Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Belief, Discussion, and Dissent in the Cloud: Gazpacho

This past Sunday was the culmination of our Coming of Age class in the fellowship where we attend what some people call "church."  I'd been facilitating this group of six youth since January, along with two other adults in our congregation, and I was probably almost as proud of them as their parents were, as they conducted the service that they'd planned from beginning to end.

The central component of our Coming of Age service is the youth's presentation of their credos, which are usually written statements, two to five minutes long, about what they believe.  As I've mentioned before, in Unitarian Universalism (UU), not everyone believes the same thing.  Some people believe in God.  Some people are atheist.  Some people are liberal, some are conservative.  Some celebrate Jewish cultural traditions, while some still consider themselves Christian, and still others self-identify as Wiccan or align themselves with other pagan religions.  You'd think that this would make for some pretty confusing conversations, but since we all agree upon seven principles and common sources of wisdom, it actually works out remarkably well.  Still, having to figure out for yourself, at age 16, exactly what your beliefs are, and then stand up in front of your church and explain why you believe those things, in your own words, is a pretty impressive undertaking.   (In some ways it reminds me a bit of that awesome project This I Believe, which was modeled after the 1950 radio series hosted by Edward R. Murrow ... if you haven't heard that on NPR, it's worth a listen.)

Most of the youth said something about still being in process, still figuring out what they believe, and being OK with that; that embracing uncertainty was part of their beliefs, not in the sense that they're wishy-washy, but that they are open to other perspectives to truly make an impression.  Most of them also said something about the preciousness of being in community, of living in support of each other, of giving back.

There's a lot in here, of course, that parallels my experience of blogging.  I've seen lots of my fellow bloggers stand up to say what they believe, and the ones I most admire also thoroughly read the comments section, responding, commenting, and sometimes even changing their ideas about what they believe as a result.  Certainly I'm one of them; the great thing about putting your ideas out there for people to consume is that you can be offered a perspective you hadn't considered before, that perhaps you would never have encountered in your own circle of friends.  In fact, that's part of the preciousness of being in community.

The trick, though, is to make yourself visible enough to people who don't agree with you in order to get that feedback, to solicit that civil discourse.  And I suspect that most of us tend to surround ourselves with people who encourage us, pat us on the back, and even--mostly--agree with us.  This is additionally complicated by the dispersed nature of conversations in social media; unlike my fellowship, where everyone can talk with everyone else, blog readers often take conversations out of the comments and have them elsewhere: on Facebook, on Twitter, wherever.  While this might be good for pageviews, it's less useful for the blogger, if that person isn't aware that the conversation exists.

I confess, I'm a comment-lover.  (Lori over at Write Mind Open Heart is going to post about this tomorrow, I think; you should go see what she has to say.)  But I do think that there's something to be said for continuity, despite the reality of information "in the cloud."  And until someone creates an aggregate social media tool (which I think would be very scary, to be honest), we're stuck with our limited linear way of reading.

So how do you find the outliers?  How do you draw out the would-be naysayers, or even people who see things a little bit differently than you do?  And how do you make their rich contribution part of the whole, especially if they're not leaving comments?

Gazpacho is an excellent dish for the summer, and I like this version because of its simultaneous simplicity and complexity: simple, because all you do is mix everything and throw it into a blender, complex, because it combines salt and sweet and tart and spicy all together, allowing you to taste all of the component parts as part of the whole.  An unlike a salad, which is the more standard metaphor for diversity, the whole actually sticks together.

(adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook)

2 c. tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped (canned is OK if fresh are not in season)
4 c. tomato juice
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped (seeded if you prefer, and you can also leave the skin on)
2 scallions
1 garlic clove
1 small onion, finely diced
1 c. pepper, finely chopped
1 t. honey (agave for strict vegans)
1/2 t. cumin
1 t. basil
2 T. lime juice
4 1/2 t. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a big bowl and toss well to mix.

Puree in batches using a food processor or blender; you can blend to your desired consistency (some people like it chunky, but I prefer semi-smooth).
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  1. Beautiful post, your church sounds amazing! I agree it takes great courage at any age really to stand up in front of a group of people and disclose your beliefs and to do it at such a young age is truly impressive.
    You brought up a great point about trying to integrate the opinions of others that may not necessarily agree with us. I think as bloggers that's always a challenge not knowing who is reading your blog in that so few actually comment. Definitely something to think on...

  2. I hope the post I wrote about comments will be up soon. Sorry for the delay!

    But. It's as if you wrote this post just for me. I have felt, a couple of times, beaten up by people who I rubbed the wrong way with my words. At the time it happens, it's raw and painful. With time, though, I see that there were lessons to be learned, both about the topic at hand and about remaining open.

    I love the idea of a Coming of Age ceremony. And I LOVE LOVE gazpacho! My husband's secret ingredient is to add some sun-dried tomatoes, too. Shhhh....don't tell him I told you.

    1. The hard thing about blog comments is that they come without the benefit of gesture and intonation that helps you take them in context. Sometimes I think people would be less argumentative if they were saying the same things in person. It's easy to sound overly critical. But on the other hand, the platform of social media enables some people to speak in the first place, who wouldn't otherwise feel comfortable doing so.

      Sun-dried tomatoes, brilliant!! :)

  3. Oh, How I love this post. First of all, the Coming of Age ceremony sounds amazing!! I've never heard of anything quite like it. Lori said it well: with time, I too have learned lessons about disagreements and remaining open.

    My comments sections tend to be a place where I learn, where my eyes are opened, mostly, by my readers who both challenge me and support me. My whole life, I have needed that balance of challenge and support. I guess that's just the way I'm wired? I hope my commenters continue to comment: I love and value them.

    1. I think blogging has actually improved my ability to be open while at the same time forming my own opinion ... and I owe that to consistent commenters, too. The few times I've said something that's controversial, I've found myself at least weighing my words ... not holding back my ideas, but thinking about how to engage in civil discourse. I've been thinking about everyone's discussions lately about the decline in comments, for this reason, hoping it's not a long-term trend!


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