Communication is the Key

I’m a communication nerd, tried and true, through and through.  Interpersonal communication (which I call “practical psychology”) was really my salvation in a lot of ways.  In undergrad, I took intro classes in theology and communication “just for fun” and fell in love instead.  Subconsciously, I saw both areas as ways I, the peacekeeper and communication ‘director’ in my family, could help them get along better. 

However, better communication, such as asking clarifying questions or not interrupting (especially because we assume we know what someone is going to say), can really help us all.  We each come to a conversation with varied experiences.  What the word ‘dog’ conjures up for one person can be very different for another, and it can change day to day as new experiences come into our lives and change our perspectives.  This is probably why I have a hard time with the concept of ‘universal truths’.  That, and being a P on the Myers Briggs. 

Everything we say is interpreted by our receiver; you could even call hearing an interpretation because the listener deciphers the message you give by taking in all of the ways you said it.  We all have different ‘lenses’ from which we see situations so unfortunately no one will be able to understand exactly what you are trying to say but we do give others a lot to work with–80% of what we say is nonverbal; i.e. voice inflection, facial expressions, body movements, sarcasm, etc.  To be a good listener (or reader!) we have to listen without thinking of what we are going to say next and give nonverbal (nodding one’s head) and verbal (“I see” or “wow”) feedback. 

Dr. Phil, whether you think him a guru or an idiot, has some good stats.  The other day I heard him say that 80% of the questions we ask are statements in disguise (a.k.a. leading or passive aggressive questions).  These can often be hard to identify.  The Quakers have a tradition called the ‘clearness committee’ in which a person gathers about 4 people to help him or her make an important decision.  The job of the committee is to ask clarifying and bias free (as much as possible!) questions.  So, for instance, they may ask, “How do you see this new job changing your family life?” rather than “Don’t you think this will be bad for your family?”.  

One of my favorite quotes is, “Never take for malice what may have only been said in stupidity”.  Now, I’m not saying what someone else says is stupid, but it reminds ME not to be the stupid one and avoid jumping to conclusions about what someone meant.  Furthermore, when someone offers a perspective on something that really makes sense to them, makes them feel whole, etc., it does not always follow that it would do the same for others.  So, I try to remember that this is what makes sense to me. I imagine it seems odd that someone could come to such a different conclusion when reading the same thing you did or not be interested in what excites you but it happens.  Is the other person wrong?  Are you wrong?  Well, why does anyone need to be wrong?  (I’m not talking about moral relativism though; that’s a whole different topic I’m hoping someone else would like to tackle in another post!)  

I have had a few conversations on this blog about the difference between dialogue and debate.  I won’t bias you with my personal definitions of them, but I would love to hear how others define them and what you think the difference between the two are.  There’s always more to learn, right?   

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About Lauren Ivory

Lauren Ivory is a hospital chaplain working on Chicago's diverse north side. After receiving her Master of Divinity degree at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO she went on for further hospital ministry training at the Cleveland Clinic of Ohio. On the side, she enjoys helping couples plan wedding/commitment ceremonies and works with couples as a certified premarital guidance counselor.

36 thoughts on “Communication is the Key

  1. Speaking for myself, I love a good debate and will often blur the line between dialogue and debate. Actually, I’m not sure I could even find that line if I had a full survey team at my disposal.

    But I definitely feel that debate needs to be open-minded and respectful. For me, a good debate challenges me and forces me to think through and form stronger, more deliberate opinions. And I believe God can work through that kind of respectful exchange of ideas, to lead us closer to the Truth we all seek.

    Then, too, unlike most of you here, I’m not academically involved in theology. So I can understand, as someone in a recent comment pointed out (Sorry! I forget who it was!), that you’ve all had these debates ad nauseum and feel like there’s nothing new to be gained.

  2. To me the difference between dialog and debate is that in a dialog both parties are honestly interested in what the other side has to say — there are a lot of questions to probe the issue deeper, not to throw one another off guard. I think of debate as being more of a “contest” to see who’s “right.” I have to say I prefer dialog, probably because I’ve got an insatiable curiosity and usually want to soak up as much information about experiences different from my own as possible. Although they can both challenge you to think a little deeper about where you stand in the world.

    I actually don’t like religious debate at all; it doesn’t feel like a fair debate because often both sides are coming at it with completely different assumptions so it’s not really possible for them to debate on the same level, or for either side to “win.” Also, so many people think of religion in such absolute terms, and religion is so deeply personal, that why should we “debate” that? It seems about as silly as “debating” the right way to be a woman (although people do that, too!) So for me dialog is the way to go with religion, but I know a lot of people don’t feel that way.

  3. To help with Lauren’s point about the importance of non-verbals/body language, picture me sitting at my laptop typing furiously with clenched teeth, an air of rage in my face and passion in my eyes as they squint with anger…I am trying to take deep breaths to calm myself, yet I keep wanting to scream instead…

    I am writing this here because after reading some of the comments and disrespectful–nay derogatory–language being used by some commenters (at present I’m talking specifically about comments on the “Can the Church be revolutionary” post) in spite of the numerous discussions about how important many of us find language (i.e. “the gays” as if they are “other”–surely not on a Catholic blog!– and get placed in a category different from “the straights”…oh the heterosexism that runs a muck in our society and in our Church is surely not what God intended when envisioning a Kingdom where ALL are Welcome) is making me very thankful for your thoughts, Lauren, about communication. I am realizing more and more that I HATE this internet format for discussion because I don’t hear the affect or intent in the speaker’s voice or see their body language to tell me if they are scolding me for having a different opinion, lecturing me on “facts” or simply offering their point of view and wanting to hear mine in turn. They also can’t tell that they are losing my attention and respect each time they use non-inclusive language (I AM NOT A MAN!) and get disgusted with disrespectful word choices (the GLBTQQIP community is not an “other”). I applaud all of you who are able to enter into these debates with those commenting on this site with clearly defined intentions, as stated on Catholic Answers threads, other blogs, and even email that is being circulated that a friend of mine passed on to me… to change our minds and give us “Orthodox responses.” I just can’t do it; at least not in a written format! I don’t like debates and even the word sends a shutter up my spine. Debates for me are verbal fights where civility and compassion (from the Greek “passion” for ‘to suffer’ and “com” meaning ‘with’) are left at the door. Honest dialogue is not afraid of talking about the tough issues, especially when there is disagreement, but we must do so respectfully as we fully hear what the other person(s) have to say, without trying to change their opinion, and not feeling like we have to defend ourselves in return.

    I could never be in politics! Sound-bites, 30 second conversations, constantly trying to one-up your component, pointing out anther’s flaws instead of their gifts…it just gives me a headache thinking about the lack of true compassion. (Can you tell I’m a social worker?) I have absolutely no interest in watching the presidential debates because there is a winner and loser (that is exactly the language political analysis will use: e.g. Obama 2 McCain 1). That win/lose language equals a fight in my world, and I don’t think we need winners and losers, we need collaborators, dialogue, the ability to think about why the other thinks the way they and do to feel what they are feeling. If someone specifically knows that non-inclusive language hurts me and makes me feel disrespected-even like less of a human being- then the use of it means that person does not care how I am feeling and has not tried to feel what I feel. That is where debate and dialogue differ for me: the intention. Debate is to prove your self and win the argument; dialogue is to grow in compassion and learn more about who the other is and how to best respond given the other person’s needs, history and feelings.

    So was that a rant or did it make some sense?

  4. I don’t know why there is a smiley face in my post. I was not winking or smiling when discussing compassion…

  5. You made some sense. Geez, did you ever make some sense. Ok, I’m letting my bias out, but I too am very frustrated and although I want a blog space where we can share different ideas (but in the respectful manner you and Lacey outlined), I’m so flaming mad that this ONE space, which I was looking forward to finally existing, has been infiltrated with agendas (I’d love to see that email by the way).

    I don’t want to say leave us alone to have our own thing, because I’m not shutting myself off like that. But where’s the respect for the dignity of all people huh, if someone’s intent is to come in guns blaring? Umm, and dignity of each person is sort of a big teaching in our Church right, especially as it relates to the what you do for another you do for me thing? Who’s the cafeteria Catholic now? I’m sorry, I’ve got a biting tongue tonight, and I get that way when I go into protection mode when I see the potential for someone getting hurt. Who knows who is reading these blogs and what could be harmful for them to read. What ever happened to ‘walk a mile in their shoes?’ The clean logical arguments don’t work when I’m face to face with the person I might be trying to dismiss so easily. You mean its not enough to say, well, they can’t or they shouldn’t so story over? You mean someone actually wants a better answer than that? (insert sarcasm here, and there, and probably down this post a bit too). How many times have people said something they firmily believed only to feel foot in mouth immediately when they are face to face with the very person they are being critical of?

    I would never go to the Catholic answers site to give my ‘orthodox responses’. Its clear what that site is about and what its for, so I let it be. It seems to be an exertion of ‘power over’ and let’s face it, that can be a reaction to others lording power over them. Pedagogy of the oppressed?

    Language is a powerful thing. With language we name our reality. When I use the term ‘man’ I literally mean man. Such as the men who wrote the Scriptures. There’s something too about not trying to violate people’s rights to just BE. The absolute statements get under my skin in regards to this. I think it is terribly important to own my statements. Purposely or not, it does seem an attempt to shame when someone makes absolutes statements when they know there are others who disagree. Is shame the right word? I don’t know. And I’m sure someone wants to say well maybe its really my conscience getting to me because I’ve heard ‘the truth’. But I reject the transference. Not gonna do it…

    But Josh, I hear what you’re saying and I feel bad. I hope I havent tried to cut off debates you were interested in engaging just because I have studied theology and heard the arguments before.

  6. Don’t feel bad, Lauren … there’s still plenty of lively debate going on! ;)

    And I can see your frustration. Yes, I think the debating gene must be in my blood (my Dad is a radio talk-show host, and I’ve been told that I’d probably do well studying law) but, as you point out, I don’t cruise the conservative sites looking for things to disagree with.

    I’ve noticed too, in my less-than-scientific surveying of sites on the web, that it seems like conservatives (of any stripe — political as well as religious) seem more inclined than liberals to go picking fights where they find a concentration of opposing viewpoint. (The one big exception, I’ve found, is that some atheists can be as strident as Fundamentalists in pushing their agenda, but that’s a whole other can of worms). But I wonder why that is…?

  7. Thanks for the affirmation that I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. What Lauren says about the truth claims is right on. How can anyone claim to know the will or intention of God? For thousands of years, theologians have been trying to figure that out, and I’m not convinced we have gotten any closer than Paul did in his epistles.

    I, too, was looking forward to a “safe” place for this sort of discussion. When I got on the NextGen list serve last fall (I’m still pretty new to CTA), I was thrilled with the discussions that didn’t turn into debates. People understood that it is already hard enough to have these conversations with friends, family members, co-workers, etc…because we are often in a minority of faithful devoted people actively working for change. It is a public blog, though, so what can we do?

    Josh, I think you are right that it tends to be the conservatives that go looking for a fights. I think that they really believe that our souls are in jeopardy, and if only we could see the light, that is agree with their opinion, then we would be just as content as they are. Militant atheists seem to fall into the same category in that they think we would be better off if we stop this charade of faith in a non-existent being and put faith in ourselves instead. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I have really met many truly joyful militant atheists. Unlike conservatives, I think their motivation really comes from being hurt. Rather than being mad at God, as we rarely give ourselves permission to do, they get mad at faith and lose it. I have no desire to change a persons’ belief on this through debate, but I do believe that following St. Jane de Chantal’s advice to be “a quiet presence in the midst of despair” might help them find joy again.

    Thanks for letting me blow off some steam. I sort of let lose in my last reply on other thread, and I might regret it later because I’m bound to get some angry responses.

  8. Becky, will you tell me more about why you think someone’s motivation is coming from being hurt? I’m not following. the limitations of the written word. I was really glad to know I wasn’t the only one feeling frustrated, not that I’m happy for anyone to have the same feelings I’m having!

    I’m curious about this interest in and comfort even with debating, and maybe Josh has an idea on this. I wonder if this might be a difference between the way some men and some women communicate? Please don’t get me wrong, because I hate stereotypes. But I do know there are SOME general characteristics one can find between men and women that

  9. Continued from above…..

    can SOMETIMES ring true. Sometimes debate can involve and conjour up emotion, and other times it is devoid of that and just an excercise in academics for instance and wouldn’t be so personal (or something-I’m working with half ideas here). What do people think? And please forgive me if I am crossing the line and stereotyping.

  10. Lauren- I think where I was going with the discussion about many atheists is that most atheists I know once believed in the Holy (on some level), and some experience caused them to question their belief and throw out the notion. Anecdotally (I really have never seen any research on this, but I’d love to know if it exists), the true atheists (not agnostics) I know experienced some traumatic event that drove them away from God: a death of a loved one, sexual assault, war, etc… that caused hurt but was manifested as anger. That anger could have been directed anywhere, but for them it was directed at what they saw as their false sense of faith. For example, one woman I know watched her 4 year old daughter die of leukemia over 3 years. She had a strong commitment to Catholicism, and prayed and put her trust in God, but she trusted that God would heal her daughter rather than trust that God would help her deal with whatever resulted (you’re the chaplain…I’ m really not expressing this well, but I think you get it). After her daughter died, she went numb because she was hurt and came to believe that if she had not trusted a “false god,” she wouldn’t have been so hurt thinking that she could have better prepared herself for her daughter’s death if she didn’t have hope. So now she runs workshops for parents of ill children and in part tries to debunk the myth of God so they won’t feel the pain she did. For her, she is trying to make sure others don’t go through what she did: both the loss of her daughter and the loss of faith all at the same time. Does that make more sense? I could wrong, but that is the sense I have gotten from a number of militant athiests.

  11. Becky, oh that is so sad. I’m sorry to hear about that woman’s loss and her continued pain. You said it just right, in my expert chaplain position!! ha. God can’t, I believe, change what’s going on but God can comfort us in it, help us in our pain, bring people around us that will be of comfort, etc. A prof of mine said once, “God’s power is purely relational”. Now, she may not have meant it like I see it, but I don’t think God ‘allows’ things to happen, but God’s going to be there with us, help us through it and do something with it for healing, growth, to ressurect it (and us). And I guess this would mean that I think God is limited and I do. But strangest thing is I dont think it means that God is not all powerful. I know, strange. I don’t pretend to think I make sense, but that’s what it is for me.

    We have these theologies that become populated like God is supposed to heal my daughter and many of us go to them in our dark days even if we never believed in them before. I think its because at our core, we want a God who can make everything better, can swoop in and change things. A God who will keep us safe, and here’s the kicker, as long as we are good. It’s very much like the parent/child relationship. We ask what we ever did wrong to deserve this or that, or how could God punish us when we had repented for our sins. Its natural to go to that place though. But my concern for your friend would be that she is still there.

  12. Lauren- You must be awesome in your job. By the by, I don’t really know this woman well. I ran into her through the social work world out in Oregon, and she basically talked my ear off after she found out I was studying theology in addition to social work. It is horribly sad, and I really hope that she finds some healing for her pain because I don’t think trying to get others to commiserate with her is doing much good.

    I have definitely met others like her though. A Vietnam Vet comes to mind who seemed to lose the ability to love: to love God, love others, and love himself. Again, it is very sad, but I am SO thankful for a compassionate God who knows peoples hearts. I really don’t see God ever punishing someone for lack of belief. We all experience it at some point and in varying degrees, but I think it all stems from fear of some sort.

    I’m just throwing some theology around in my head based on your paradox of God’s power and limits. Are you getting at God as omnipotent but now limited by God’s own choice because God gave humanity free will? If so, I think that argument goes back to the patristics, so you wouldn’t be strange at all, just in the category of really smart theologians. I’m not going to use the “because of the fall” language because I don’t like basing theology on a mythical story used as theology, but in a way, we are certainly limited by our human history and what has happened. Infant and child mortality were once commonplace. So losing a child, though very difficult, wasn’t necessary the tragedy it is now. People never used to live as long as they do now, either, so we are seeing many illnesses of old age that previous generations rarely if ever witnessed. Not to mention all of the environmental factors (chemicals in our food and water specifically) that have undoubtedly given rise to all of the cancers that we currently see. An example from my own family is THREE siblings in their 60’s all died within one and a half years of each other from the same rare leukemia. No autopsies were done, but most of my family is convinced that it had to do with the new line of chemicals that their family started using in their farming while these three were adolescences (it would have been the late 1940’s and early 1950’s…the plastic era!)

    Its been a while since I thought about this type of systematic theology (probably my Theological Imagination of God course in 2004?), but I really don’t think that your beliefs are odd or in conflict. In fact, they seem to fall perfectly in line with what I believe, and I’m no more of a heretic than the next person!

  13. Hey Becky, thanks for the compliment. I don’t know if I’m awesome at my job but I do love it. Most days. I’m extremely lucky to do what I do (another interesting topic–I say I’m lucky, others would say blessed, but I don’t think of God wielding a majic wand so this is a confusion for me). And where did you take a class titled Theological Imagination of God???! What a great title, I’d love to see the syllabus for such a class!

    You know, interesting what you asked. I don’t know if I had attributed why God is limited, but yes, giving us free will does make sense. Which would be the only way I’d be comfortable with the idea that God “allows”. Otherwise I would see God as selective and playing favorites (or making paternalistic choices). Ugg. That wouldnt work for me, especially with all that I see at work! I support people in whatever theology works for them (although in my head I’m often thinking I’d be so pissed at God if I thought that was how God worked in my life!) but for me, God doesn’t cause cancer, but God can inspire the doctors and care team to find ways to heal the body, new interventions to use, or places to look for cures. God will inspire healing thoughts of our own, and the expression of love from others that can bring healing (whether physical or emotional). God can inspire the patient to check out a certain doctor or hospital that might be able to help.

    I guess this is why the idea of God’s power being relational really works for me. We are God’s hands and feet. God uses the people God created, to use the elements of the earth God created to design medicines, cures, technology, ways of studying behavior and educating about psychology, better farm chemicals (I’m so sorry to hear about your family’s probable illness from that, so sad), buildings that shield us from the elements, technology that uses the power of the elements, etc. I could go on and on. I’m a huge fan of God’s work :), and the opportunity we have to co create. I feel very honored to be given that privelage.

    Now, that does leave a problem I ponder a lot. We would be the ones ‘at fault’ for not hearing God’s inspiration, or not heeding our intuition if you will. Yikes, that might create a bit of self blame and shame yes? You are now officially my theological deknotter. As long as you don’t mind that is, and don’t mind a made up word for your title! I appreciate your astute questions very much and what you’re able to just pull out of the brain and offer. I don’t have quite that good of recall.

  14. Now that I think of it, the course might actually have been called ‘God and the Theological Imagination,’ and it definitely drew a large number of people trying to get their upper-division theology requirement out of the way because of the creative and intriguing title. The University of Portland requires all undergrads to take three theology classes: world religions, critical-historical reading of the Bible and any upper level course. Dr. Tom Hosinski, C.S.C. had something less creative in mind for the actual course, and many didn’t read the description before registering which basically said, we will read all major Catholic systematic theologians from Irenaeus to Rahner and some contemporary theologians like Sallie McFague as well. Don’t forget huge portions of the Summa! Goodness, there was a lot of reading for that class! I think he covered two theologians a day for 15 weeks. His main area of study was Alfred North Whitehead, and he is one of only two or three Catholic Process Theologians out there.

    Anyway, I think your question about self blame and shame might have actually led to this thing we loving call “Catholic Guilt.” We all feel guilty all the time, and we don’t know why…it was the FALL! (I am being a bit sarcastic here.) But there is probably some truth to it. This original sin thing is not really talking about Adam eating a piece of fruit…that is the metaphor, which got lost somewhere between the 4th century and today. I think it was Irenaeus and then Augustine who developed the theology of original sin. In short, they argue that it was and is our fault collectively, what we now call “social sin.” None of us were and are individually responsible for our apostasy, jealousy, lack of stewardship, etc… but collectively we have indeed turned our backs on God, and to quote ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ (a song forever ruined by my patristics’ prof) “we paved paradise and put up a parking lot!’ So yeah, all of the crap we are doing to God’s earth, our bodies and one another is our, that it, humanity’s collective fault. Augustine was pretty clear, though, that we must not be obsessed with sin (though I think he was pretty OCD about it himself) but we must be obsessed with God, God’s love and God’s will for us. We must constantly try to make things right. That is why we are baptized; we are initiated into a people trying to bring forth the Reign of God, and in so doing, we are overcoming original sin. Jesus is the “New Adam,” and we are to be like him.

    That was a lot of condensing of early theology without a net, so I hope I didn’t accidently throw a heresy in there. Does the idea of us, as a collective humanity, causing all of these problems create an issue for you as a chaplain? What if you get the question at someone’s death bed: “but why do bad things happen?” I’m not sure most people who are living the nitty gritties of life can really come to integrated terms with “well, God didn’t give you cancer. Humanity’s lack of care and concern caused it, and unfortunately you are dying of the effects.” As a theologian, I have no problem with original sin and free will until it plays out in my own life. That is probably why I don’t want to do systematic theology for living! It is really hard to reconcile the ivory tower with a bedside manner, but you have to do it every day. I think your approach of going with whatever theology a person presents for themselves is the most pastoral approach, and I am glad to hear that you love it. Loving your work definitely helps with the being good at it.

    I don’t know if I am a good theological deknotter. There are plenty of people who post on this site that would disagree with my ability and interpretation, but I try!

  15. This is such a hard subject for me, and Kate and I have talked about it a lot. Yes, we have the social sin but we too easily put blame outside of ourselves and don’t hold ourselves accountable. And then we have personal sin which can lead to overactive guilt, and certainly does not celebrate the dignity we have as a child of God. Can you imagine how dissapointed God is when we don’t respect/value even our own dignity and worth? Why else would God love us so, want us to have life abundantly? Not that I’m saying we earn God’s love and respect by how we act.

  16. I totally agree that it is a difficult subject that can spiral out to a million other topics (as it has over 1600 years!). The dichotomy you describe about placing blame on others or having an overactive guilt is certainly run a muck in our modern society. In this political season (and always in religious context it seems), we see a lot of finger pointing about “you/they are sinning by…” We have lost a lot of introspection of ourselves, though, with the near death of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I look at the teens from my confirmation prep program who rarely if ever gave thought to the wrong they do, and how much of the time, the things we don’t think effect others actually do in some way.

    I think the Catholic Church has the ability right now to be prophetic with reconciliation and examination of conscience if they stop clutching onto a model of the Sacrament that people no longer find helpful and adapt it for today. Since people no longer go to reconciliation (the numbers are minuscule of those that do, and many of the people that do are taken by your other extreme of severe guilt), people tend not to take the time to think about their own weaknesses and where they need to make amends. It drove me nuts that during 1st Reconciliation prep (which really is just a right of passage that apparently all Catholics must endure and then never do again) virtually NONE of the parents went themselves and probably haven’t gone since they made their 1st Reconciliation.

    This topic really is difficult, but if you and Kate ever come to resolution, let me know!

  17. I wanted to comment on those looking for a “safe place”. What do you think of those “safe places” that us conservatives have had disappear when a liberal pastor, RCIA director, DRE, etc joins a parish and brings an agenda, do we deserve a safe place or are we the ones in need of conversion? The same thing happens in classrooms as well. I assume many of you pursuing degrees hope to end up in leadership, what happens if you end up in a school or parish with Latin Masses, and only male altar boys? Will you respect the “safe place”?

    I’m under the impression that the purpose for this organization is to change things, thus taking a safe place from others, and turning it into something else.

    Pax

  18. FYI, I think I had a post lost in cyberspace, just in case it appears and expresses similar thoughts to this one, you know what happened.

    I had some questions regarding the notion of a “safe place”. Should any of you, especially those of you in school studying get a position of influence in a conservative church, say one with only male altar servers and a Latin Mass, would you allow those parishoners to retain thier safe place, or would you try to change it? What if it were a middle-of-the-road parish, would you take it somewhere accoring to your agenda? I’ve had first hand experience with a more liberal pastor, DRE, RCIA director etc, taking charge and changing things according to an agenda, not the wishes of the parishioners.

    It seems to me the thrust of CTA is to bring about change, which has the obvious consequence of violating someone elses “safe place”. Is there any room in CTA, or the CTA vision of what the church should be for someone who does not believe in the ordination of women? or for someone who does not endorse ABC?

    It is true that many of us on the conservative end pray for conversion, we do not want to see the Church split apart, or see people leave. Since there are many things on which there can be no compromise, these are really the only options as I see it.

    Pax

  19. Lauren, I’ve been sitting with this for a few days (it’s the introvert in me…I need to think before I speak) and I came to a conclusion about myself.

    When it comes to points of theology or things like that, then I’m open to debate and discussion.

    When it comes to someone’s experience or feelings, then I’m not. And I know that for me, when people attack women’s ordination when I’m merely sharing my experience as a woman called to ordination, it makes me really frustrated. If I’m making a post that argues for it, well then, fine, critique away and debate me. But if I’m just talking about how I feel or what I experience, well, that’s off limits.

    As a theologian, sometimes it’s hard to draw a distinction between what I say as a theologian and what I say as just Becky, but I agree with you that some things are NOT open for debate. I don’t care where on the political spectrum someone finds her or himself: if someone is sharing an experience, we are called to listen and to accept it. I get really mad when I’m told that my experience doesn’t count or isn’t valid or isn’t real because of X, Y, or Z. So I appreciate you raising these issues.

    And, on another note, verbal vs. nonverbal is so important. It’s part of why IMing and emailing make communication tough…because you can’t hear inflection. I recently got into an argument with one of my closest friends because we were IMing and he took something I had typed in a manner I hadn’t intended, but because he couldn’t hear HOW I said it, it made all the difference. I think even handwritten letters are better clues to the nonverbal. My handwriting changes depending on how I’m feeling when I’m writing and in letters, it’s really obvious when I’m feeling guarded or frustrated or elated or whatever because you can see a difference in how I write.

    I also think that there’s a culturally-enhanced (not necessarily natural) difference in how men and women interpret communication in general. Because of the roles society expects us to take, we pick up on different things. In my work doing translation, I find that most people want a female interpreter because women tend to pick up on the little things: posture, gestures, inflection, etc that a lot of interpreters don’t translate. I know some male translators who are great at that, but because society tells them that they don’t need to pay attention to those things because they’re men, it’s not as common. It’s like the high school girls who sit and analyze for hours every detail of a girl’s conversation with her crush: what did he say, how did he say it, where were his hands, did he lean in, etc. The guy probably won’t remember anything other than broad details. So I think that calling attention to the way that we communicate is so important, because we need to break out of old roles and find ways to communicate with our whole persons for the building of the kin-dom.

    Okay, this is way longer than I had intended…oh well! That’s what happens when this introvert figures out what she wants to say!

  20. Becky C., yes! Emotions and experiences should not be a matter of debate! Only respect and good listening should exist. Your insight based on your experiences as a translator (what field?/language?) is really interesting. nuture vs nature with men and women’s communication?

    Becky S., I’m afraid I’m just going to add more confusion to our topic! I once went to reconciliation in college and after I told the priest my sins, he asked me if I had any sins to confess. Well, dumbfounded I told him I thought I just had. He responded by saying that I wasn’t talking about sins, just things that I wanted to work on and be better at. So, in the personal sin rhelm, what do we do with the learning curve of life? I imagine intention may play a part too.

    Also, a friend of mine worked as a pastoral associate at a parish when a priest came to give a presentation. This 93 year old woman asked the priest what she should do because she just keeps sinning and is constantly asking God for forgiveness. The priest, curious of what a 93 year old woman was doing to be sinning so much, asked her for an example. She said, for instance, that in the morning when she put milk on her cereal she spilled some on the counter and said ‘damn’. The priest responded with, “I think God is really bored with your sins”. And then he went on to talk with her about being overscrupulous and the importance of respecting the worth and dignity within ourselves as well being concience of personal sin. I wonder if this is a problem that I know I share with others of all or nothing thinking. hmm.

    When people ask me specific questions like you presented, “why do bad things happen?” I am very careful to ask them what THEY think. I don’t want them to just adopt what I think and you can bet they’re listening to your answers when they ask a direct question like that. If they talk about what some people say, and what they hear from others, but they don’t seem to satisfy their questions, I might offer a couple different ways of looking at things. This often gives them the imagination to see other options and permission to believe what makes sense to them.

    And other times, we are just all out of answers, so we talk about how there are no good answers to these tough questions. I wish I had some, but like I tell my patients and families, there is probably no answer that would be adequate in the face of their pain.

  21. Do conservatives deserve a safe place? Should any Church be able to exclude women from serving at the altar?

  22. Is there a duty to refrain from violating the safe place of a conservative Catholic, or must all be made to conform? Should a Latin Mass community with only male servers and choir members be permitted to exist?

  23. First off, as a preface, my brain is almost completely fried having just spent the last 16 hours outlining 350 pages of catechetical/pastoral ministry texts…

    To the most amazingly astute and articulate Becky C., I totally agree with you. I have real trouble being forced to defend myself in relation to my experience, feelings, and, I’ll add, my identity. I suppose I got so impassioned on the other thread because who I am was being completely disrespected while being told how God feels about me and at least 10% of the population. If we were debating the theological theories of atonement, I am positive I would not have cared nearly as much. Thanks for that introverted observation!

    Lauren- How did we get to such a conversation going? Your story about confession made me think of another first reconciliation story (humor me…I worked with about 150 of these kids over the last two years). One of the girls making her first reconciliation had a severely autistic older brother. After the communal reconciliation service, she came up to me (parents were trying to keep up with her while dealing with her brother’s tantrum) and asked how her brother could make his reconciliation since he couldn’t talk. I began to tell her that God knows what is in our heart, when her Mom, obviously making the first connection that her son would never be able to confess his sins, said “but how can we, I mean he, tell the difference between a sin and the disease. He is a good boy, but his autism makes him act out!” I followed up talking about how sins are individually defined, as specifically articulated by Vatican II and mortal sins, and it helped the family leave in peace. So, I guess for normal developmental issues in life, it should follow in the same way, right? or are sins and life lessons mutually exclusive? I don’t know!

    So let me put my own bias in here. I think reconciliation happens when we process through events that are troubling us (whether they were our “fault/sin” or not.) For centuries, that would often happen for people in the context of the confessional because the priest was the closest thing to a counselor they had. He could be objective and pastoral. Since the birth of social sciences at the end of the 19th century, however, counseling and therapeutic techniques have so advanced (and been widely accepted and used) that people are processing with professionals whose entire training and careers are dedicated to it (meaning they don’t have all the other parish duties to take care of that modern priests have to deal with). So, I think we do have a lot of reconciliation going on in our culture (and the potential for more as mental health parity keeps getting past in each state), and it is there that the learning curves of life as well as the shitty stuff we do or fail to do can come out, be named and changed. Being overly scrupulous is also addressed. If someone talked about feeling guilty about swearing in every session, I guarantee that it would be addressed not as a sin (as the woman had done for years) but as a vice within herself that if she wants to change can with any of the following plans. I think the church needs to realize that all of this is and can continue to go on in formal and ongoing counseling, and then ritualize the healing in a new form of the Sacrament ritual.

    Really, I’m not sure if that made sense, so I will revisit it tomorrow. This has definitely flowed into what I want to do for a living, though: pastoral counseling/therapy (the two masters in theology and social work make sense, now right?).

  24. Lauren-
    I am a volunteer translator for EATWOT/Agenda Latinoamericana, so most of my translation experience has been with theological texts (they’re fairly straightforward, unless you people trained by Germans). I am doing only Spanish-to-English now, but by the end of the summer will be able to add Portuguese-to-English. I’ve also done extensive translation for my own theological project (I won’t use other people’s translations as a general rule…I’d rather do it myself). I’ve also lived in Bolivia and traveled in Salvador and while in Salvador, when we were meeting with theologians, I was called upon to help translate as our guide didn’t know all of the theological terminology. It was…interesting. We met with a feminist theologian at the UCA and she was asked what he experience has been as a feminist woman theologian in El Salvador. Her response was, “Well, we don’t really talk like that here, we’re all Christians, etc, etc” but her tone made it clear that she was somewhat offended by the question (which, after twenty minutes of talking about how important women’s experience is…well…she should have expected the question and should have been willing to answer it). The translator missed the subtext…and I explained to the guy who had asked the question later what she was really saying. So it was really an interesting experience to see how the translator makes a huge difference in people getting the text vs. the text and the subtext.

  25. Of course you made sense! How did we get on this topic, I don’t know! Musing probably. I agree that sin is related to the person’s ability to know it is a sin. Luckily, we have a God who considers intention. Except there is that famous line, “The road to Heaven is paved with good intentions”.

    And you are right, the combo of pastoral counseling and social work are perfect. I have my Mdiv and I’m thinking of going for an MSW because some credits would be waved in the dual program here at Loyola. So, we’ll see. I wasnt really planning on school again so quickly!

    And I find that so many people will talk to a minister but going to a counselor is too intimidating. So, when a minister can (appropriately-ie with extra training and knowing their limits) address psychological issues as well, its a benefit.

    I really like pastoral counselers, like my counselor right now who is a UCC minister as well as a psychologist. Found her on the aapc website.

  26. Lauren- I was revisiting your post and my response from last night, and I was wondering if you could explain more about your “all or nothing thinking.” Perhaps I’ve missed what you are talking about because I’ve trained (yes, I’ll use that word) myself to not think in extremes when it comes to theology and matters of personal faith. I did this for my own mental sanity some where along the line because I realized that life is not dichotomous so I can’t believe in a God who is severely cut and dry on laws, sins, or matters of belief. I’m worried that my own personal thinking is getting in the way of understanding your point, though. Thanks much!

  27. No problem Becky. In terms of scrupulosity for example I was thinking of-I’m either all sinful or I’m all bless-ed, kind of thinking. I believe all or nothing thinking is common among those who struggle with addiction (or grew up with someone who had an addiction). You might know how to explain that better because of your social work background though! So, I wasnt talking about all or nothing as a good thing but more of a struggle and possible impediment to the issue of finding a balance in those extremes (sinless or sinful).

  28. I guess we were posting at the same time! I didn’t see your next post before I hit submit.

    The old adage, proverb, wive’s tale (which is it? does that make a difference for its validity?) that the path to hell is paved with good intentions has always bothered me. Certainly, we can make a hell on earth out of our good intentions. The first example that comes to mind was Hitler, whose intentions were to bring about a better and more just society (perhaps his own perception of the Reign of God?). Undoubtedly he was wrong from a justice and ethical stand point, but were his actions truly sinful? Is he in hell?

    I’ll never forget a religion teacher in junior high reading quite unconvincingly verbatim from a catechetical teacher’s manual that only God knows people’s hearts and both Hitler and Mother Theresa could be seated in heaven side by side at the heavenly banquet for all we know. Shouts of anger rose up from students in disbelief, and since the teacher wasn’t trained to handle it, she simply moved us on to the next subject for the day. But that still lingers with me…I’ve since discovered that the Church firmly believes that there is a hell, but has never said that anyone is in it. It is left to God’s judgment, which helps me personally with my understanding of sin. We are trying to make this earth more just (that was the mission of Jesus–to bring about the Kin-dom of God here), so we need to avoid sin and repent in order to do that, but God isn’t keeping a tally for the after life…at least I simply can’t believe that.

    As for me, (opening a whole new can of worms here!), I’ve come to strongly believe in universal salvation. Parable after parable, if read in the cultural context and a historical understanding of the time, seems to point to Jesus’ belief that the Kingdom was for all, and no one will turn down the awe and comfort of God for even one moment.

    As for the MSW/M.Div: Yeah! It is SUCH a great combo. I still firmly believe that all priests should have to take a degree’s worth of social work classes, and I totally convinced a great friend of mine in the SJ’s at Boston College to just that as a part of his seminary training.

    I was looking at Loyola-Chicago (is that the one you’re at?) for that program before Notre Dame’s Echo program sprang up out of now where for me. Loyola’s got a great program as long as you definitely want to go clinical. They don’t offer any macro/community tracks, but given that you probably want to build off of the M.Div for individual or group care, its perfect! I did my masters degrees completely separately (financial and timing reasons), and I got ALL 12 of my elective credits at WashU for social work waived for pastoral theology course work at Notre Dame. Definitely push for it! That could save you a semesters worth of work and tuition! A word of caution, though. Don’t do Loyola’s pastoral counseling program if you want to be licensed as a counselor. I recently learned that their Pastoral Counseling program isn’t accredited! A Racine Dominican I know was completing the program, and when she tried to get liscensure from the state, she was denied! Loyola created their program for priests and religious coming back for second degrees with no intention of changing careers. It is only for people wanting to enhance their current ministry, but not be recognized by the state as formal counselors. They really should put that on the brochure, though!

  29. Re: All or nothing thinking. That makes more sense now. I was reading it the other way. Yes, you are totally right that both those affected by addictions and also interpersonal violence (domestic/child/etc abuse) get into that dichotomous thinking. Growing up, they are often repeatedly told how “worthless” or “bad” they are, so they believe it in one form or another throughout their lives. They also look at the rest of life’s issues in such terms: eg. I’m worthless/sinful anyway, so who cares if I’m in the gutter” or “I’ve got to be perfect or else God will get mad at me and yell/beat/disown/etc me…” That is really difficult then when applied to worth in God’s eyes, because sin becomes a way of rating self-value and even human dignity. Yikes! I will have to think more about that, but I still think a good dose of cognitive behavior therapy or narrative therapy with a professional would help much more than confessing the same sins to an overworked and less-trained priest every so often. At that point, it really isn’t about sin as much as it is about self esteem and self-value. The terms and ideas seem to get crossed though, when we combine the theological with the mental health.

  30. Hey Becky S., all sorts of fun things to respond to! Good tip about the Loyola Chicago program, they should definitely clarify in the BEGINNING for those in their program. But yes, I’d be looking at a more clinical msw at Loyola Chicago. Part of me is thinking of doing a phd though to have a terminal degree. But I have no research desires really, aside from reading interesting things! I’m definitely clinical. My uncle got a masters in counseling and said he preferred it as far as the training he got but as far as marketability he found that most places wanted to see a MSW candidate.

    You went to wash u? I went to Aquinas Institute down the road from there. Did you go to the Newman center with Fr Braun? I was just emailing with him this week.

    And actually we were talking about this idea of self value. He mentioned that the 2’s on the Enneagram (I confess I am a 2) often come from a place of self worthlessness when they answer the call to service. I wanted to bring up the issue of people who do too much at the expense of their own self care, self dignity and value rather than the typical idea that people need to do more and be more other centered. There is a small fraction of people who need to be reminded to do the opposite. Now, I’m not saying they are so altruistic, because as Fr Braun pointed out to me, 2’s learn to control others with their kindness/niceness/pleasing to get what they need-relationships, but they tend to be one sided at times then because they keep having to do the pleasing.

    Speaking of dichotamy though, don’t you find that those who have the perfectionist obsession are the same ones who deep down have the worthlessness feelings? I once heard about a woman who finally realized that she was gay. Her first thought was, ‘I’ve got to fix this before God finds out’. Powerful, isnt it?

    I agree with you about the road to heaven paved with good intentions. Never liked it. Maybe people were thinking about the good intentions we have but never follow through on more than the ones we do intending to be good but being misguided.

    Universal salvation, yes, a whole new can of worms. I’m in total agreement with you so I wont be the one to throw the worms at you! I think our God is a God of second chances. And God knows our hearts. But certainly God wouldnt make someone go to heaven, so its possible that hell isnt empty. This certainly brings up the Prodigal son doesn’t it? Why do I have to do so much good if I can just get into heaven because God is nice? I’m joking of course, but its a very human question isnt it to want to know why so and so got in when they didn’t obey the Father and you did everything ‘right’ all of the time.

  31. And Becky C.! What an interesting job you have! What has your favorite place been in your travels? Have you ever heard that Karl Rahner’s brother said his life work would be translating his brother’s German into understandable German? It makes total sense to me, the communication nerd that Iam, that a little misstep in translation can cause such misunderstandings. Is it hard to speak up? I imagine you don’t want to step on any toes of the translator but that would be hard to pass up without assisting.

    We deal with context related issues when translating in the hospital as well. People need to be trained not only in medical terminology but ethics, so they translate as objectively as possible. I have to be careful too of family members translating for me. I often help patients fill out durable power of attorney forms which allow them to name a person who would speak for them about their medical wishes if they weren’t able to speak for themselves. I insist on using our translator services (phone) because I’m notarizing these things and putting my name on them saying that it is representative of the patient’s wishes. Not only do I want to protect myself, but more importantly, I want the patient’s wishes to be carried out correctly when the time comes. You wouldnt believe the amount of people who come in and lie about who they are, then the real family will find out and come to the hospital only to tell us that the person we had been letting sign all of the consent forms isnt really his wife or her nephew. Yikes. What do you do? While a family is grieving, ask them for identification?

  32. Lauren-
    I won’t be starting my MSW at Wash U until August, but I actually did meet Fr. Braun at the Newman center when I was there a week ago Friday apartment searching. I was talking to the director of field ed, and we mildly tip-toed onto the religion question. It turns out that we had both been to the exact same little village in Guatemala as part of service trip…anyway, I asked if she had any parish recommendations in St. Louis (the only one I had been given to that point was the Cathedral…um NO!) She suggested St. Crones (sp?), which others have now recommended as well, but she also said that I had get in touch the Newman Center. She hopped on their website to show me some things, and there just happened to be a graduate student happy hour that very night (not two hours later), so she insisted that she take me over and introduce me to folks. After a while, I met two members of Sophia House (maybe you are familiar?), and it turns out that they are looking for another roommate. Unfortunately, their third roommate was in Canada, so they are still discerning my fit since I didn’t get to meet her. I don’t think the Spirit could have been more at work that night, though! I’m glad to hear that you have good things to say about the Neuman Center, too! Moving to a new city is always a challenge when it comes to finding a praying community for me.

    As for getting a DSW, that unfortunately makes you over qualified to do anything but research and teach, and you still have to get an MSW first anyway. It is not a field where you can skip the masters level. The MSW is really considered the terminal degree for social work. No one ever expects people to have their DSW unless they are a professor, and even then, most MSW programs bring in MSW’s to teach classes as well because it is such a “practical” profession. Even at WashU (currently ranked the best social work program in the country), 2 or 3 of my professors this fall will be MSW’s. Can you tell I’ve been researching MSW programs forever? I applied to SIX last winter, and had reasearched at least 20 more. Luckily, I have my BSW as well, so I get advanced standing in nearly all accredited programs in the country (the U California schools and U of Chicago for some strange reason don’t consider 4 years of undergrad social work study to be worth anything…) I found The Social Work Graduate School Applicant’s Handbook: The Complete Guide to Selecting and Applying to MSW Programs by Jesus Reyes super helpful for all of the information it has on particular programs and what MSW programs are specifically looking for in personal statements. Its only $14 on Amazon, so it is worth the buy if you are seriously considering it.

    As for perfectionists, I think you are totally right that there is a self-esteem issue there that is being overcompensated for by trying to make all of life fit just right-gaining the control that they didn’t have or feel they don’t have for themselves.

    Re: Universal Salvation-you are so right about the Prodigal Son! I’ve read many commentaries on it, and I am simply convinced that story is not really about the son that returns but the one that stays. It is prefaced by the lost sheep and the lost coin (God’s reaction) which have clear cut meanings, but the prodigal son ends with the other brother’s jealousy unresolved that the listener is suppose to interpret (not to mention that his Jewish audience would have been just as furious as the brother with Dad sharing the oldest brother’s inheritance with the second son…not in their culture!). Parables don’t end with clear answer (like the lost sheep and coin), but with the hearer answering the questions themselves. For me, that story totally explains universal salvation (your right that people may turn down heaven but they are never forced into “hell’ if they want to be with God), and the hardest part for people to understand is that God loves unconditionally whereas humans get jealous, hold grudges and are resentful of the laborers who only work an hour while we worked eight and still get the same pay.

    Re: Enneagram- I really don’t know a thing about it. I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never studied it or looked at it for myself. I’m an INFJ-mild introvert though- on the Myers-Briggs and I’ve had classes on that, but not the Enneagram. Do you recommend any books on it?

  33. No cathedral! I mean, go because its pretty spectacular, but not for mass. The aucustics are terrible anyhow. I actually like the “old” cathedral too-very simple beauty. The church people mentioned to you is St Cronin, really great. St. Margaret’s is good, and there are some rogue gatherings in the Lou now-St Clare’s is one I know of. St Stanislaus is growing too and I’ve heard good things. Oh, and go to the reformed Jewish synagogue. Amazing. Anyone is welcome and the rabbi there is one of the best presiders I’ve ever experienced. I have a few contacts for you if you want. I’ll ask Kate to send you my email address.

    I think if I were going to do a Phd I would do it in psychology, not a DSW. I think you’re right, not much use for that. Thanks for the book resource, I’m going to check it out. Speaking on books, the only Ennegram resource I have personally read is called, “The Enneagram”. Creative title isnt it? I prefer the Myers Briggs myself, but many in religion like the Enneagram’s spiritual nature and inclusion of looking at one’s “shadow” side. But really, I love the MB- I’m an INFP. Oh, to be a P in the religious world; its a little hard sometimes. Do you have any resources on prayer style and spirituality of the MB types?

    The prodigal son. God sure expects miracles out of us humans! I love the idea that the parable is really about the son that stayed. Great point! Sometimes we need to ‘preach to the choir’.

  34. Lauren-
    My favorite place…geez. That’s a tough one. If you’re talking countries, El Salvador. If you’re talking cities, Cochabamba. If we’re talking locations, there are a couple of places that stick out: the Trappist hermitages in Aramasi, Bolivia; the Costa del Sol of El Salvador; the chapel at the Maryknoll Language institute in Cochabamba. :-) Can you tell I miss it a little? Translation is all in the subtleties and it’s a tough gig to get right. I can only imagine how tough it is in a hospital setting.

  35. I need to travel more!! Sounds wonderful Becky C.

    My little heaven on earth is actually close to my hometown. Baraga, Michigan on lake superior. Pretty amazing. But a close second is Barcelona, Spain. Umm, I think I like bodies of water!

  36. Hey Pax and Alfred, I think your comments WERE lost in cyberspace!

    In the example of parish whose leaders came with a liberal agenda, first, I argue that everyone comes with an agenda. Only those quite spiritually centered and mature are able to be so objective. I rarely see it, although I know many people try very hard to.

    I don’t think it is fair to push a community somewhere where they don’t want to go. Progressives certainly know this trend well, just on the other end of the spectrum where bishops assign a very conservative priest to a historically progressive community. Now, the impass though is that one, we are not a congregational model church. It might be easy to have this parish be like this and this one like that, but it has not been our tradition to do so. Two, can we really say that all parishoners are on the same page about what they want? Well, the more we get towards congregational models, the more that will be true, but it becomes obvious that people have different opinions when you find individuals leaving when big changes begin to happen.

    And three, one of the jobs of a pastoral team is to gently push their congregants towards spiritual growth. This is a difficult dance, as again, we deal with agendas, and we shouldnt push people where they’re not trying to go. Spiritual directors probably know this the best, how to gently encourage based on the goals one has indicated they are striving for. But then we also have a responsibility towards Christ and the teachings of our Church so, where to go from here? We see that our Episcopalian, UCC, etc. friends don’t have the kinks all worked out either.

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