Conversations. Chapter 5: George Politely Declines Talkeria Invitation

invitation

From George (For Context see Chapter 3)

Dec. 20, 2016

Sam,

Geography makes this impossible.  I used to travel to Houston frequently for work, but that was a previous employer.  I expect that I would not be considered “safe” by your group.  I would defend the doctrine and teachings of the Church.  I would encourage the invited people to reconcile themselves to the prophets of God and to subject themselves to the will of their Heavenly Father like a child despite places where their opinions and understandings differ.  Your guests would not be happy to have me there.

My Response

Jan. 3, 2017

Hi George,

Oh, that darn geography.  You are probably right. Your presence might not contribute to a ‘safe’ environment.  When trying to find answers to questions and doubts, being called to repentance can be very off-putting.

Defending the doctrine and teachings of the church is absolutely permitted in the Talkeria. But, the discussions have to be totally open to examine the complete history and doctrine from all sides.

A faith crisis is often painful and lonely.  The purpose of our meetings isn’t to tell someone what decision to make or what direction to take.  Rather, it’s to listen, support, and empathize without judgment.  These are intelligent, thoughtful adults who are hurting and confused.  They’ll make the choice that is right for them and their family.  I trust them.  Those who choose to leave, I can and do support.  Those who choose to stay, I absolutely support.

The last 2 Talkerias have been dedicated to help struggling members remain active and continue to serve in their callings.  Of course, that’s what these folks desire.  The heavy weight of silence is lifted from their shoulders as they are able to talk and share openly.  At the end of the gathering one person said this, “I’m looking forward to going to church, now.”

This Thursday’s Talkeria will be much more diverse.  One person wants to stay.  One person left the church 15 years ago, but still has issues.  One couple has decided to leave.  Again, I’ve asked members to come who can relate to specific concerns that have been expressed.

George, you are selling yourself a little short.  I think you would be surprised at how well you could express love to people in all stages of testimony.  After all, we are in the Church of Jesus Christ.  His great commandment is to love.  Charity never faileth.

By the way, I plan to respond to the longer email soon.

Best Wishes for a Happy New Year,

Sam

 

6 thoughts on “Conversations. Chapter 5: George Politely Declines Talkeria Invitation

  1. I cannot speak for George, but I would venture to say that I don’t think he is worried about his ability to express love to people in all stages of testimony. He is saying that he would be steadfast in testifying of Jesus and his gospel as found in the restored church even if it meant telling people that they needed to repent. There is, in principle, nothing at all unloving about telling someone that they are wrong and need to change.

    He probably feels that he might not be accepted because he thinks the environment of the Talkers would be one where he feels compelled to act in an un-Christlike manner and give approving or supportive words to people who are abandoning the path to exaltation that he believes in.

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    1. That’s exactly the issue and why a Talkeria is needed in the first place.

      Standing firmly on truth as you see it, i.e. standing on how right you are (whether you are or not), doesn’t lend well to open, loving conversations of empathy and understanding, which is what IS needed in church and in a Talkeria and in our daily lives.

      We lost that art and skill with our absolutism. Nothing wrong with having firm beliefs! As long as we don’t lose our capacity for empathy, understanding, and real open love (and also being open to continued learning and change when our awareness is raised).

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      1. I completely agree that loving conversations of empathy and understanding are needed at church (really, as you say, everywhere in the world!), but I have to partially, and politely, disagree with your assessment of the current atmosphere of the church (are any of us truly qualified to make such statements about conditions on the ground in over 30,000 wards and branches throughout the world!?) and the roots of this atmosphere.

        If it is the condition of absolutism itself that leads to a lack of “empathy, understanding, and real open love” (the definition of which I think should be further clarified), then the traditional understanding of God as a possessor of absolute truth would render him an uncharitable tyrant.

        But many (not all!) would not consider him so. Why? Because he also possesses in absolute perfection those attributes of love and charity. To be both absolutely correct and absolutely loving at the same time is possible, but not easy. And all humans both inside and outside the church are most definitely imperfect at figuring it out.

        The key is, as you stated, not to throw out the charity with the absolute belief that exaltion comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that it is inextricably bound together with the LDS church. One must be motivated by love and the Spirit even as you affirm those things you know to be true.

        It could be that George, and others like him, desire to enter into a forum wherein they can state those soul-saving truths clearly and directly, and ask others to turn (or return) to them precisely because they are motivated by love. They see the eternal consequences of abandoning the truth, and the thought of a single soul in eternity outside the presence of their Heavenly Father so wracks their own soul, that they wish to ensure that others are brought to this knowledge. They don’t wish to abandon those souls and validate them in their desire to stray from the path of exaltation. To do so would feel callous: the human equivalent of ceasing to strive with man and leaving them to their own damnation.

        To do otherwise, to not speak the truth, would be a tacit denial of both their beliefs and the worth of those souls who choose a path outside the saving gospel.

        As I stated, and as you also pointed out, I believe those in hypothetical-George’s position (since I cannot speak for him) must not forget that agency be respected (i.e. acknowledged), that love must be shown to those with whom one disagrees, and that ill will between brethren is to be avoided (which is not always possible, but which is desirable).

        I also don’t believe that this means that hypothetical-Georges are required to stand on every street corner shouting out the truth, or to tell people at all times what the truth is regardless of the circumstances or receptivity of the people on the other end (especially when countering what they perceive to be a falsehood). No need to enter the Catholic Mass and declare to the congregation it has been led astray.

        I think that Christ made clear by word and example that prudence is key, and the hope is that those holding those truths (absolutes, in this sense) will exercise prudence under the influence of the Holy Ghost, which influence will fill their hearts with the love of God as they share.

        Now, as to whether that is off-putting to others… well, then we broach the issue of offender vs offended. This deserves a large discussion unto itself, but I feel that it is generally clear from the scriptures that while one should obviously seek to tailor a message to an audience, that does not necessarily mean that the substance thereof needs to be obliterated. This may mean that a message can be delivered with good intent, with love present in the heart of the messenger, and even in the most appropriate way possible, but the hearer of the word may not receive it; every piece of ground is unique, and the truth may be hard to bear. The hearer may even be put-off, or offended. Their condition of being offended, however, does not in any way mean that the fault lies solely with the messenger. To thusly imply without any introspection or self-assessment on the part of the hearer demonstrates, in my opinion, a lack of integrity in analyzing the situation.

        People want to pass the buck, and have been doing so since time immemorial. “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” And so-on down the line. This attempt, though, to throw off the consequential shackles of agency is ultimately misplaced.

        I think this can be illustrated by unpacking a bit of terminology. Truly, the term “to be offended” can be more accurately expressed: to take offense. What was passive is now active; the root of offense is now made clear.

        In Jesus’ life we see that, despite the perfection of the messenger and the delivery of the message (truth, absolute), there will always be those who make man an offender for a word. To be put-off, to be offended, is ultimately passive; and when we indulge in framing interactions exclusively in this way, then we have blamed our apple-eating on someone else and made them an offender.

        Once again, I must repeat: if at all possible, I believe that one must be sensitive to audience. If one knows that the hearer is likely to be triggered, and if there is another way to convey the truths, then that should probably be done. Surely one can call on another to be reconciled to God using words other than, “Stop sinning, stupid, and repent!”

        My point is that all parties must be truly open to discussion. An unwillingness to hear a message to be reconciled to God, to be in an “unsafe” space, signals an unwillingness to be open to all possibilities, ultimately rendering a group discussion purportedly devoted to being totally open to be a sham. And it is precisely through accusations of off-putting and offensive messages, of unloving messengers, and a need for real, open love that those signals are sometimes sent. All too often, the result is an echo chamber that is anything but totally open.

        Anyhow, the role and ultimate effect of such a group or discussion in both an informal setting as well as an official LDS sponsored capacity will have to be considered later. My comment is already ridiculously long, and could possibly be accused of thread-hijacking!

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  2. I agree with Sam that I don’t feel the Talkeria is a place for someone to call others to repentance – that happens all the time at church. Many of those that are attending have been hurt by lack of conversation shut down by one person’s testimony placing a period to end the entire conversation – thus leaving the struggling person with nobody to talk with.

    I will note 2 items to George.

    George – there are some that come that are more than willing to discuss and are not offended by someone testifying how they feel. I meet with TBM’s and discuss items and I feel we are both better for it as we better understand each other and actually gain respect for each other. I am all for following God, but the hard part is figuring out exactly what God wants me to do.

    I would encourage you to read Elder Ballard’s entry in the December Ensign. He says something to the effect of, “when it comes to honest questions, gone are the days of ending the conversation by giving your testimony. That won’t work.”

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  3. Sam,
    I wish I could attend a Talkaria but am limited by geography as well. George would be welcome to attend if he is willing to listen without casting judgement. As Happy Hubby commented, there is plenty of that at church. Stephen Covey taught “seek first to understand….then to be understood”. Many will shut down a discussion without seeking to understand and will respond by reciting the church position.

    In a EQ meeting this year we were discussing home teaching and I suggested that it seemed silly to visit each other and recite the message from the Ensign that we can all read on our own. I was quickly shut down by a man who went on to recite how there are inactive and part member families that need to be visited and that in the past he visited families whose only connection was from home teachers. He totally didn’t listen to me that I was talking about those of us in the room (in a highly active ward) that are assigned to visit each other. Thinking and a willingness to understand is stomped out by those quick to recite the church position.

    I’m very fortunate to have a home teacher that understands me and is willing to catch up with me and members of my family in passing at church rather than a formal visit to our home. I like the idea of having a home teacher I can call on if I need something, but don’t feel the need to have someone visit me once a month in a shirt and tie so they can check a box. Am I the only one who thinks home teaching doesn’t have to be a text book visit?

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