Some progressives attend family gatherings with hearts in throats fearing that, in between passing the dressing and cranberries, they will be asked to justify their political and religious worldviews. Such exchanges could be enriching for all, if not for the knowledge that some people go into the conversations already convinced that there is but one correct answer, and that anyone with a differing opinion is assaulting Jesus and the Liberty Bell at the same time.

Bob Jensen has written an article calling us to such conversations.

On religion: People will ask, “Do you believe in God?” Instead of taking that as an invitation to a verbal brawl, I respond, “What do you mean by God?” That invites a thoughtful exchange by asking others to expand on what they believe.

On politics: It’s difficult not to take disagreements about sexual behavior personally, but we can cultivate the ability to consider not just our own choices but the social consequences. For example, on the contentious subject of pornography, instead of immediately defending or condemning the use of sexual material, we can ask: “What stories about sex and intimacy does pornography tell, and what is the effect of those stories?” That opens up the conversation.

Dr. Jensen adds a moral argument for such conversations.

If that doesn’t sound like the recipe for a successful holiday meal, remember this: Our affluent society produces an excess of everything except what we most desperately crave: meaning. Not meaning manufactured and sold to us, but meaning we create authentically, through dealing honestly with reality.

Such meaning comes when in our everyday lives we talk with people — those we know and strangers on the bus — about the most basic questions that have unsettled humans forever: What does it mean to be a decent human being? How do we deal with the problem of power? Those are the questions that never get answered definitively but which we answer contingently through constant conversation.

As always, the blog management is not responsible for injuries suffered while following our advice.