series: what is not "dialogue?"

It always seem easier to define what something is by describing what is not.

  • Dialogue is not a one-way conversation

  • 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.

  • Dialogue is not a debate

  • 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.

  • Dialogue is not hearing

  • 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.

  • Dialogue is not purpose-driven.

  • 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.

    3 thoughts on “series: what is not "dialogue?"

    1. I would have to disagree with that last point. Dialogue IS purpose-driven… or at least purposeFUL. Simply conversing isn’t purpose-driven, but a dialogue is driven by the purpose of coming to a deeper knowledge of a) the other position and b) the other person.If this purpose is not part of a conversation, I do not believe it can be rightly considered dialogue. If conversation (nearly any conversation) is to be meaningful, there must be somewhere it is going. Every story travels along a path. Whether it ever reaches an “end” or not, there is sequence. To tell a good story, you have to get the sequence right, you have to know where you’re going. To have a dialogue, you need to know what you’re saying and where you’re going. That does NOT mean that you’re inflexible and unable to change, based on the other person with whom you are dialoguing…

    2. –yes, but no.–I know I am reacting (especially when saying what it is “not”) with extremes.So yes, there is a “purpose” but the purpose needs to be located in the process of dialogue, not in the product. That is probably my underlying theme/perspective, and i think it transcends to other art forms as well.Your example that a story travels along a path is true. But stories originate from a single person, a single author, which tends to create a one-way dialogue as well. I cannot dialogue with Mark Twain. Instead, I return to the process of visual artmaking…Rather than coming before a canvas and knowing exactly what I want to paint because I have sketched, researched, measured my model (i.e. Michalangelo), think about it coming to the canvas with the agenda to draw (to dialogue)–which you are right <>is<> a purpose–the act of drawing creates something much richer than what the artist could have ever imagined.

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