[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”1400208416″ locale=”US” src=”http://englewoodreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/412hztztPFL.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”216″]Flourishing in Conversation
A Review of
I Think You’re Wrong
(But I’m Listening):
A Guide to Grace-Filled
Sarah Stewart Holland /
Hardback: Thomas Nelson, 2019
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Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers are long-time friends and co-hosts of the Pantsuit Politics podcast. More significantly though, they sit on opposite sides of the political spectrum: Sarah is a Democrat (a former Hillary Clinton campaign worker) and Beth is a Republican. Together they have written an important new book, I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening), that guides us toward “grace-filled political conversations.” Sarah and Beth invite us into the joys and vulnerability of a conversational life:
Engaging with other people is never easy, but it always will be worth it. Engaging with other people about politics is no different. Let yourself take that chance. Let yourself rise to the challenge. Your ability to stretch and grow will surprise you, and so will the people around you. Once people see you as a person willing to have thoughtful, curious, calm discussions, you will have all kinds of interesting conversations that seemed impossible a year ago (17).
I’ve spent the last fifteen years as part of a congregation that intentionally practices conversation together, and the last decade or so reflecting on the virtues of conversation (full disclosure: I have [easyazon_link identifier=”1587434113″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]a book on conversation coming in April[/easyazon_link]), and I found the case that the authors make for political conversation compelling. The latter half of the book, which explores habits that will guide us deeper into grace-filled conversations, ring true from my own experience, and are pertinent to all kinds of conversations, not just political ones. These habits include: giving grace, getting curious, embracing paradox, getting “comfortable with being uncomfortable,” exiting the echo chamber, and keeping conversations nuanced. These habits are undoubtedly ones that will guide us deeper into a life of conversation, and the authors write about them in a highly-accessible fashion.
With a slight bit of irony, perhaps the most important chapter in the book is Chapter Four, “Putting Politics in Its Place,” and its proper place, the authors argue, is a much less significant one than we usually attribute to it. “Whatever the source of our individual values,” the authors write, “politics should take a back seat to the care we demonstrate for one another. We can work for issues, enthusiastically support candidates, and cast our votes knowing they matter. Simultaneously we can take care of ourselves and each other in the process, finding a sense of peace, no matter how the political winds end up blowing” (83).
I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) is a timely book, one that needs to be widely read, discussed, and put into practice. My sole qualm about the book is that I wish it had taken a broader look at the practice of conversation, and not honed in on political conversations (for many of the reasons that authors name in Chapter Four). Maybe the narrower focus and emphasis on politics will be helpful in marketing the book, and getting people to read it, but I’m a bit skeptical that in our polarized society, we will find widespread success in recovering habits of conversation by talking about politics. And, my experience has been that diving into the most divisive issues first (although sometimes unavoidable), does not bode well for sustaining habits of conversation. I encourage readers to read this book as if it were a book on spiritual formation (and I grimace even as I type the adjective spiritual, because some will interpret it in a narrow, other-worldly sense, and that’s not the holistic sense in which I intend it). Take the dustjacket off the book and hide it away in a drawer, if it will help you to forget that this is a book about politics. It is a book that is about so much more than politics; it is a book about living life to its fullest, about being present with others and flourishing in conversation as we have been created in God’s image to flourish.
C. Christopher Smith is founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books, co-author of the award-winning book [easyazon_link identifier=”0830841148″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Slow Church[/easyazon_link]. His book on conversation, [easyazon_link identifier=”1587434113″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church[/easyazon_link] will be released by Brazos Press in April. Connect with Chris online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com