The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 2, 2001 Issue
Lent

Lent calls for the art of conversation

Talking with others and sharing our stories can change how we see world


By Tom Rinkoski

Summoned to Serve

Faith is a conversation. Lent is a grand salon for such conversation. I propose that an excellent Lenten discipline would be to begin regular faith conversations.

Conversations can change the world. Certainly, they can change the way individuals see the world. If, however, you believe that the world is ruled by overpowering economic and political forces, that conflict is the essence of life, that humans are basically animals and that history is one long struggle for survival and domination, then the conversations of two people don't amount to much. In such a view, conversations are merely a way to amuse or distract.

But, as you might imagine, I see it differently. The world is a delicious pastiche of people searching for partners, friends, lovers, gurus and God. The most life-changing events are when these people meet and chat. One thing people talk about when conversation runs deep is what they believe in.

We are part of a society that uses words to persuade, and sentences to transmit data. E-mail is the ultimate expression of this modality. We offer winning an argument (or a court case) as a substitute for discovering the truth. Forcing agreement has become a source of self-esteem. While we pride ourselves on a scientific attitude, we treat our vocabulary no differently than a knight who shines his armor in preparation for the next battle.

My son, Tom, gave me the gift of conversation this Christmas by promising me he would write a letter a month. He is in his third year of college in Des Moines. Before this, we communicated primarily by e-mail and the occasional phone call. Now, he writes. I write. We exchange ideas, hopes and fears. I read his books, he reads mine.

The art of conversation is the meeting of minds. Sure, we talk about news in between paragraphs, but that is not what real letters are about. Conversation doesn't just reshuffle the cards, it creates a new deck. That's what interests me. I enjoy meeting with people after Mass with cookies and doughnuts for the conversation. Renew 2000 attracted me most when we departed from the text and chatted about the people we love, the times we were hurt, and the stories that are worth retelling.

So this Lent, I propose we engage in more conversations as a Lenten discipline to develop faith, family, marriage and community. Set aside time to talk with your spouse, with your children (individually and together). I love going to one of the many coffee shops in our diocese and sitting for hours with a friend, spilling out my soul and filling it back up with theirs.

Using e-mail to set up a date for a conversation is a great use of technology! My wife and I have found little tricks to get the conversation started. Our favorite is a little exercise called the Daily Temperature Reading. Perhaps you've noticed the two of us driving down Hwy. 41 animatedly relating to the road and each other. My son, Brian, has the gift to be able to turn a five minute car ride into a conversation by not talking about the weather and whether homework is done. He is a conversational genius at 17! The hero in our generation is not the individual, but the pair - two people who together add up to more than when they're apart. The most inspiring theater takes place in our homes, where improvised conversations can leave us feeling that humans are not just sinners, but sinners filled with hope and dreams.

You can talk about anything. Fuel your conversation with what you are passionate about. Do not patronize. Do not think of conversations as snack food - approach them like an elegant seven course meal. See your conversational partners as kings and queens sharing the table with you.

The reading for this Sunday's Gospel begins with the phrase, "Filled with the Holy Spirit ..." Several times great conversations have filled me that way. So much so that I have been able to pass up desserts. It is true, as Jesus suggests, that we do not live by bread alone.


(Rinkoski is the Green Bay Diocese's Family Life director.)



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