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Voice Recognition
Heather Grennan Gary

The Cresset, according to its mission statement, is “a journal of commentary on literature, the arts, and public affairs, exploring ideas and trends in contemporary culture from a perspective grounded in the Lutheran tradition of scholarship, freedom, and faith while informed by the wisdom of the broader Christian community.” This issue certainly takes its cue from the last part of the mission statement: “the wisdom of the broader Christian community.” In addition to Lutheran voices—LCMS and ELCA varieties—in this issue you will find voices and perspectives from Baptist, Evangelical, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Orthodox, Reformed, and Roman Catholic traditions. It is an impressive chorus of Christian witness.

The opening two essays address the disordered dynamics of disagreement in contemporary culture. Nicholas Denysenko’s “Engaging My Opponent” (page 4) considers how a Christian spirituality of dialogue can revive the art of engaging with others with whom we disagree. He encourages us, with examples from history, to cultivate humility and stay open to dialogue. Caroline J. Simon’s essay, “Can Two Walk Together Unless They Be Agreed?” (page 13), considers a key challenge for Christian liberal arts colleges and universities: “Liberal arts education is, among other things, an enterprise that thrives when faculty and students see those with whom they disagree as resources in seeking truth,” she writes. “Yet Christians…have, throughout history, acted as if like-mindedness is a virtue—and have often cultivated like-mindedness by shunning, expelling, or separating from those with whom they disagree.”

Simon’s insight applies, of course, to life beyond Christian institutions of higher education. In many corners of our daily lives, we prefer to seek out those with whom we agree and avoid those with whom we don’t. Conflict is uncomfortable, after all—but it is also inevitable. Thinking of it as a tool that can help lead us to truth may be a way to steer clear of an us-versus-them mindset. (One of the figures Denysenko references in his essay, Tomáš Halík, reminds us that “War is to be waged against one’s own moral failings, not against the dialogue partner” [page 9]).

Informed by Denysenko and Simon, here’s an approach for each of us to try next time we are mired in a disagreement. Rather than reflexively concluding how or why our “opponent” is wrong, let’s focus on the gifts they may be offering us. Perhaps the generosity required to undertake this exercise coupled with the attention required to make sense of the gifts—especially ones we think we don’t need—can help resolve the situation.

The qualities of generosity and attention can also help us grow in self-understanding and faith. Peter Dula’s essay, “Hope and History,” urges us to encounter others with whom we disagree in order to allow them to “draw us into questioning our most fundamental convictions. Not to abandon them or disown them, but to rethink them” (page 39).

If this sounds heavy or difficult, Kurt Krueger clarifies that it need not always be. In his column, he recalls watching the Beatles’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show along with his church youth group and the pastor, his father. Pastor Krueger could have dismissed the request from his young parishioners to tune in during their Walther League meeting—surely it conflicted with his idea of how to spend that Sunday evening—but he didn’t. As the teenagers huddled around the TV to participate in this cultural touchstone moment, the younger Krueger recalls, “My kind, conservative father stood smiling and motionless, trying to understand what he was watching in the eyes of his church’s youth.” That openness and search for understanding may have indirectly led to some unexpected results (turn to page 41 to find out about those). But, almost to prove Dula’s point, Krueger writes, “Our core Lutheran beliefs and practices did not change.” 

The many voices from different Christian denominations in this issue could serve as a reminder of all the disagreements in the world. Alternately, each distinct inflection and tone can remind us of the variegated, complicated, surprising, and gift-filled whole that stretches before us, beckoning.                       

—HGG

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