It always seem easier to define what something is by describing what is not.
Therefore, Dialogue does not place one person as the central speaker who contains the accurate information that needs to be conveyed to the hearers. In the church that has often led to the abuse of the pulpit. A good whole book devoted to this issue is “Preaching Re-imagined”by Doug Pagitt, the pastor of Solomon’s Porch.
Often times that is the format discussions take because we are trying to convince the hearers that the person/concept we are confronting is wrong. In doing so we are establishing ourselves and our perspective as right. This attempt to be corrective however is not dialogue because it undercuts mutual growth. Instead it insists that your opponent either change their perspective or lose the debate.
Unfortunately this is the form that Modern Academic education applauds. We are taught to read texts, listen to lectures and find someway to discredit the other person. Thereby allowing our perspective to become more credable.
In debating we are taking the weakest points of our opponent and using our strongest convictions to “prove them wrong.” When we provide an incomplete or weak point we get frustrated because we are being taken to “literally,” and feel that our underlying point is not being heard because of surface weaknesses. But we fail to provide that charity to our opponent.
Often times we think we are hearing our opponent, but what we are hearing is the surface material. Take for example interfaith dialogue. I believe that at most churches and even in PTS, other faiths are taught in a manner to strengthen our own notions of Christianity. We attend these meetings, seminars, encounter people of other faiths to hear but not to listen. By listening we are beginning to embody the other’s position and see the fullness and the richness.
Let me give you an example. In college I took an Intro course to Hindu, I do not now recall the specific sect of Hindi, but we read their creation story. In it was a beautiful story about a god whose body was torn apart to create the earth, the stars and all of creation. While we could giggle at their concept of a god that looks at elephant, or that their creation myth is obviously a farse, we would not listen to the deeper message and not enrichen our perspective of life.
If there is a point, an agenda, a claim that drives the communication to reach then it is not really a dialogue but propganda. If someone knows where this is leading and is forcing it to arrive at that conclusion then (s)he is failing to allow for a fluid conversational dialogue. Rather, dialogue is like sitting around the bar having a few beers and shooting the breeze, at a deeper level. It is being able to see how this other person is redefining your understanding of yourself, the world and of God.