HARD CONVERSATIONS AND GRACE
By LORETTA FULTON
“My name is Houston Heflin, and I don’t like hard conversation.”
That opening remark was made by one of the speakers for the fourth annual Summer Seminar hosted by Abilene Christian University, but most likely anyone in the audience could have said the same thing.
“The Gospel and Culture: What’s a Christian to Do?” was the theme for the seminar, held Aug. 3-4 at ACU and sponsored by the university’s Siburt Institute for Church Ministry.
Heflin was one of five presenters on the opening day. His presentation, “Spiritual Preparation for the Hardest Conversations” offered some tips and advice for engaging in hard conversations, which no one can escape forever.
Some of those fall into the categories of confession, confrontation, devastation, disagreement, and saying no.
“Disappointing other people can be hard,” Heflin said.
Thankfully, God offers help. That may be in the form of breath prayers, something that Heflin, an associate professor in ACU’s Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry, knows a lot about. He wrote a book on the subject, “Pray Like You Breathe: Exploring the Practice of Breath Prayer.”
The process is simple, but the results can be transformative. An example is to turn part of the Lord’s Prayer into a breath breath by reciting “give us this day” while inhaling and “our daily bread” while exhaling. In the process, meditate on each word and phrase.
The practice trains our minds and hearts in spiritual practices and serves as a resource when facing hard conversations. Heflin suggested choosing a scripture and turning it into a breath prayer so that “it emerges spontaneously in time of need.”
Brad East, an assistant professor in ACU’s Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry, spoke on “How to Think Or: How to Resist the Social Media-fication of Relationships,” based on writings by Baylor University professor Alan Jacobs. The solution to thinking right isn’t to isolate ourselves from other people and their views.
“We need other people in order to know, be, or do anything at all in the world,” East posted on one of his slides.
The problem, East said, is “bad belonging versus good belonging.” Bad belonging equates with tribalism, East said, as opposed to the good belonging that comes with membership. Tribalism fosters an “us versus them” mentality and the group can swallow up the individual. Membership equates with being valued, celebrating differences, listening, and providing safe space where individuals don’t feel threatened.
Randy Harris led a session on “How to Think Through the Lens of the Gospel,” which can prove challenging. Looking at the world and all its hard conversations and decisions through the lens of the gospel changes everything.
“The gospel isn’t one more thing,” Harris, an ACU Bible instructor and spiritual director, said. “It’s the lens through which we look at everything.”
Looking through the lens of the gospel means seeing the world through the cross, the Resurrection, and the return of Jesus. Harris explained those three essentials on slides shown on an overhead screen.
The cross means…God intends to conquer the world not by power, but by relentless self-giving love.
The Resurrection means…injustice, violence, and unrighteousness may have their day, but God will have the last word, so we are not anxious about the future.
The return of Jesus means…every act for the Kingdom matters–it has meaning! AND We orient ourselves not just by looking backwards to church history, but forward to God’s ideal future (the Kingdom of God)–God does new things!
ACU’s Curt Niccum and Stephanie Hamm led an evening session Aug. 3 on “Exploring a New Narrative for Addressing Young Adult Sexual Ethics. The seminar ended the morning of Aug. 4 with case studies on instances of sexual ethics presented by Carson Reed and a panel discussion featuring several presenters and Royce Money, retired president and chancellor of ACU who now teaches in the Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry.
Harris offered a few takeaways from the seminar, including being open to change without giving up on personal convictions and engaging in meaningful conversations. And, he emphasized, even in a culture filled with angry and divisive voices, Christians should view it through the lens of the gospel.
“We dare not give in to cynicism or despair,” Harris said.