A Brief Pause To Listen
Geoffrey, I think this is a helpful step forward for you and for the conversation. What I have always found needful in your writings is for you to couch your very valid critiques of others’ views in ways that focus on the argument, and only refer to the maker of the argument when it is imperative that the person and her/his context are essential to what is being said. I believe you’ve taken a good step for yourself and given all of us a model to ponder as we move actively into preparation for the 2016 General Conference. Yes, make amends for the ways in which your arguments have been couched, but don’t berate yourself for the arguments themselves. You have uncovered fallacies and logical lacunae that others of us missed. To that end, I encourage you to follow this path of saying what you mean in ways that are more approachable than in the past. And BTW, even Jesus had his moments; see “brood of vipers,” “children’s food to dogs,” and “get behind me, Satan!” Oh, and there was that time in the temple … Hugs to you! – Comment on Facebook link to yesterday’s post, “Love Keeps The Door Of His Lips”
When I linked yesterday’s post on Facebook, I invited two particular individuals to respond to it. Above is one of those particular responses. I have read it, and read it. I have sat and thought about it, the whole, the parts, what I like, what I don’t like, and realized that before I went any further, I had not so much to respond as I did to demonstrate that I was pausing to take stock. I wanted to show that I was listening, not just casually reading.
Can I confess the comment has a stumbling block for me? It’s a word, one simple, clear word: “berate”. In all honesty, I don’t believe I am berating myself at all. I do know that this whole self-reflection thing has offered more than glimpses of me doing and saying things about which I am embarrassed to say the least. Yesterday, I made that point as clearly as I could without slipping into self-flagellation or any kind of pose as a morose martyr. On the contrary: After I wrote what I did, I was happy. It was more than a little bit like cleaning out a wound. Rather than lounge in my hair shirt, I felt like moving on.
Then I saw this comment, and thought, “I need to read this and think about it.”
I’ve dealt with the specific word “berate”, and how it feels a bit like a stumbling block for me. There is more in there, however. Like the following: “What I have always found needful in your writings is for you to couch your very valid critiques of others’ views in ways that focus on the argument“. In all honesty, I do believe that the time for argument is long over. The time for playing games with others – “critiquing” their views, showing the world how clever I am – exhausted itself years ago. Precisely as the General Commission on General Conference has offered a different way forward for considering matters of human sexuality that come before the body, I believe it is imperative to model that, rather than continue the endless circle of the same tired arguments, the same bitterness, the same mutual destruction that is the end result of the constant claims of purity of motive and the apostasy of the opposition.
That whole mindset – that there are sides; that this is a question of opposition with winners and losers – needs to be given the old heave-ho. We are in this together. How is it possible to pretend to care a whit about continuing to be in covenant community together, all the while dismissing others, degrading them, showing off one’s alleged superiority and moral righteousness? That only sows the seeds of bitterness and schism. To that end, I am no longer going to engage in argument of any sort. Since many of those “arguments” were ones I started, that’s the best way to stop.
Furthermore, as I wrote in part in response to another comment, continuing to play the game of arguments, of winners and losers begs a question we in the United Methodist Church should face squarely: What, exactly, would “winning” mean? If there are “sides”, and one side “wins”, what, exactly, will either “win”? I always insist this matter is not about any particular individual’s feelings, any particular individual’s beliefs or preferences. I have written over and over again that this is about the United Methodist Church as a whole body. I do believe that. If so, however, what do we as the United Methodist Church gain by playing a game with “winners” and “losers”? Who gains anything by continuing to argue about who is more Biblically, doctrinally, theologically, and morally correct? This is why I embrace the General Commission’s recommendations for suspending the rules of debate regarding human sexuality and having real face to face dialogue about our church, our mission and ministry, and our identity. Obviously matters of Biblical interpretation, doctrine and theology, and morals and ethics will be involved in these discussions. What they won’t be is the focus of our discussions. If adopted, we will no longer be hamstrung, arguing over absolutes. Rather, we will be sitting across from and side-by-side with people whose views are very different from ours, yet who love the United Methodist Church, believe in its mission, its ministry, and are just as concerned and hopeful about its identity as we are. It will certainly be more difficult to carry on as so many have when seated together, rather than resting comfortably in the false freedom the distance and even anonymity the Internet affords.
For now, because I just don’t trust myself to model what I claim I believe to be in the best interest of the Church, I am just going to allow myself to be pulled in to these discussions, at least as they continue to play out on the Internet. I have always said the best way to “win” a game is not to play. To that end – no more. If anyone is really interested in my thoughts – and it isn’t like anyone is knocking my door down! – I will only say that my thoughts are that someone has to begin modeling this new way of discussing these matters, and I’m just not that person.