When I Was Foolish…

When I was young, and foolish I used to argue with Christian missionaries (I later graduated to arguing with OJ fundies, and have since realized that is foolish, too.)

“Matthew and midrash?”

Well, I’m not young but I guess I’m guilty of being foolish. I’ve been accused of being too “thin-skinned” before, but I seriously don’t believe that God intended our primary means of communication to be arguing and bickering. Recently, I was (again) told that I don’t understand the educational value of discussing disagreements. In fact, I do. I just don’t understand personalizing conflicts. I’ve recently dismissed the idea that we can engage in any sort of Chavruta debate on the web, and fortunately, since I wrote that blog post, no one has tried to challenge me on it…exactly.

I know that in the controversial world of religion, and particularly the variants of Christianity that we find in Hebrew Roots, there is a lot of disagreement. That’s not really a problem as such, but when people are called out by name in the title of blog posts, or “Anonymous” commenters feel free to use profanity in referring to a fellow brother in Christ, then there is a problem. The problem gets worse when blog owners are confronted and yet deny that there is any sort of difficulty with the management of their blog or with their own ideas about what constitutes treating a fellow believer (let alone, any human being) in a respectful and loving way.

Telling me, “I’m saying it all in love,” doesn’t really cut it, since anyone can scream, and carry on, and spout the most disagreeable accusations and assumptions about another’s character and then say, “but I’m saying it (sometimes “it” is in ALL CAPS, which is really screaming “it”) all in love.”

My calendar says it’s day 28 (out of 40) of repentance. Elul ends at sundown on Sunday, and I feel in no way ready to encounter God, Tishei, or Rosh Hashanah (and certainly not Yom Kippur). Not that I really have to I suppose, since of everything I just mentioned, only God appears on the typical Christian landscape, and the concepts of confession, repentance, and renewal aren’t (for the most part) tied to a particular time of year.

Nevertheless, the habit of considering the High Holidays and living with a Jewish wife make the days of repentance impossible to ignore, and if I feel the need to write a third “meditation” in one day, then obviously I’ve got some last-minute house cleaning to do.

I’m a really big fan of forgiveness, but I seem to have forgotten recently that one can forgive a difficult and unrepentant person and still not reconcile with them. I’ve been trying engage such a person, not with the idea of ever-changing what we disagree over, but with the hope of improving the process of our communication.

It didn’t work.

How can I maintain even a tenuous fellowship with someone who, although nowhere near perfect, continues to behave as if every conflict and disagreement they encounter is caused outside of themselves, and without recognizing that they too contribute to disagreement and discord?

I can’t. More to the point, I really don’t have the time or inclination to, in essence, beat my head against a stone wall. For the most part, I’ve already given up going to specific websites or blogs that I know will just raise my blood pressure and yield no positive fruit. I had hopes for one, but now I realize that seeking peace with God and with my fellow human being isn’t going to be accomplished by continuing to pursue what is, by definition, an individual with an adversarial (at least online) personality.

I’m not saying that people can’t post a comment on my blog and disagree with me. Far from it. I welcome differing points of view. I do draw the line at personalizing disagreements and certainly “name calling” is way over the line. However that doesn’t mean I have to go “looking for trouble” either. In Matthew 6:34, Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” I think I’m going to take the Master’s advice and let trouble take care of itself. It doesn’t need my help.

I’ll certainly continue to visit and comment on blogs that I find uplifting and informative, but there’s enough craziness that happens in life just because it happens without me pursuing it and letting it aggravate me over what one of my instructors in Graduate school used to call “OPPs” (other people’s priorities).

If the High Holidays are for repairing and renewing relationships with God and other people, one of those relationships has to be with me. I think I’ll feel better about living in my own skin and be a better companion with everyone I connect with, if I follow a couple of pieces of advice from a sage advisor:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. –Ephesians 4:29-32 (ESV)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. –Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)

The phrase “Charity begins at home” originated with Sir Thomas Browne but has been echoed by many others, including John Wycliff and Charles Dickens. In the same vein, I think peace, and particularly peace of mind begins “at home.” Sorry if this sounds a tad self-serving, but I’m going to focus on my peace of mind by thinking about things and associating with people who are honorable, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.” I think I’ll be a nicer person and more like the person God wants me to be if I pursue that course.

As DovBear might say, “when I was young (though not actually young) and foolish, I used to argue with people who argued for its own sake.” By God’s grace, I’m not going to do that anymore.

Please feel free to visit my blog and if you disagree with me (and I don’t really mind), it’s OK to talk about it with me. Just keep personalities out of it. However, I’m no longer going to visit places in the blogosphere that forsake the ways of peace because they absolutely need to answer the clarion call, someone is wrong on the Internet.

Nitai the Arbelite would say: Distance yourself from a bad neighbor, and do not cleave to a wicked person.

– Ethics of our Fathers, 1:7


4 thoughts on “When I Was Foolish…”

  1. Today’s message, James, is a good Sabbath blessing. You did not end with this but i think i would like to add, Amen and amen,

  2. James,

    I had an “Anonymous” commenter say something hurtful towards Boaz on my blog. I got a message from someone whom you might know but whose name I won’t mention (not Boaz), asking me to remove it. So I commented beneath the offensive anonymous comment and tried to encourage the commenter to avoid personal insults. And then I replied via email to the certain someone to see if that solution was satisfactory. He agreed that it was satisfactory. And that anonymous didn’t say anything else offensive after that.

    I’ve tried handling other such commenters in the same fashion. My policy now is to encourage them to avoid hurling personal insults. And it seems to be working so far.

  3. Thanks, Peter.

    Managing blog comments and all of the personalities that choose to become involved can, at times, be challenging and eventually exhausting (in a very active conversation). It amazes me sometimes how much name-calling and ill will seems to happen between people who are supposed to be dedicated followers of God and disciples of Christ. Then again, we’re all human and most of us, given a good enough reason, (including me) can go off half-cocked.

    I hope your efforts succeed on your blog. Very rarely have I had to edit or remove a blog comment, but there have been times when the conversation just went too far. On two occasions I can remember, I actually shut commenting off on specific posts for about a week to give everyone a chance to “cool off”. Most people are decent, caring human beings who just get a head of steam up and forget themselves. Occasionally, folks who are sometimes called toxic people join the fray and neither reason nor compassion can convince them to tone down their statements. If you haven’t encountered any yet, you will. The blogosphere is a virtual “DMZ” and anyone anywhere can come in and say what they like, which occasionally results in inducing mayhem.

    Thanks again for the comments and the emails.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.