by Vicar Emma Grinde
What’s lost when we remain in our ideological bubbles? Why conversation across difference matters.
Polarization and division are real in our nation. We sometimes demonize those we disagree with, writing others off completely. I have often felt baffled, heartbroken, angry, and disappointed in myself and others about how we deal (or don’t deal) with political and religious disagreement.
This week at The Lutheran Center we screened the documentary Purple: America, We Need to Talk. This documentary was filmed in Southwestern Wisconsin in 2019, an area of the country that is purple: where red and blue, conservative and liberal voters live side by side. The documentary followed a conversation between people of different backgrounds and political beliefs from the purple areas of Wisconsin and Iowa as they discussed their perspectives on the social safety net in the United States. After viewing the documentary, we spent time reflecting on the protagonists: Akram, AJ, Karen, and Ted – what their core values are and what the central differences are between them. We listened to not only what they were saying, but what was underneath what they were saying. Thinking about their values helped us humanize even the people we didn’t agree with much. Then we imagined what questions we would ask them if they were with us in the room. Listening for their values, listening to understand, helped us formulate questions that were not reactionary, but informed and respectful.
Conversations across differences don’t always come in the close-to-perfect scenario displayed in the documentary, where there is a trained facilitator and all participants are equally ready to share and to listen. Often real-life conversations are messier and a trained facilitator doesn’t magically show up when things get difficult. That doesn’t mean that we should run from tough conversations: you have skills to engage in conversation across difference, to genuinely listen and to be open to mutual learning.
Questions we engaged after we watched the documentary, questions you might ponder too: What am I losing out on when I stay in my own bubble of people who think like me? Whose perspectives are missing from my world that I might be interested in seeking out? How does my faith inform the importance of communication across divides?
Let’s continue engaging in honest reflection and conversation: join us for a book study on Pastor Lenny Duncan’s Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US on Sundays 4/11, 4/18, 4/25, and 5/2 in person at the Lutheran Center. Sign up here. Books can be checked out from the LC Library.