by Daniel Tidwell
We are excited to share this series with you. Daniel was a guest panelist at our event this January. This series was originally posted on his blog. For more information on this series, read the about page or Daniel's introduction.
Part 1: Starting places for conversation
I was once invited by a professor, who I know holds tightly to the way of Jesus, to enter conversations with people, not by seeking to bring them to our side but by listening in such a way that we are open to being converted. In this posture, there is a deep confidence in the faithfulness of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to be present and lead us into truth.
What if all of our conversations began with confession—humble attempts to name realities that we have allowed to go unnamed between us? What if we begin by seeking to allow the Spirit of God to convert us in the midst of our dialogue? And what if every time we read the Biblical text, we began by listening for where we are being called to repent by what the Spirit is saying to the church?
Such a path is marked by genuine curiosity and space for authenticity, and it requires that we each listen to one another and also listen to our own bodies’ responses of fear and defensiveness. This kind of conversation requires courage, because it invites us to name and honor our anxiety, and find ways to self-regulate in order to continue to engage with compassion and conviction.
In order to open ourselves up to love well, I suggest that we root ourselves in the hospitable table practices of Jesus. The most radical image of trans-formation that I know of is when we take food and it is digested and metabolized by our bodies into our very own flesh and blood. Through eating food, we declare that our bodies matter—enough to take the matter of this world and transform it into our physical bodies, sustaining our presence in the world.
By eating with strangers, with those who are different than (strange to) us, we share food with those who have different bodies than our own. We share the precious, limited resources of the earth with other people, and in so doing, we affirm not only their right to exist alongside us, but we affirm our desire for their own continued presence in the world.
This is why eating together matters. Long before we get to the place of cognitively acknowledging the importance of other people, we practice the physical affirmation of this truth. We are moved affectively, morally, and spiritually to care for and sustain the body of someone who is hungry long before we would put together cognitively our own deep need for diverse persons in our lives.
As united as we are in our mammal fight-or-flight biomechanics of fear that drive us to fight one another, we are also deeply united in our compassion and impulse to share that which delights our senses and sustains our bodies.
I believe that eating together is not just a helpful step for dialogue, it is a necessary step that biologically affirms the personhood of the people with whom we disagree. It is an act of humility (connecting our humanity and creatureliness with the earth) and confession—that act of naming an unnamed truth that exists between us, telling the truth that we are, both of us, equal parties in need of one another’s continued presence in the world and at our tables.
Before beginning to delve into the conversation of how we read the Biblical text in order to better understand how sexual desire is an essential embodied part of Christian formation, we begin with that other essential need and desire that is necessary for thriving life: food.
And this reveals the crack through which I fall in this medium. The screen on which you read is not a table. I cannot offer you a cup of steaming tea or coffee, an iced glass of lemonade, a plate of brownies, or a bowl of pumpkin soup. But consider this an invitation; the letter in the mail—from me or someone living much closer to you—to eat a meal with someone you’ve met, but you really can’t understand how they talk about life in their body. They may not be a stranger, but the way they experience the world in their own body is strange to you.
It’s a spiritual practice modeled by Jesus that can lead us into deeper, wiser, kinder conversations in which we are all converted by God’s Spirit who is at work in the world.
Originally posted here.