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SEPTEMBER 19TH, 7P, ST. IGNATIUS PARISH, 3235 ARDEN WAY, SACRAMENTO, CA
Creed, Coffee and Conversation
“But statistics don’t support that.”
“Well, that’s just what I believe!”
That’s a red flag in any conversation, even among friends. The presumed agreement to disagree desperately leaps into a sanctuary because everyone knows it’s not polite to challenge faith. And that “belief” word smacks of faith, as much as my neighbor lady’s excessive hat will smack of her Sunday morning wait for the church bus.
Just as that oversized, over-decorated hat proclaims “I’m on my way to praise the Lord!” so “That’s what I believe” is meant to establish electric fence boundaries to where a conversation might roam. Sometimes it’s healthier to just back off. “But your hat is completely at odds with the rest of you (and the liturgical season to boot!)” is as dangerous as trying to explain to her how you correctly ring for an elevator. (She firmly believes that you push the button indicating which direction the elevator needs to travel to find you; once on the car you indicate which direction you want to go.)
Perhaps the widest sense of grace is salvific in such exchanges. Bolder than church-going vesture and public conveyance signage must be an embracing and broad sense that we know each other to be good. The gift of our exchanges with each other must be perceived as mutual calls to being better, not because we are supposed to be better but because we can be. Any replay of an earnest conversation will uncover at some point a genuine trust that the exchange is valuable: Hey! We should talk about that and we both know we can. Isn’t that what usually prompts that second cup of coffee, anyway?
But we get careless. It’s hard work keeping facts on hand and then marshaling them to form logical argument. Fatigue sets in and we know why Rodin’s “Thinker” is sitting down. It’s easier to just push the “belief button.”
But faith, whether in religious creeds, political systems, social movements, or economic theories, is misplaced if it cowers in the face of demonstrable fact. Faith is not for the weak or the tired. No matter what or whether you believe about Christmas “And the glory of the Lord shone ‘round them” means the lights are on and up full, inviting wide-eyed examination. Shadows are for cowards—or for brave treasure-seekers with strong flashlights.
Conversation deserves the rights of process or it remains mere rehearsal and retread (really a conservation) of yesterday. The word itself turns on a root meaning turn—versare. Just maybe I can’t do it alone. That’s where the prefix con-- meaning with-- functions.
How much faith do I have? How much do I cherish our friendship? The answers are bound up with how we value our conversations. Will I allow you to unsettle my less-examined positions? Can I be confident you will welcome my challenge to what you think is your conviction? It’s hard to imagine any more important measure of human endeavor. From church scandal to ecclesiastical schism, congressional gridlock to social prejudice, genuine conversation will champion our nobility as a species. But it must be liberally seasoned in a stew of grace and graciousness. Then only will faith radicalize itself from “Just the way it is” to “What just might be” and “Well, that’s what I believe” extend itself into a welcome “but let’s put on another pot of coffee.”
Or whatever you’re drinking.