Continue the Conversation
I have heard the phrase “continue the conversation” quite a bit lately. Years ago, that was a polite way of saying, “There’s no time to finish our conversation now so we will pick it up later where we left off.” It was an issue of time. I have discovered that there is an alternate meaning which seems to be a more prevalent use of that phrase. It means, “Let’s not land on a conclusion too hurriedly.” That is less about time and more about the nature of conclusions, reluctance to come to a conclusion too quickly or, in some cases, to come to a conclusion at all.
I understand the intent of the phrase as a matter of delaying conclusive thinking. And, depending on intent of use, I like it in some senses and dislike it in others. I like that in an age where culture and opinions are many, diverse and strong, people are willing to refrain from judgment until a matter has been thoroughly investigated. That is simultaneously wise and polite. I like the intent of some who desire to give space for thought and reflection. I certainly fit in that category. Thought and reflection are always appropriate related important matters. As a Christian, prayer and meditation on God’s word must increase along with thought and reflection. I like that relationships are valued highly enough for some to want to give sufficiently respectful time and space for matters of importance to be considered. I deeply appreciate “continuing the conversation” when those are the reasons for doing so.
However, I have sensed an entirely different implication for some who use that expression. I have less appreciation for these uses. I dislike the use of the phrase to avoid altogether talking about difficult subjects, especially if it is with people about whom we care deeply. It is evasive and disingenuously dismissive to infer interest in continuing a conversation when there is none. I dislike its use when people have no intention to ever draw a conclusion. In fact, in the minds of some, drawing a conclusion is like drawing a line and both are connoted as bad. They like talking about things without ever committing to action or firming up belief. Unlike the first point, this is not evasive but indecisive. I also dislike it when it is no more than “polite speak” for holding all thoughts, beliefs or conclusions equal. This is a more sinister use of the term. It comes from a mindset that there is relative truth in everything and so no thoughts, ideas or conclusions are wrong. The potential damage is obvious. By continuing the conversation without sufficient conviction, some are led to decisions that are destructive.
Unlike the uses of the phrase which I appreciate, calling for thoughtful consideration and sufficient time and respect of relationship, the phrase used in the latter senses are devoid of honesty, strength of belief or conviction. They are bent toward not believing truth and ideas to matter significantly enough to bear the weight of being right or wrong, true or false, helpful or hurtful. Even writing thusly will likely make the skin crawl of those who frequently use that phrase in such ways.
What pains me is when Jesus is leveraged or exampled by those who use the phrase in these latter senses as an inclusive lover of all people and presumably all ideas. I have heard that quite a bit lately regarding a broad range of subjects- sexuality, race, religion, politics. The problem is that it is hard to see Jesus himself using that kind of language for that kind of reasoning. We never get the notion in reading Jesus that he was either unsure if there was a better way, or uncertain as to what might injure people, or whether or not there were costs to believing and acting certain ways. In those cases, his words were often conversation stoppers.
On the other hand, I can very much see Jesus using the phrase “continue the conversation” in appropriate and respectful ways. He did that with his disciples along the road opening up a little more deeply about his purpose for coming and his impending betrayal and death (cf. Matthew 16-24), unpacking a difficult and personal experience in ways they could better understand along the journey. In that sense, he continued the conversation from place to place along the road with his closest disciples. I think he could have used that phrase with Nathaniel (John 1:43-51) when Nathaniel was trying to figure things out. He walked a long way with a couple of disciples and continued a protracted conversation before revealing his identity (Luke 24) which I am certain cemented His status in their minds forever.
But, Jesus never continued the conversation out of ambivalence, personal uncertainty or universalist theology positing that all conclusions result in the same outcomes. For the people like the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-25) or the woman at the well (John 4) who might have desired to continue a conversation from feigned interest or for the purpose of deflection, Jesus pressed toward a conclusion that would beg a decision. One gets the sense from Jesus’ many dialogues with teachers of the law that though they might have wanted to “continue the conversation” Jesus was completely fine with forcing a close to them understanding those with whom he conversed to be recalcitrantly entrenched. As a result, most of Jesus’ conversations were either brief or at least reported as such. That does not mean that Jesus was disinterested in building relationships or talking. To the contrary, He built and sustained close and intimate relationships with people throughout his ministry and He spoke apparently too much to reasonably be contained in the writings (John 21:25). It is just that He was not undecided, ambivalent or seeking conversation for conversation’s sake.
Someone might say, “Yes, but that is Jesus after all. Move on to Paul or Peter.” Precisely! Follow their writings and conversations and I think you will arrive at the same conclusion. There is nothing indefinite in their thinking on matters as it relates to sin and righteousness, the person of Christ or the way to life and a better future.
I would hope that all who know Christ are certain of some things and committed to persevere in them. In those senses, “continuing the conversation” should be to deepen that which we already know to be true. It should never be to relish uncertainty.
I also hope that we would always be patient with the skeptic, doubter and confused. I hope that we have enough humility to “continue the conversation” on disputable matters and on matters where relationship building requires it.
In a world that is soaked in uncertainty, the certainty of salvation and the love of God springing from within is like a well-watered garden- producing much fruit. I am hopeful that all believers resonate with Job who said, “I know that my Redeemer lives. . . .” (Job 19:25), and David who said, “I am still confident of this . . . .” (Psalm 27:13-14), and Paul who said, “I am convinced that neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38-39).
So, let’s continue the conversation to build relationship, clarify, firm up our own belief and eliminate our doubt. Let’s continue it to fully understand an issue or a person. Let’s continue it to know more fully. But, let’s not continue it because we are afraid to conclude anything. Let’s not continue it because we have concluded that beliefs and convictions don’t matter. Let’s not continue it because we fear being unliked. Let’s not continue it because we would rather talk than act. Those are unbecoming reasons for those who follow Christ.
By the way, I am a little troubled by the expression I have heard used a lot lately by some of the same folks who want to perpetuate the conversations, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” Don’t get me started. It’s about both. . . (to be continued).