(Interactive Faith by Bud Heckman and RP Neiss)
“Dialogue is when persons of different viewpoints come together and interact. Their ‘coming together’ could be in the form of conversation, sharing a meal, sharing in an experience such as creating art or participating in a religious observance or some other form of engagement.”
For those who want to foster new relationships, understanding, and appreciation among people of different faiths and worldviews, meaningful and authentic interchange is a must.
Whether you’re a leader developing a program for dialogue or a friend or neighbor looking to deepen sharing, you can benefit from these conversation tips and samples, taken and/or adapted from various sources.
Many everyday things in our lives — photographs, house decorations, food, music — offer opportunities for sharing, learning, and telling stories about who we are, how we see things, and what we believe.
Sharing a Special Object
Individuals can be invited to bring an item from their home that has special meaning to themto a get-together and asked to talk about it using these questions as guidelines:
What’s the history of this item?
How did you come by it?
What makes it special to you?
If you could give this to another person, who would you chose and why?
If this kind of exercise is done in a large group, then break the group down to talk in twos or threes. See a time limit for each individual to talk. Afterward, call the whole group back together to reflect:
What items did people bring?
As people talked about their object, did you hear any common threads? What?
What did you hear that was a new or different experience or perception than your own?
What would you like to hear or talk more about if we had the time?
What was the benefit of this kind of interchange?
Discussing a Common Concern
Although from very different traditions or worldviews, many people share common concerns, like issues around parenting, aging parents, technology and its impact on social patterns, etc.
It’s useful to have some facts to share about the topic at the beginning, such as statistics, the local news story on an concern, the historical time line of the issues, etc. This provides a common reference point that is fact-based. From there, questions might follow a line like this:
What other objective facts are important to know about this (concern/issue)?
How do you experience this (concern/issue) in your own life or family?
What does your faith tradition — or perspective — have to say about this topic?
How are our values similar? How are they different?
Why is it good for us to be having this conversation?
What does this conversation contribute to your understanding or perspective?
Designing Conversations that Go Somewhere
The human mind typically follows a way that we receive information, experience it, interpret it and determine if and how we can/will us it. When conversations are modeled on this natural process, they often result with interchanges that go somewhere, instead of going round and round in circles, hitting an impasse, or fizzling out.
The suggested sample might be used with a group after seeing a film, reading a book, or attending a performance or exhibit. Pick and choose questions that seem appropriate for the occasion and/or design your own questions to follow the four-part process.
The facilitator needs to move the conversation along and redirect side-tracks. Encourage all to take part, and graciously limit over-talkers.
Introduction: The facilitator sets a context, such as, “Seeing this movie together gives us an opportunity to explore our experiences and to share our thoughts and reflections.”
1. Facts Questions:
Who were the characters in this movie?
What do we know about the setting/time?
What scenes stood out for you?
What lines do you remember?
What sounds did you hear?
2. Feelings/Experience Questions:
Where did you feel strong emotion? Anger? Delight? Excitement?
What surprised you?
Who did you identify with?
What do you associate this movie with? Other similar movies? Books?
3. Interpretation Questions:
What was the main issue this movie dealt with?
What was at stake?
How is this like a situation you/we face?
What implications does it raise for you/us?
4. Decision Questions:
What’s the ‘take away‘ from this movie for you?
If you had to give it your own title, what would you call it?
If you could invite someone to go to this movie, who you invite?
Was seeing this movie together important to you/us? How?
The facilitator wraps up with a brief summary on the experience and benefit for the group.
Sharing Your Personal Journey
After a group has developed considerable trust, openness, and respect with each other, members may be willing to share the depth of their personal journey. This is a sample guideline for individuals to use as they prepare.
1. Tell us where you were born and what kind of family and community you grew up in.
2. What was it like to grow up in that family and community?
3. What experiences and/or people influenced your thinking and the choices you’ve
made in your life?
4. What’s something you’re deeply grateful for?
5. What’s the toughest thing that ever happened to you?
6. How do you talk about your faith or beliefs? Did you ever have a “crisis of faith?”
Can you tell us about that? What were the results of that time?
7. What gives you hope? What calls you into tomorrow?