Don’t Ask

When I was a kid we had to do lesson books for Sunday School. At the end of the lesson was a space asking for my personal response. I gave it. My teacher marked it wrong with a big black X.

I was upset because I gave my honest opinion and I thought it was about expressing my thoughts, not parroting an answer. This still happens today out in the big world. Students can lose grades and employees can lose jobs for answering a request for their personal feelings about a non-work related issue.

I may not agree, but a personal opinion is a personal opinion. It’s a thought from a person who is processing. If you can’t handle the answer, don’t ask the question.

Begging to Differ

Photo: Even Calvin and Hobbes don’t always see eye to eye

What? Somebody on the internet is wrong? Well, cancel my appointments and hold my calls! I’ll straighten him out! He is probably a _____ist and you know what _____ism can lead to!

Wait. I’m trying to change.

I don’t want to go back to the days when I was told by a rather stifling range of fearful clergy and “Totalled and less-than-Fascinating Women” my husband’s opinion was my opinion (a situation which left one of us not only depressed, but redundant). When, after decade or two, my feistiness finally burst forth more than one innocent bystander was left wondering what the heck that was all about.


On the one hand, my opinion –and I do have one- (As Ellen DeGeneres wrote) needs expression, even if it is subject to change.

On the other hand, the problem with winning a game of intellectual king of the hill is that the winner takes his or her prize alone.

I’m not a career academic as many of my nearest and dearest are. Debate was considered to be disrespectful and was verboten in my family of origin (even the verbs were passive). Perhaps it started when the priest grabbed my momma by the nose and dragged out of her seat to the chair of shame in front of the other catechism students. She questioned something he said. Momma had a substantial Cleopatra-style nose which she hated, and after that day hated even more. She never stuck it in church business again and instilled the same rule against questioning clergy in us, but in the business of people she considered under her command? Well, her opinions lived large. Papa just wanted a conflict-free zone.

Imagine my shock when I married into a family whose favourite form of entertainment was recreational argument. Now I understand the academic inclination to hypothesize, criticize, revise and go at ‘er again, but at the time it seemed to me that verbal volleyball in the dining room took out a lot of light fixtures and left the participants with creamed ideas splotching their shirts and clots of mashed opinions resting in their hair. The crazy part came when the discussion began to reach resolution. They would switch sides and keep going. Politics, sex, religion, health, science, the cost of tea in China –even the weather, served as shuttlecocks. If you said, “Nice day,” someone would bat back, “Not really,” and wait for your return.

Few people enjoy arguing like that because few people can detach themselves from their ideas (including these guys). An attack on an idea can feel like an attack on identity. Have you noticed the average number of posts it takes for an internet conversation to descend from “I disagree” to “You’re a _____”? On some news sites it’s about one.

I’m fascinated by the Moravians of Herrnhut. They kept a continuous corporate prayer vigil going 24/7  for a hundred years. Before the dramatic experience of the Holy Spirit showing up in their midst with all the same weird and unexpected special effects that shook the early church in Jerusalem, the Moravians taking refuge on Count Zinzendorf’s property were as schism-ridden as churches tend to be now. The motto they adopted after the Holy Spirit event was, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love.” They lived it, went on to accomplish amazing things for the kingdom of God –and conveyed the good news of  hope and new life to many.

The Bible says:

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35

We need both –sharpening and refining, but above all to be motivated by love.

If we want to learn we need to hear and discuss opinions other than our own.

If we want unity we must relinquish the need to always be right about everything.

If we want to love and build each other up we need to agree on essentials and respectfully disagree when we perceive dangerous ideas sneaking in. Love does not always look away, but we need to leave room for people in process, including ourselves. It’s called grace.

In my humble opinion.