Dialogue – dialogue fearlessly

Father Jeremy Tobin

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
Tuesday September 18, a large group of priests, deacons, religious and lay leaders spent the day, together with Bishop Kopacz, at St. Dominic Toulouse Center along I-55 near Lakeland Drive experiencing “Gathering for Mission.” (See page 8 for related story about the event). I participated in this, and, together with Glenmary Father Les Schmidt and FatherTim Murphy, I serve on the board of directors of the Catholic Committee of the South (CCS) which created it. Google Gathering for Mission is a five-year project sponsored by CCS and the Glenmary Home Missioners.
Inspired by Pope Francis, Gathering for Mission makes available to Church leaders practical experience in the dialogic process.
This is a most timely project to fully engage in. Our country, yes our world, is divided, fractured’ uncivil, and the list goes on. Racism, sexism, xenophobia are raging. Much on this I have to say will be for future columns. This one is on the antidote for division, healing for the hurting soul. Thoroughly inspired by Pope Francis, Gathering for Mission is more than learning new skills. It is a way to bring a group of people only partially familiar with each other to bond and form community. If that sounds a bit lofty, it enables a group to say their piece without fear, and to collectively solve problems.
It creates an atmosphere without fear. It breaks barriers
Taking Pope Francis oft quoted saying “Dialogue! And dialogue fearlessly! Never stop the dialogue!” Dialogue breaks down walls. It seeks genuine common ground. It is not winning an argument, it is finding common ground.
To our country faced with double down divisive arguments, Pope Francis says dialogue fearlessly. If we engage all parties in dialogue the goal changes from winning and losing to collaborative solutions. What Gathering for Mission does is to pour cool water on a flaming fire of negativity – even hatred.
Gathering for Mission is about teaching dialogue. We may think we know what that is, but more likely we confuse it for what it is not. It is more than a process it is transformation. It changes the situation as perceived into a new reality. The best way to see this is to compare it to often what we think it is. It is not a debate. It is not about one set of ideas vanquishing another set of ideas. It results in real actual change.
In a debate winning is the goal. In dialogue common ground is the goal. Right here we see a solution in this polarized world we live in. Dialogue is a method to approach issues and arrive at common ground and openness to change.
Dialogue supports open mindedness, and openness to being wrong, and openness to change.
This can be a threat to those who see everything as us against them, but this is precisely a non -violent rather peaceful way to create a new reality of understanding.
CCS is offering Gathering for Mission to dioceses, seminaries, religious groups and more, but I believe it can adapt as a way to confront hostile groups. Dialogue, by its nature, is expansive. It is open. It is flexible. It does not accept winning and losing. It works for common ground.
By learning and experiencing this process we, who are committed to the world view of the Gospel, can reach out to those who promote division in a way that is not confrontational but challenging.
Yes this can be threatening to those who approach us with their divide, rigid, everybody-has-a-label view of the world. This makes it effective.
The website, www.gatheringformission.org, has a list of videos, their titles alone pour soothing balm on polarizing situations. This program is designed for church settings, parishes, diocesan and religious groups , but I suggest that it can be adapted to other less compatible settings to effect a change in perception, in point of view, and even degree of openness to labeled groups.
To take it out of a church setting and use it in the way I suggest means that people have been trained thoroughly in the method, strong enough to wear down opponents. The key is creative patience.

(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)