One coffee hour after church in 1980-something, I was talking to my friend Nan about a man we’d heard argue against welcoming the LGBT community into our congregation.

Just recalling the event, I could feel my blood racing. I took a breath, sipped my coffee and looked back at Nan’s kind smile.

“Nan, how do you remain calm when someone else is talking bull?”

She is a slightly-older-than-me, married-to-a-man woman, and in our work to make our congregation more welcoming, we had developed a trusting and admiring faith in each other.

Nan tilted her head slightly to one side and looked at me as if she wanted me to continue. So I did.

“How can I not get to the level of not really listening but just biting my tongue until it’s my chance to volley back with my opposing beliefs?” I asked.

Nan said, “I try to recognize when my blood starts to simmer. When I can catch it at that early stage, I can see that the speaker is triggering an old memory that was fearful. My fear sparks my defensiveness and I want to push back.

“I remember that the speaker has no power over my feelings,” Nan continued. “I’m back reliving that incident when I was afraid, but I have no reason to be afraid of this man. He may be hoping to scare me into believing like he does. But my beliefs, my learning, my experiences are just as strong as his.

“Beyond the words, I learn from his body language, how red his face may get, how high or low his voice goes. I don’t fuel his fire but rather, let it go until it burns out. When he stops talking, I simply thank him for speaking with me and walk away.

“I am not going to change that person’s mind by refuting what he is saying, but I’ve learned a lot about the person. It certainly doesn’t change my mind, but I’m better prepared for future – let’s call them ‘conversations’ instead of ‘confrontations.’ ”

Since then, I have had people tell me all about myself and the state of the world as they see. I have listened to them rant about their beliefs on a variety of topics. When I tilt my head slightly to the side and sincerely look at them with open mind and heart, without threat, I learn a lot.

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