled them.

Situation: You have an acquaintance you've gradually got to know in irregular meetings over a couple of years. He is of Roman Catholic background and goes to mass regularly - every single Easter and Christmas. You are catching up a week after Christmas and when asked how it was, he somewhat indignantly reveals that when he went to mass this Christmas the priest laid a guilt trip on those who only show twice a year.

How might you respond?
Eight points for the first to correctly name the salty conversation pictured.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd ask him whether the guilt trip worked. If so why?

JRS

byron smith said...

"worked" = made him feel guilty?

One of Freedom said...

I've run into a similar situation a few times from people who feel slighted (real or imagined) but other Christians. If the person is opening up the dialogue then they at least know you are safe enough (meaning you probably haven't done a similar thing to them) and they probably think you have an opinion on that matter that is worth considering.

In the past I've been on that same end of the guilting stick so I usually try to talk about their feelings and what that made them think about. But then I'd ask them how their involvement with that setting/person is feeding their spirits. Find out why they even bother. In that I can usually discern if they are just going because it is expected of them or if it is really meaningful for them. If it is meaningful I'd affirm that. If it is just an expectation I'd at least encourage them to think about that and I might even challenge them to not go.

My thinking is that most people don't know that they have a responsibility for their own spiritual life. So until introduce a break in the patterns that they feel are expected they may just keep going and developing a resentment. It is tricky though, no two situations are identical. I've been known also to call attention to beautiful aspects of their liturgy that they may not have ever considered or thought about.

Sam C said...

Hmm. I think I'd ask him why he objects to the guilt trip. Then question what mass means to him. Then try to explain the official Catholic teaching on mass. Then try to explain the biblical teaching on the Lords Supper.

Jonathan said...

I think I'd like to ask why he does go at Christmas and Easter. What is he expecting instead of a guilt trip?

scott gray said...

byron--

i'd ask him what some other times in his life he's felt guilty were. and then i'd ask him what seemed similar between these instances. and then we'd talk about how guilt works. and what he thinks guilt is for. and then we'd talk about how to engage in 'church' in ways that didn't make one feel guilty. then i'd say that if he feels a bit of anger, that anger often comes from feeling wronged, and how did he feel wronged when the homilist made him feel guilty? and then i'd ask him if....

byron smith said...

Yes, these are great suggestions. Thanks!

scott gray said...

byron--

how might you respond?

Matt said...

For the picture: I guess the conversion of the Samaritan Woman at the Well since it's the gospel lection for this coming Sunday. :-)

Craig Bennett said...

This example is a true experience for my wife and I.
Her family are nominal Italian Catholics who do the same thing,for baptism's, confirmation and first communion.

I would ask him why go to church in the first place? And use it as a stepping stone to engage with their faith system.

Then ask them what they believe the role / job of the priest is? And again engage with that conversation and train of thought.

Ask if they think the Priest has the right to encourage his parishioners to be committed to God?

Then ask is he thinks the Priest has the right to ask him about his own level of commitment to God...and the church and why he is using the church twice a year...getting back to the first question in engaging with their faith..

From there if he was responsive I would use it to engage with how the Bible talks about the need to be involved in ongoing fellowship, Bible study with other believers to continue to increase our faith and to know the hope to which we are called.

The important thing here is to now start using the word "WE" so our conversation is inclusive and then give him a open invitation to join in one of your Bible studies - or start one up for him to continue the conversation in a non threatening manner.

Deborah Crittenden said...

I'd suggest that he choose two other days of the year to go to church instead :-) Even better, two Sundays in a row, right at the start of the year, thus absolving him of his church-going "responsibilities" for the entire remainder of the year!

While this sounds a little facetious, I think it's a non-threatening way of making him think about why he's even going to church in the first place.

I might also point out that I personally wouldn't feel comfortable in a church community that is motivated (particularly from the top down) by guilt or fear, so he may like to try a different church, and would wholeheartedly recommend my church if he lived in my area.

byron smith said...

Thanks - more great suggestions. Deb, I like the idea of suggesting he gets his double obligation out of the way in the first two weeks. :-)

I should post another in this series sometime...

Moffitt the Prophet said...

Byron, since you haven't acknowledged Matt's claim on the point here yet, I'll throw my hat into the ring and say that the picture is depicting John 4.1-45.

byron smith said...

Oops - sorry, I did miss Matt, who is of course correct. Eight points.

Moffitt - thanks for pointing this out, even if it was in order to try to sneak in yourself. However, strictly speaking, the picture is not illustrating the entire chapter, since the woman doesn't arrive at the well until verse 7 and has departed by verse 28 (when the disciples turn up in 27). So it illustrating the conversation in verses 7-26. I'll give you two points.

byron smith said...

Of course, once I give Matt credit for his points scored back in February, this pushes Moffitt from third to fourth place and so reduces his bonus from three points to one. So it all evens out in the end... :-)

byron smith said...

Turns out Matt = Matt Lemieux and so there is no tie for second place in February's points table, so Moffitt gets three bonus points after all... Just goes to show that some good deeds don't get punished.