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Public Theology: A Time for Talk
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A Time for Talk
When people are hurting it's time to talk. Put together your own little group to start.

Right now I think it is particularly necessary to start talking more seriously in small groups about politics. Political hysteria seems to characterize so much of what is reported about politics today. The corporate financial scandals, the declining stock market, the war on terror, these and other issues are causing some shaking of the foundations of how people think about things. Many of us may not want to admit to it, but feelings of confusion, anger, uncertainty, and even panic are being experienced in the inner worlds of people. When people are hurting it is especially helpful to talk.

In the middle 1980's during the Reagan era my wife and I became aware of several folks like ourselves who were tiring of all the talk of the Soviet Union as an evil empire and the huge buildup of the military justified by this particular form of talk. The cold war was hot and heavy. So we invited about twelve people to our home one night for a potluck dinner and just began to talk among ourselves and our views on these matters. (Photos are of two of the couples in the group in 1988)

What an incredible help that was! We created some "social space" within which we could honestly express our views and criticize what we thought were horrendous policies. The group called itself the "Peace Potluck" and has met nearly every month ever since. There was never a leader, the group was self-managing, the food was great, and the conversation very refreshing.

Most of what we hear about politics we hear in a verticle, up and down way, whether from newspapers, magazines, or television. There is some chance on the Internet for interactive communication, but real face to face talk is the only thing finally satisfying. We need to have more horizontal, side by side conversation.

One way to begin is to just think of some friends and colleagues, call them and invite them over for some wine and cheese and conversation. You can then open conversation with something like: "I read something lately that made sense, that with everything that's going on it's a good time to having more serious talk with friends, so I've invited you here tonight." You could even use an item from this or another website to begin your conversation, print it out in several copies and share it with the group.

If you do develop such a group, please let me know. In fact, if a number of groups develop I can develop a support section for the groups, special pieces to read as discussion starters, helps and hints on keeping a group alive, and such matters.

Let me indicate another strong reason for such a group. Politics is, of course, about power, who has it, how did they get it, how do they use it, who doesn't have it, who benefits from it, who is hurt by it. Politics will always be about power, it's a rough and tumble world.

But politics to some degree at least must be based on truth in a democracy. That is, if our politics is based so much on power with no care for the truth of people's lives in real communities then we are going to be in a sad situation indeed. And that seems to be becoming more and more the case as people withdraw from any form of political engagement.

And to get at the truth it is necessary to talk. The German philosopher Jurgen Habermas has made his whole career on the proposition that truth results finally only from what he calls "intersubjective communication." That is, truth does not necessarily result from one person announcing the truth to another, as a professor to a student or mother to a child, or politician to a citizen, or doctor to a patient. Rather, truth as mutual understanding only results from "speech acts" within real situations of people talking with and hearing one another with equal chances of participating in the talk. Habermas has a lot more to say about how this all works which we could share with groups as they may desire.

If a lot of little groups begin talking horizontally it will give all participants more and more understanding, and more power to participate in various other ways within the political decision-making process of communitities and the nation.

Why not start your own group even today? Make some calls.

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Date Added: 7/12/2002 Date Revised: 7/12/2002

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