Engage - Claremont Lincoln University

Are There Limits to Dialogue? (with Kendra Fredrickson-Laouini) [Podcast]

Do we want to be right, or do we want to get along with others? What are the key ingredients for conversation about difficult topics?

In Trump’s America, traditional ideas about cross-cultural and interfaith engagement have become more urgent. The Muslim ban, immigration “reform,” racism, Islamophobia, and rampant mysogny have caused many activists and peacemakers to refocus their energies and reconsider the goals of eduation and dialogue.

In this conversation with interfaith activist Kendra Fredrickson-Laouini, we explore the limits of dialogue. Must we remain in conversation when we’re unsafe? What about hate speech? Are there limits to compassion and understanding?

Episode Transcription

Stephanie:       You’re listening to In Times Like These, a production of CLU Live at Claremont Lincoln University. In Times Like These explores the difficult spaces we humans navigate in culture and religion, in dialogue and doubt.

Kendra Fredrickson-Laouini prides herself on remaining in dialogue, even when it’s painful. But one Islamo-racist comment directed at her and her Muslim husband on Facebook went too far. In this episode of In Times Like These, we talk about feeling of divisiveness and despair since the 2016 presidential election. We try to sort out where to draw the line when it comes to inviting people to the dialogue table.

I’m Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes. I’m the Director of Director of Cross-Cultural and Interfaith Programs at Claremont Lincoln University. I’m talking with my friend and my colleague Kendra Fredrickson-Laouini. We met almost seven years ago coming here to California, both of us, as Midwesterners seeking to study interfaith education, whatever that was. Seven years ago it was a very different landscape than it is right now in the US and in education, and in theology, and what interfaith meant then to me is very different than it is now.

I’m talking to Kendra today because what’s happening in the US, and the 2016 election, and what’s happening to many of our Muslim friends, and loved ones, and family members has been raising questions, public questions, about what it means to do interfaith work, about what it means to be an educator, about what it means to be an ally, about what it means to be a peacemaker.

Today we’re going to talk together about that landscape, about some shared values, and we’re really going to try to dig into, are there limits to dialogue? Are there times we can’t dialogue? Are we called to this work? As Christians, what are we supposed to do, even when people are being threatening and aggressive?

I’m so happy to have you here to talk with me about this, and I appreciate your time and perspective. If you could just begin by introducing yourself, your work, as a person, as a woman, as a theologian, as an academic. Help us understand your place in the world right now, and how that informs your perspective.

Kendra:            My name is Kendra Fredrickson-Laouini. I am a PhD candidate with Claremont School of Theology, working on a PhD in Practical Theology and Interreligious Education. I have my master’s from Claremont Lincoln in Interreligious Studies. I grew up as United Methodist, and I am married to a Muslim, and I am now serving a Unitarian Universalist church as the Director of Lifespan Religious Education.

My PhD research is focusing on the effects on communities and on local congregations when their religious leaders are active in interfaith engagement. If they’re parts of interreligious councils. I’ll be looking specifically at Claremont Interfaith Council, and different congregations within that to see when religious leaders are interreligiously involved, does that not only change them, but does that impact their communities, and how?

Stephanie:       Great, thank you. Right now in 2017 in the US, when you introduce yourself, when you’re on an airplane, when you’re at a conference, when you’re in a bakery, and you mention that you’re in an interreligious marriage, you say, “My husband’s from Tunisia … ”

[Manasar 00:03:54] is from Tunisia. He’s a Muslim. What kind of reactions do you get?

Kendra:            Well, I don’t really just share that in coffee shops necessarily, but certainly in conversations with friends and colleagues. Being in a blue state, it’s mostly pretty positive. But I come from Missouri, from the Midwest, and when I got engaged to my now husband, the response wasn’t always favorable, and I can imagine, while no one said this to me, but I can imagine, I served in churches in United Methodist congregations in youth ministry and Christian education for 20 years before I moved to California. I can imagine that some of those people I knew through those congregations might have thought, “She moved to California and lost her mind. Lost her religion,” or, “Lost her way.”

But what I found in studying interreligious studies and interreligious engagement is that knowing people of other traditions is not a detriment to our faith. It does not make us lose our faith, but in fact, helps us to embrace it more. Helps us to understand it more. Helps us to question and challenge, “Why do I think that? Why do I understand life this way? Where did that come from? Is that from the Bible? Is that from my own reflections with God? Is that from centuries-old history, and Constantine, and councils?”

There’s just so much of Christianity that is tied up with empire from the Third Century to today, and being able to parse out what comes from where is super important to my faith as a Christian. Being married to a Muslim has brought nothing but beauty to my life, and I don’t know how much of that’s because he’s Muslim, and how much of that’s because he’s a fabulous human being, but certainly his faith has informed who he is as a person.

I don’t think being in interreligious relationships, and interreligious conversation lessens who we are, but actually deepens our convictions and our compassion for one another.

Stephanie:       Right. I’m noticing that what you’re talking about is beautiful. You’re mentioning compassion. You’re mentioning a deepened Christianity. You’re mentioning, really, human flourishing. Yet, when we look at the election season last year, and we look at how people feel about the political candidates, and we look at the discourse right now around political difference and religious difference, I see the opposite of compassion, flourishing, beauty, love.

We talked a lot in the political season. Can you talk about some of your fears, and how you were thinking about the two candidates? And what you saw in political discourse leading up to the election?

Kendra:            Well, first of all, I, like many Americans, was surprised that the Republican nominee was who he was. That a celebrity, a bully, a person who is used to only getting his way, became the Republican nominee. Certainly I have leaned toward the left. I don’t necessarily like those labels, but people tend to understand what that means. My voting has always been that way. But I think with this candidate, it’s not normal.

It’s not just like George Bush, for example, wasn’t my favorite president, but I would take him back in a heartbeat right now, comparing the two. I don’t think it’s apples and apples. They have a label of Republican, but this person who occupies that office now is not a regular candidate. I’m not a psychologist. I’ve read different things about him. I don’t want this whole podcast to be about him, but the rhetoric that he uses, that he used in his campaign …

I think he’s very smart. I think he understands. He found a group of people who have not been heard in a long time, and he played on that. He spoke to them. How a billionaire could make a blue-collar, under-employed person feel that they’re on the same team was a political act of genius, and I’m not sure how he did it. That’s not my goal to figure out. I hope that there are people who are working on that, and I know that there are, actually.

The rhetoric that comes from him is divisive on purpose. I feel this weight on my chest, and this pain, and I can’t sleep, and I wake up for two or three hours every night for the last eight days. But at the same time, when I see the Women’s March, when I see all these people in airports … I saw the greatest sign for the march at Los Angeles, said, When Angelinas go to LAX on purpose, you know it’s important.”

Or something like that. That gives me hope. That reminds me of who America is. So, when I see “Let’s Make America Great Again,” I wonder when it wasn’t great. I feel, sometimes, I feel like certain conservative efforts have been made to say, “You’re not patriotic if you don’t do this,” or, “if you don’t believe this way,” or if you think someone can’t take a knee during the National Anthem.

But those kinds of acts of resistance to oppression, to standing for compassion, that’s what makes America great, and that’s what gives me hope. Those are the things that keep me sane when I can’t look away. What’s happening in politics and Washington right now it’s, to me, is like a car wreck that you drive by and you can’t stop looking. You want to stop looking, but you can’t stop. And I can’t stop. I have to put my phone away somewhere because I wake up and then I read these news feeds, and I get sick to my stomach.

Then I see these beautiful things happening, and I, “Okay, I can go back to sleep now.”

It’s scary, it’s real. I think, from a scholarly perspective, the thing that I’ve noticed, when I was studying for my qualifying exams, part of my questions were about American Islam, and about Islamophobia, and particularly about the history of Islam in America. A lot of people mistakenly think that it started with immigration in the ’60s, when it started long before that. There were actually Muslims here before this was a country.

What I find with people who are in vastly different places than me, politically, is that their sources of information are different than mine. There are people with graduate degrees talking about Islam. Asking some of the same questions as what I consider reputable scholars on Islam, but they’re answering in vastly different ways. If you don’t really do your research about who’s talking …

One of my questions on my qualifying exams was, “Compare and contrast leading voices on American Islam.”

I wrote about academics. My examiner pushed back, and said, “You only talked about people in the scholarly realm. Who’s in the public sphere?”

I resisted that question. I was like, “That’s a totally different question. That’s not the question that we discussed, and that’s not … ”

He said, “People are learning about Islam somewhere, and you need to know where. Because they’re not all coming from academia.” He said, “So, you don’t have to write a long thing, but just kind of look at that and be prepared during the oral exam.”

I’m so thankful that he made me do that. I didn’t want to do that. I was done. I thought I was done. But it helps me to realize now that when I’m in Facebook conversations with people from 20 years ago, who still like in the same town where we went to high school, when I talk to them and I see their fear, and the kinds of things that they post, it’s coming from a different place. And that’s all they watch, and that’s all they read.

If you want to know more, you really have to dig. Because someone can be … There was one person, I can’t remember his name now, who is an Islamophobe, if I’m going to label him, in my opinion. His rhetoric is Anti-Islam, Anti-Islam, and he says he’s a doctor. When you do research on him, he is not a doctor of religion. He is not a doctor of anything closely related to this. It’s like he’s a doctor of, I don’t remember, business or science. He has a graduate degree, but it is not in religion, and he’s not qualified to have these conversations about a religion of a billion people.

I have a friend, a new friend, actually. She’s a trans woman, and she told me that when … She kind of held up her hand, and she said, “There are the people who,” for example, in her situation, “who are trans women, and we’re in this together, and we have this. Then there are people next to us who are allies, and who say, ‘I will defend you. I will stand by you. I will be with you.’ Then there, the next finger over then, are the people who are indifferent and they’re, ‘You know what? Live and let live. Be who you want to be, just don’t bother me.’ Then over here, way over on the other side, are the people who are anti-you, whatever you is. If it’s Muslim, if it’s transgender, if it’s whatever label that we want to put on someone. And they’re anti, and they make it their business to put out things against you to try to hurt you, physically or emotionally.”

She said, “We spend, over here, far too much time working on this relationship. We need to strengthen our relationship with our allies and try to bring these people over, this middle finger, over to be closer. And to do what we can, but don’t live over here.”

That’s what’s challenging, because I find when I put things on my Facebook, I’m often thinking about that person who radically disagrees with me. Then I think, “Why am I even doing this? What’s the point? They’re not going to change their mind.”

But I can’t be silent. There’s too much at stake. There are lives that are being separated, and families that are being pulled apart. I just can’t even imagine, if you lived in this country for 20 years, and you’re from one of those other countries. You traveled back home to your father’s funeral, and you come home and your kids are here but you can’t come home. That you’re detained at an airport.

It’s not okay, and that’s not normal. Those folks that are way over here, on this opposite spectrum, I hear them trying to make it normal. I hear them saying, “Oh, presidents in the past have done this. Oh, it’s only temporary. Oh, you need to calm down.”

It’s very condescending, and it’s very white. As a white person, I feel I can say that. Definitively, it’s very white. It’s exclusively white, I think. I’ve never seen a black person or a brown person in my friends list who are arguing for that, for it to, “Give him a chance, it’ll be okay. Calm down. It’s only temporary. Let’s look at these babies.”

And I love to look at babies, believe me. And puppies, and what you had for lunch. But at this time, and in this atmosphere, I don’t have the luxury to … I hope other people keep posting that, because that keeps me sane. But for me, I have to use whatever outlets I have. Different people have different skills. Some use art, some use their feet. Some use different things. I use words.

Stephanie:       In the first part of my conversation with Kendra Fredrickson-Laouini, we looked together at reasons for dialogue, and ways to use our gifts and communities to bring about positive social change. In this second part of the conversation, I press her to answer, “Isn’t there a time when dialogue, especially with those who are violent, isn’t appropriate?”

The limits of dialogue. What are they, and how do we know when to enforce them?

You talked very gracefully and very hospitably about the fact that people get their news from different places. All of what they receive about Islam, or about race, or about America, about jobs, about scarcity, is from a single source. I’m wondering the difference between being gracious, and being polite, and being affirming of that difference, and when is there a time to say, “I’m sorry, you’re wrong. That’s not true.”

I was in Atlanta last week, and I was talking to my taxi driver, and we were talking about Islam. He was white like me, and he said, “You know, I guess I’m fine with it. The thing is that they made their women wear hijabs, and that’s really oppressive. And they make their women do that, and I just don’t get that. That seems wrong to me.”

Instead of saying, “That’s not correct. That’s wrong. That’s not true. I don’t know where you got that, but that’s not true,” I tried to be a good dialogue partner, and I said, “Oh, that’s so interesting. I try to think about other traditions where people try to be humble and try to be modest. For example, in some Christian cultures, or for example Roman Catholic nuns, right? I have Pentecostal cousins, and they also dress very modestly. I see a similarity there.”

Trying to get him so see that in our own white American, quote-unquote “American” culture, there are other expressions of modesty where women have agency and they choose to do that. Why did I make that choice? Why did I try to have a comfortable conversation where I try to bring him along and see similarities? Why didn’t I just say, “That’s not true. I don’t know where you got that information about Islam, but it isn’t true.”

It happens to me on Facebook too. I’m a theologian, I’m an academic. I have a lot of knowledge about the world. When I see someone post something that’s not accurate, why don’t I private message them, or call them, or email them, and say, “Hey. That’s not true. Why would you post something publicly that isn’t true, and hurts people I know? Would you consider taking it down? It’s not true.”

I would do that in person at a dinner party. I mean, maybe I would, I just didn’t with the taxi driver. Why are we so careful to try to lead someone along if they’re saying something that we know isn’t true?

Kendra:            Yeah. There’s a bunch of ways I could answer that question. One is, I have done that. Private messaged a person. She tagged me in something. It was someone you saw in the stream of things on my Facebook recently. She had tagged me in something that showed Islam in a very negative way, and I’m not here to defend Islam. I don’t think that’s my job.

It is my job to educate. It is my job to help bring people along, like you tried to do with the taxi driver. I think it’s so cool that you thought to do that, because my first response would have been like, “Eh, that’s not right.”

I told this person, I’m like, “Please remove my name from that post, and don’t ever put anything like that on my … I understand that you have questions about things. Feel free to private message me. Even ask your questions. But don’t put this kind of stuff on Facebook. On my Facebook feed. Do you what you want on your own feed.”

And she did, and she apologized for that. She did have some more questions, and we had a conversation. Certainly, she’s completely … doesn’t agree with me on most things in life, and that’s fine. I keep her on my Facebook feed, or as my friend. I don’t hide her, because I want to know what people are thinking and how they’re thinking. I think part of the reason that we don’t confront all the time is, for me, anyway, is that I try to think about who they are and where they’re coming from, and what their sources are.

Perhaps I thought the same thing, or would have thought the same thing if I’ve never left my hometown and all my news comes from certain sources. My family all thinks this way. Maybe I would think that way, too. I don’t want to sound condescending when I say that they never left home. A lot of people never leave home, and that’s fine. You can still be educated and never leave home, so I don’t want to make it sound like that. Or that I know more.

But certainly, I have felt a very anti-intellectual, anti … Yeah. Just anti-intellectual climate right now. I hear people saying, “Obama ruined this country with political correctness.”

Like, “Why is it not okay to be politically correct? Why is it not okay to imagine that every person has value?”

Stephanie:       To take care with our words.

Kendra:            To take care with our words. Why is that looked down upon? There’s this very … I want to be very careful to not sound as though I think I am smarter. I remember when I first came to graduate school. I had lived in Missouri all of my life. Different parts of the state, and some rural areas, and some suburban areas, and even in Kansas City. I came here and I started taking classes. I took a class on post-colonialism, and I think that may have been the first time I learned about colonialism as a bad thing, honestly.

It’s embarrassing to say that, but as a white, Christian Midwesterner, I’d never heard that before. I only knew the good pilgrim story. As I’m taking this class, and then I took a class on the relativity of religious truth, and I was intimidated for an entire semester about what I was reading, and thinking, and these different scholars, what they were writing. I felt kind of angry that … I felt like I lived in this house, and the lights were dim. And when you live in, you know, your eyes will adjust. You can see.

But then someone comes in and flips all the lights on, and you can’t see anymore. You’re kind of blinded for a minute. For a year, I was living in that, “The lights are on.”

Now that the lights are on, I couldn’t live in the dimness anymore. I feel like sometimes people live in different houses. They live in different variations of light, and that we have to have compassion for each other. The mistake that’s been made is that these people on my feed, that are so very tiring, and exhausting, are the people who voted for this person because they haven’t been heard.

It’s so easy for us to say, “Oh, the people in the Midwest. The people in the South. People in the West,” and label them. But I came out of the Midwest. You came out of the Midwest. So, we can’t say, “All Midwesterners think like this.”

When we do that, we silence people. As exhausting and exacerbating as it can be, everyone needs to get invited to the table. Even those voices that we don’t like to hear.

Stephanie:       Okay. I’m going to push back on that. Because I’m thinking about people who embody, in their very body, in their skin color, in their gender, in the physical signs of their faith, they are at risk. They are under attack, and they’re being deliberately hurt, assaulted, disenfranchised, pushed out.

If we have the power to invite people to the table, [Paul 00:28:41] [Nutter 00:28:42] taught us, “The person with the most power speaks last.”

If you are sharing images, and sharing an opinion that is harmful, not just, “My feelings are hurt,” harmful. Harmful. Physically harmful. Maybe you’re not invited to the table. As someone in the majority, for the most part, I don’t know that’s my decision to make all of the time. But I think that it’s problematic to invite people to continue to bear conversation, and dialogue, and discourse with people who would do them ill.

Kendra:            Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. I think there’s a difference between being invited to the table and being required to be at the table, and that each person would have their own agency. At the same time, if, once we’re gathered at the table, there have to be some rules at the table. Some people have to … and not … the one with the most privilege doesn’t make the rules. The group, I would think, would make the rules.

If a person at the table is doing harm, then they do get uninvited to the table. I think. They can start their own table somewhere else. But certainly, if there is a person doing harm to others, that’s not dialogue. That’s something else. That’s abuse. We have to define dialogue, and what that is. In a democracy, everyone has a voice. But I’m not sure that that’s where we’re living right now, when someone who’s a judge gets fired for upholding the constitution. That’s not okay. That’s not normal.

Stephanie:       Until recently, I’ve always taught and believed that one prerequisite for dialogue is that I must be willing to be changed. As a Christian, I’m going to enter into an interfaith encounter, or an inter-spiritual journey, and even though I have deeply held faith commitments, it’s possible that I’ll be changed and transformed. That’s the role of education. That’s the role of dialogue. We’ll be changed.

Increasingly, I’m wondering, though, are there certain things that are just right and true? In this political moment when I think about banning people, when I think about a religious test for entry, or for voting, or for entering an airport, I really do think I’m the right one. I wonder, when I think about dialogue, can we even talk about this?

Because I’m going to be changed. I’m happy to hear what you have to say, but I’m not going to be changed on that. In this political moment, when there are many people who are working against American values, how do we have dialogue? If, really, I’m not going to change my mind. I’m not going to be changed. In fact, I want to change your mind.

That’s no longer dialogue, right? What do we do with that? And I want to win that debate. I want, and I’m sure the Attorney General, and the lawyers who are writing beautifully and working eloquently to tie back decisions to the Constitution, they want to win that debate. They want to make the point that will change someone’s actions. If we want to change someone’s actions, that’s not dialogue, right?

Kendra:            I think you’re right. I think that isn’t dialogue. I think that’s debate. I think that’s making a case for something. I think also the idea about being changed is also correct, but it doesn’t mean … For example, when I think about an interreligious table, and we come together knowing that we might be changed. We’re not changing our convictions. We’re not changing our Christianity, or Muslim-ness, or our Jewish-ness. That’s not what’s changing.

What’s changing, I think, is our openness to others. Our understanding that this is a person across the table from me. This is no longer a person who’s representing all of Hinduism. This is a human being who has a job, and kids, and hopes, and dreams. We’re seeing each other’s humanity. We’re changing, but we’re not changing our belief system. When we think about the political climate, about Muslim bans, and building walls, and those things, if the same sort of change would come.

If a person who believes that everything Trump has done so far is correct, is “Taking America back,” whatever that means. Is making us great again, if they truly believe that, but are willing to sit down at a table with someone who says, “This is frightening to me, and this is why,” who tells their story, and they can see each other’s humanness, this person who’s a Trump supporter, for example, might be softened a bit.

May not change his or her conservative values, or whatever that means for them, but might be willing to look at things in a different way. Might be willing to read a story and go, “Yeah. You know, that doesn’t match the picture of the person. I met an immigrant at this event, and you know, that’s not who immigrants are. They’re not criminals.”

It just changes something in them, even if it doesn’t change their core values about what’s best for this country. In that case, we still might want to be winning a debate. We still might want to say, “You know, that’s not the best way for America. That’s not the way to end terrorism.”

We might want to win that argument, but when we come together and see each other, put a human face to something, it has to change us, unless we have a psychological disorder. But if we’re talking about rational human beings with vastly different opinions about things, the humanness of an interreligious table, of a whatever political dialogue table, any kind of gathering.

If a person is willing to join the table, then they’re willing to hear someone else. When they’re willing to hear someone else, I think that they’ll be changed by that, even if it’s not their politics. It’s their humanness.

Stephanie:       Do you think that we live in a bubble? Do you think that I’m operating in an echo chamber? And how do I stop that?

Kendra:            I think we all live in our bubbles. I read a book once, years ago. I can’t remember who it was by. It was a Christian from California. He has crazy hair. I can’t remember his name, but he talked about escaping the Christian bubble, and how he was a pastor and he had people in his congregation who offered to cut his hair, and paint his house, and do things for him as part of that congregation.

He was at a coffee shop one day, and he was working on his sermon, and someone, his coffee server, she was like, “Oh, you’re a Christian.”

They started having this conversation. He said he realized he had to break out of his, you know, our Christian parents want their kids to have Christian friends, and go see Christian movies, and he realized that to be effective in the world he had to break out of his Christian bubble. Break out of his office. Break out of the church walls.

I think we all live in our bubbles, and we do have these … Because the echo chamber’s nice. We want to hear ourselves, we want to be validated in our beliefs and convictions. We want to be right. Everybody wants to be right. But we also want to be in relationship, and sometimes we have to decide what’s most important, being right, or being in relationship.

Recognizing that we have a bubble, and that we feel safe in that bubble is okay, I think, and important. An important step. Then realizing, figuring out how we have to break out of that bubble. How are we going to talk to people not like ourselves, who don’t think the same way we do. And just listen to each other’s stories. I keep saying that over and over again.

I saw a bumper sticker once, and I think it’s true. I think it’s life’s. It said, “The shortest distance between two people is a story.”

It’s like, “That’s so true. I want that bumper sticker.”

When we listen to each other’s stories, when we tell our own stories, even in that telling we begin to understand things differently. That reminded me of my grandmother and my great aunt. They were 11 years apart. I remember hearing my grandmother’s stories, and then going to Auntie [Irene’s 00:39:45] house and hearing her stories, and it’s the same story from 11 years difference. Their perspectives, and how they saw, I’m like, “Oh. But Grandma said … ”

She’s like, “No, no. You’re grandma was little. She didn’t know.”

And it’s the same story. All of our stories, in those telling, the telling of our own stories, we learn more about ourselves and why we tell the story that way, and how it reflects us, how it reflects our family. How it reflects … That stories bring us together, soften our edges, and make us better citizens of the world.

I said something the other day to someone that I grow so tired and weary of Christians. As a Christian, I probably am the hardest on Christians, that, who are only willing to follow Jesus to the borders of this country. I think, as a Christian, my understanding of God is that when there’s someone hungry, when there’s someone marginalized, when there’s someone hurt, that God hurts with that person. At the end, in the end, I don’t want to be the person who was hurting that person. I want to be someone who was helping.

I think God weeps for those people. God is with those people. If there is a paradise at the end that we go to, and we have the questions, “What did you do when you saw my child weeping?” I don’t want to be the one that says, “I closed my eyes. I turned my back. I built the wall. I sent the plane back.”

I don’t want to be that person. That’s my religion, and my person. I want to be on the right side of history. Remember when we were growing up and we learned about the Holocaust, and we learned about the history, and we thought, “What were the Germans doing? How could they let this happen?”

It’s happening. It’s happening. I can’t … We have to open our eyes.

Stephanie:       We can’t disengage.

Kendra:            We can’t disengage.

Stephanie:       I think all of us in this political season, in this first week of a new presidency, are experiencing a rupture in our shared civic fabric. For some of us the rupture is, “I have not been heard. I don’t have a job. I don’t have childcare. I don’t have the standard of living my grandparents had.”

For some of us, the rupture is, “My grandparents came here to make a better life for me and my family, and I’m being pushed out.”

But we’re experiencing a rupture. We are both educators and leaders. What is the work of repairing this distance? What is the work of repairing? Because when we’re afraid, and when we’re in pain, we can’t be open to listening. The guard dog in our brain is up. I think many of my family members feel a sense of scarcity. There isn’t enough health insurance. There isn’t enough food. There aren’t enough jobs. So, that guard dog is up, and so we can’t relax into a posture where we can hear stories and build relationships.

What does that work look like? If you had the ear of a policy maker. If you had the ear … you do have the ear of policy makers, and educators, and political leaders. Using your perspective as a teacher, and a leader, and a Christian, and a thoughtful person, if things settle down, what is the work for the next year, five years, ten years?

Kendra:            I think for one thing, there are people who don’t want it to settle down, and they’re distracting up. If we’re over here trying to stop a ban, we’re not watching what’s happening in the Dakotas. If we’re over there watching that, we’re not watching what’s happening to women in our country. I never saw the movie, but there’s a movie called Wag the Dog, and I think that’s what’s happening. They’re wagging the dog, and dividing us. Trying to divide us.

We have to see that. I don’t know. There’s a whole movement about “Stay woke.” It’s great. I don’t know the history of that, but I do know that that’s a great hashtag. Stay woke. If we’re worried about Black Lives Matter, then we don’t see the appointments that are being made. We’re not watching what’s happening to public education. There’s so many places that we can jump from this, to this, to this. Because it’s all important and it all matters.

Stephanie:       Thank you, Kendra.

Kendra:            Thank you.

Stephanie:       Thanks for listening to In Times Like These, where we explore issues of politics and faith, and learn from one another how to navigate difference for maximum flourishing. In Times Like These is a product of CLU Live at Claremont Lincoln University. For more, subscribe, share, and visit us at claremontlincoln.edu.

Ways to listen to this episode:

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to engage in difficult conversations on social media
  • How comfort can block real dialogue
  • The work of repairing ruptures in civic discourse
  • When to prioritize safety over continued engagement
  • Goals and strategies for being an ally in contentious times

Top 3 takeaways from this week’s episode:

1. “I don’t want to be the one who built the wall.”

When we look back at history, we always want to be on the side of the angels. Everyone imagines she would have marched with MLK, or fought against Nazis. And yet, we have opportunities every day to work for justice and inclusion. What opportunities are we missing?

‘I don’t want to be the one who built the wall.’ Listen now: Click To Tweet

2. “We might want to win that argument, but when we see each other—a human face—it has to change us.”

Part of dialogue is a willingness to be changed, but too many of us want others to change while we get to keep our own beliefs and practices. Relationships with others can help us maintain a posture of openness. Why do we tend to have relationships with only those who agree with us? Is there something we can do to fix this?

‘We might want to win that argument, but when we see each other—a human face—it has to change us.’ Listen now: Click To Tweet

3. “We have to open our eyes. We can’t disengage.”

Fear, disruption, and civil discord are overwhelming. The media too often stirs up feelings of danger, even though we’re actually safer than we’ve ever been. Paralysis can keep us from collaborating effectively. What practices can we use to keep us engaged in important social justice work?

‘We have to open our eyes. We can't disengage.’ Listen now: Click To Tweet

Mentioned on the episode:

When we think about the necessary work of engaging and educating others, it can feel scary to approach those who disagree with us. Kendra mentioned a tool many activists use to think about the work of reaching out: those closest to use are our natural allies, those farthest away may be a threat to us, but there are groups in between who can be reached. Below is an infographic of the tool Kendra mentioned in the episode of how to reach out thoughtfully.

More resources include:

How to connect with Kendra and with us:

You can find Kendra on Twitter here: @KFredLaouini.

You can connect with me on Twitter here: @SVarnonHughes. And you can always connect with us at CLU on our Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts linked here.

Like the show? Help us spread the word by giving us a rating and review on iTunes!

About the Podcast

In Times Like These explores the difficult spaces we humans navigate in culture and religion, in dialogue and doubt. We talk to voices from the field, in law, activism, civil rights, and from places of struggle and places of deep learning. In Times Like These, we unpack the most troubling issues of politics and faith we face, together.

In Times Like These is hosted by Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes and is a CLU Live production by Claremont Lincoln University.

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Ph.D., is the Director of the Claremont Core at Claremont Lincoln University, and an award winning teacher and interfaith leader. She is the host of the religion & culture podcast In Times Like These and author of Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us. Varnon-Hughes was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a peer reviewed journal, and its sister publication, State of Formation, an online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education, from Webster University.

Claremont Core

Claremont Lincoln University


  • I liked the podcast interview with Kendra. One of the points made is something I myself try to promote at conversations person–to-person, group, and facebook, which is that we should not take the extreme sides in the current division, but instead, try to reach out to the people who feel victimized in the political environment for the last several years where they were abandoned in their homelessness, joblessness, mental illness, etc. while out of political correctness our leaders were welcoming refugees and illegal immigrants and offering them welfare budgets to resettle them. I believe that we should ensure that we attend to the needs of the abandoned Americans while we think about how to help refugees and illegal immigrants who depend on welfare. Can we help refugees by creating a worldwide fund (including the super-rich nations like the oil rich Gulf countries) and convincing countries that match the ethnic and cultural values of refugees to accept them in their lands ? This may be better in minimizing the cultural disruption for the host country and for the refugees (to avoid their culture shock, disillusionment, vulnerability and attraction to terrorist propaganda and harmful actions on the hosts).

  • Maneck–I love and appreciate this conversation with you. Yes, when we are activated by a sense of scarcity, loss, and fear, we aren’t able to do justice or grow as community members. What do you think the roles of leaders can be in both working to make resources more equitable and responding to these fears (both founded and unfounded)? Thanks so much for listening and responding.

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Ph.D., is the Director of the Claremont Core at Claremont Lincoln University, and an award winning teacher and interfaith leader. She is the host of the religion & culture podcast In Times Like These and author of Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us. Varnon-Hughes was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a peer reviewed journal, and its sister publication, State of Formation, an online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education, from Webster University.

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