Lately, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people about how to have conversations. (Yep, as a verbal person, this is the kind of stuff I’m prone to talk about – it’s gets a little cyclical around here.) Friends and I have discussed how we talk about same sex marriage with people who truly think gay people are made wrong. Other friends and I have discussed how to have heated political discussions where we disagree without coming to hateful words or even blows. In my own head, I have been trying to figure out how to live my life authentically in a part of the country where fairly staunch political and religious conservatism is the norm.

"Last Conversation Piece" by Juan Munoz

Here’s the thing – I’m very progressive both politically and religiously. I believe in socialized medicine (the real thing, not just Obama’s system that some people call socialized). I believe in gender and sexual equality in all ways – marriage, medical care, love. I believe in true separation of church and state where we don’t have American flags in churches and where religious leaders don’t get special access to our President. I’m not sure what I think about hell, and the idea that I can read the Bible (believing that it is the Word of God, as I do) and think I can discern for anyone but myself (and even that’s hard at times) what it tells me about the specifics of day to day life is ridiculous at best and downright dangerous at worst. I know with everything that I am that our history of chattel slavery in this country has left us still wounded and scarred and that our country’s racist attitudes and societal structures will not change until we address them directly. I think our borders should be open, period.

Every single one of these hard-thought, hard-studied, hard-prayed beliefs goes against the beliefs of some of the people I truly love. If I go at them with my “freak flag flying,” as the saying goes and as they may believe, I will not even be able to begin a conversation, much less have one that has any substance or meaning. So my quandary – how to have meaningful, powerful conversations that can bring change (to them and maybe to me – although to be honest, I’m hoping for more change on their part) while not being hypocritical, disingenuous, or enabling.

One thing experience has taught me is that sometimes these conversations simply aren’t possible. Sometimes, people are so shut down to change that nothing – not even God – can change them. And sometimes, the moment is not right; sometimes we have to wait for another time.

Sometimes, though, it’s like a tiny window opens, maybe one of those mouse-sized holes that Jerry (he was the mouse, right?) ducked into when Tom came running. Sometimes it opens because the other person and I find common ground, or sometimes it opens because I am take a risk and lay my bleeding heart (yep, I definitely have one of those, and I’m proud of it) out on the table. I’m learning to see those windows and leap through them, even if it means I get stuck with my neck out.

But here’s what I’m committed to – conversations. As me, as the writer I was made to be, the way I take in and make sense of the world is through words. If I can’t have conversations with people, if I have decided before hand that the people I love will never know the real me and that I already know the real them, if I can’t talk through ideas and experiences and beliefs with people I love, well, then, I’ve given up. I’m not giving up.

For the next few days here, I’m going to explore how progressives can have genuine conversations with our more conservative brothers and sisters. I don’t have all (or any) of the answers. I’m just opening a conversation, and I hope you’ll join in.

Do you ever feel out of place with people you love? How do you handle those situations? How do (or do you) open conversations about things for which you feel a passion?