Friendship, Facebook, and an Impossibly Soft Couch 

breaking bread

“I miss you and your impossibly soft couch,” my friend writes to me. I smile as I think of her and the hot mugs of tea we would drink as we would sit talking together. There was no clock in sight – time was unimportant. What was important was the friendship, kindred spirits meeting together on an impossibly soft couch.

Our living room couch is soft. As you sit, your body sinks into the cushions and you’re immersed in soft comfort. It’s hard to get up out of a couch like that. You want to stay there forever, especially if the weather is cold or rainy.

Our couch has witnessed a lot. It has witnessed tears and joy; sleepy teenagers and tired adults; long talks with good friends and oh so much laughter. Our couch has also witnessed disagreements, passionate and heated arguments, and stomach-aching laughter.

All of those are easier on this impossibly soft couch. Whether it’s disagreements, arguments, stories, discussions over world events and politics, or secrets shared from the heart – an impossibly soft couch is where these things go down easy.

Facebook is not an impossibly soft couch. Facebook is a hard, electronic, computer or smart phone screen. Facebook witnesses all the same things that my couch witnesses – but it’s not soft and so it doesn’t always end well. You cannot snuggle into Facebook and come out okay. In fact, there are times when you end up so shaken that you have to give yourself a long break.

During the election season in the United States, Facebook was at its worst. From outright lies that were posted to ferocious arguments and accusations, Facebook saw it all. It was not impossibly soft, it was not comfortable, and it left me in need of confession and soul-searching.

Post-election Facebook is looking as though it will follow the same pattern. A pattern of misinformation, explosive allegations, and general meanness. I don’t think that we as a human race will make it through unscathed. I think we will sustain wounds and broken relationships. It will not be a “social” network as much as an “anti-social” network. We are all becoming more like trolls and bullies then any of us ever wanted or intended.

I don’t have a lot of answers except to say that you are welcome to my couch. You are welcome to come and sit awhile. We may disagree – and that’s fine. We may argue – that’s fine too. On my impossibly soft couch, it will go down easy.

Dialogue is best done in relationship, over breaking bread, over coffee or tea — and on impossibly soft couches. 

Community of Sandpipers

The sandpipers had gathered on a smooth shore. It was low tide and the ocean was calm, waves gently hitting sand and slowly rolling away out to the wider sea.

They were intent on picking at the beach, searching for whatever sandpipers search for, but the minute they sensed intrusion to their community off they would go, chirping loudly and emphatically.

We stopped to watch this scenario as it replayed like a movie on rewind. Gather, search, sense, and leave – the cycle never-changing. And they never came alone; it was always a crowd of sandpipers, gregariously interacting as they picked through the sand finding insects invisible to the human eye.

Sometimes it looked as though one of them was hesitant to fly off, as if this lone voice was saying “Come on guys! If we just stay I don’t think they’ll hurt us” but the crowd always won.

“This reminds me of how we often behave as Christians” I thought.

We do our thing with like-minded people, happily chirping in the process. We are the same and comfortable in our sameness. And then there comes a perceived intrusion.

We don’t want to stay and talk, stay and dialogue. We aren’t always willing to learn how to hold fast to what we believe, “correctly handling the word of truth” yet not see others as intrusions, as threats. Instead we go off, chirping loudly and emphatically.

Sometimes a lone voice arises – a voice that calls us to be willing to talk and learn. The voice doesn’t ask us to stop being sandpipers, that’s what we are and what we were created to be, but the voice calls us to listen to others and not fear intrusion; to be willing to take that risk.

Sandpiper Community – That’s where we are most comfortable. But are we called to be more?


Sharing Bedrooms and Dialogue

“See! If more people shared a bedroom when they were juniors in high school, we would have better dialogue in this country!”

This was my comment to a high school friend as we exchanged views on the strong reactive response to Chick-fil-A  last week.

Tina and I were fast friends in high school. Although we knew each other when we were younger, we met again in Pakistan during our junior year. She had just come from school in Iran and I from the United States.

We roomed together. We double dated with Tim and Skip. We talked and laughed late into the night. We fought. We went on 14 hour bus trips, all the time. We shared life in a way most high school kids don’t because it was a boarding school.

I love Tina – I haven’t seen her in years but I still remember her laugh, her acerbic wit, her anger, her tears, and her smiles. In fact she’s the only person from my past who still calls me Mare Bear.

Reconnecting on Facebook I get to see glimpses of all those again — but we are no longer in high school. We have both faced life in all it’s beauty and ugliness; life in all it’s complexity. And we don’t agree all the time. There are strong opinions on various issues – sometimes expressed openly, other times in more subtle ways through posting pictures, articles or the iconic thumbs up Facebook like button.

Dialogue is best done in relationship, over breaking bread, over coffee.

We both have strong convictions that could lead to ugly – but we don’t let ugly happen. We share Facebook bread. I don’t think it’s even conscious; I think it’s just an unspoken recognition that we shared much in the past; a past that very few could connect with or understand and this relationship is foundational to our online communication. It’s not planned – it just is.

I  don’t think it’s easy. Human reactions, emotions and interactions are complex. I also know there are some things that I won’t discuss online, not because I lack conviction but because the potential for misinterpretation is too high, the possibility of offense equally so.

But there are other areas where I think it can and does work and that’s what I want Communicating Across Boundaries to be – an online bedroom of sorts where we dialogue with respect, at the same time not watering down our convictions to please.

And that’s precisely what I see more and more. I am honored  by the thoughtfulness and intelligence in comments; by the real questions asked and the open sharing of conclusions and convictions.

Keep it coming! Share the Communicating Across Boundaries Bedroom. This blog is nothing without you.

“Don’t Speak While I’m Interrupting” – Thoughts on Faith Dialogue

courtesy of

Years ago at my brother Tom’s first Christmas as a married man, another brother, Stan (stay with me here – I have four brothers) gave him a Christmas gift that was envied by all. It was two couch pillows, made especially by Stan. One said in bold, machine-embroidered letters “Don’t interrupt while I’m speaking” while the other  replied “Don’t speak while I’m interrupting.”

The cushions were a humorous duo, the perfect gift for a newly married couple at their first Christmas together.

While the pillows were funny, living out interruptions on a regular basis is not. When I think about faith and faith dialogue, the “Don’t speak while I’m interrupting” phrase has been my mantra far too often. Even as people open their mouths to speak a sentence or articulate an opinion or belief on faith, I’m busy framing my reply. What an indictment on my willingness to hear another point of view; another’s words that will allow me to enter into a deeper relationship.

I have analyzed this inability to listen and I’ve come up with a fairly simple reason I don’t want people to speak while I’m interrupting. Fear. One little word with many ramifications. I am afraid that my faith cannot withstand argument. It is simultaneously troubling and freeing to admit this in a public forum.

It’s fear that I won’t have the answers to the many questions that can arise on evil, life, sin and eternity.

It’s fear that I will sound foolish in my feeble attempts at explanation.

It’s fear that my faith, this faith that is the foundation of my life, will be found wanting. 

It’s fear that I will not have a defense.

And as foolish as it sounds, its fear that if I listen, if I take the time to understand, somehow that will spell “compromise” that dreaded slippery slope of a word.

In a recent Facebook discussion, I confessed this to someone who, it’s safe to say, has some different views than I. Elena is a critical thinker and while she has strong opinions, she clearly wants dialogue. So much so that she has begun a Facebook page called “Civilities”. On this page she invites others to react and reflect, always bearing in mind the importance of true dialogue.

Here is an excerpt from the discussion:

It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I realized how bad I was at listening and how much I had been schooled in a vocabulary that those who did not share my faith couldn’t understand. I always thought I had to have a defense….and I think that may be what you’re talking about. Somehow, despite having a family that were great at discussions and critical thinking, I got it in my head that I had to have answers. All the answers. Constant defending is exhausting and crushes friendships. The need to defend changed for me as I began going through an introduction to Christianity where the goal is to listen and where there is a recognition that none of us have the power to convert. If I can convert you then someone else can convert you back. My whole world has changed as I’ve been let into the arguments and pain that Christianity has caused some of my friends. Those friendships are so strong, because I have no agenda. I love my friends and they love me without me having to defend a position. I have met more and more Christians in this area that are well able to engage in dialogue without coming across as dogmatic, doing so with respect and care, and a “free exchange” of ideas as you state, but I know that is not always the case…. “

The conversation went on and brought in several different view points and people. It was one of those rare times when people listened to each other and because of this all involved felt like they had been heard, had expressed what they wanted and had learned in the process.

Listening takes humility.

Listening takes time.

Listening means giving up control.

And it’s worth it. But as a talker I will be “in process” when it comes to listening until the day I die. Sometimes it will go well and there is no doubt that there will be other times when I will be living out the mantra “Don’t Speak While I’m Interrupting!”  But I have tasted of the kind of conversation and friendship that can result from listening, the kind of faith dialogue that makes people want to hear more,  and now that I have tasted of that sort of encounter, I will never be the same.

Weather – The Great ‘Social Facilitator’

Eeyore being sad.

It’s a bright sunny day and I run to catch the elevator to the 4th floor. I could walk but I’m already a bit late. The elevator is crowded with faces of every color and bodies of every size – but the expressions are identical. No smiles, no light in the eyes, no eye contact. Someone has to break the silence so I, in the spirit of the culture in which I am living, speak  ‘weather’ to everyone in general:  “Isn’t it beautiful outside?”. Without missing a beat, a woman at the back of the elevator says “I heard it’s going to be rainy on Friday.” and with this response, reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh’s Eeyore character and the famous line “If it is a good morning, which I doubt”, silence again takes over and the 4th floor can’t come soon enough.

Communicating across the boundary of …weather. It is a difficult task. My sister-in-law Susanna, on returning from Pakistan and reentering life in the west, made this insightful observation of America “People know the weather better than they know their neighbors”. How do you get past this common conversation starter and often stopper? My experience has been that of all the countries I have traveled, the places where this is the most common is the Northeastern part of the United States and England.

In an effort to understand this phenomenon and communicate across these boundaries of weather, I found a book titled Watching the English – The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour. While it isn’t specifically about my current area of the world, it gave me some tremendous help in the area of weather in particular. I highly recommend the book for any of you who are curious, confused or just plain annoyed with some of the unspoken rules in the West. The part that helped me interpret ‘weather speak’ was the chapter titled….“Weather”! Consider this paragraph:

English weather-speak is a form of code, evolved to help us overcome our natural reserve and actually talk to each other. Everyone knows, for example, that “Nice day, isn’t it?”, “Ooh, isn’t it cold?” “Still raining eh?” and other variations on the theme are not requests for meteorological data; they are ritual greetings, conversation-starters, or ‘default fillers’. In other words, English weather-speak is a form of ‘grooming talk’ – the human equivalent of what is known as ‘social grooming’ among our primate  cousins, where they spend hours grooming each other’s fur, even when they are perfectly clean, as a means of social bonding.” Later in the chapter the author states that weather is a “social facilitator”.

If I understand ‘weather-speak’ as a social facilitator, I will be much less critical of this ritual. I will realize that some cultures need help to move them into conversation and I will play by these rules while living in this culture.  I realized this morning that to socially facilitate a connection with my compatriots on the elevator I should have continued the conversation by agreeing about the bad weather only four days away! It would have invited her into further dialogue. I should add that the woman who responded to me also broke the cardinal rule of weather speak. In order to really have the social bonding experience that I had initiated, she was supposed to agree with me, or so the book tells me.Failure to agree in this manner is a serious breach of etiquette. When the priest says ‘Lord have mercy upon us’, you do not respond ‘Well, actually why should he?’ you intone dutifully ‘Christ have mercy upon us’.”

But the etiquette barring both contradiction and silence was not kept, and I was left yet again knowing that I still have a great deal to learn about the unspoken rules of engagement. Perhaps if I have the patience I can come up with my own book called Watching the Americans – A Third-Culture-Kid’s Journey into a World of Unspoken Rituals and Rules.

The “Language of Dialogue”

In June of 2007 I heard an NPR program on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  There have been many such shows and having a great love for the Middle East and desire for justice, I have an interest in this issue and opinions that are expressed regarding the conflict .  The only thing I remember about this particular program was this phrase urging leaders to “stop fighting and begin the language of dialogue!”

What a great phrase – if I had heard this phrase when I still had all my kids at home I would have used it all the time!  Imagine walking in to a fight between my kids over legos or who ate the last pickled okra and saying in a loud voice:


Joking aside, if this could be a mantra of most of life and politics there would be much more accomplished. To describe dialogue as a language makes sense.  Language learning is difficult and takes time, mistakes are made, idioms are learned and proficiency becomes possible if I keep at it.  I imagine beginning a conversation with “Pardon me, do you speak dialogue?” and if they don’t walking away.