Learn to disagree without creating an unpleasant argument.
A mature disagreement is when two people both listen carefully to the other’s position in order to understand the position and why the person feels that way.
The Torah obligates us to treat each person with respect – even if you disagree.
(For a series of probing questions on this topic, see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Self Knowledge,” pp.125-7)
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from “Today’s Daily Lift”
When I read this, I couldn’t help but think of my most recent What I Learned in Church Today blog post including Pastor Randy’s rebuttal to my comments. Though he may not believe this, I’ve been deeply concerned about how what I’ve written affects him and others. I was trying to communicate that in the aforementioned article but I’m not sure I was successful.
My problem is just how far to go in expressing my opinion, either in church itself or on my blog. I guess I could split the difference, since “church” doesn’t belong to me in the sense that I “own” the social and communal space, while I do “own” the communication conduit of my blog. I could keep mum at church and spew all of my thoughts and feelings out into the blogosphere (and I do the latter on a regular basis).
But I don’t exactly keep quiet in church, at least not in Sunday school. Granted, I don’t attempt to start a riot, and I do consciously limit the amount of interaction I allow myself to what I hope is a tolerable degree. I know I’m not always successful in this, however.
But as the quote from Rabbi Pliskin above suggests, the issue isn’t so much disagreement but whether or not respect is maintained. I don’t know if I’ve been doing this very well. When researching R. Pliskin’s write-ups on this topic, a few other entries came up in my search:
People can have diverse opinions. They can have different personalities. They can have different goals and objectives. Even so, they can choose to interact in peaceful ways, and discuss their differences with mutual respect. At times they will work out solutions to their mutual satisfaction, and at times they will not. Nevertheless, they can be calm, and think clearly about the wisest course to take.
(Growth Through Tehillim: Exploring Psalms for Life Transforming Thoughts, p. 92)
When it comes to being assertive, the ideal is to be able to speak up whenever appropriate and to do so respectfully.
Think of some situations in the past when you were not as assertive as you wish you were. Imagine yourself being able to say anything to anyone (as long as it is appropriate). Then take action to assert yourself in a way that you have not done so before.
(For a series of probing questions on this topic, see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Self Knowledge,”pp.131-3)
Ah, the words “When it comes to being assertive, the ideal is to be able to speak up whenever appropriate,” accuse me. Is it always appropriate to speak up? Isn’t “silence golden?” Shouldn’t I “go along to get along?”
I think people would be a lot more comfortable around me at church if I really did keep my mouth shut, and I can only imagine I’d cause Pastor Randy fewer headaches and gray hairs if I kept his sermons out of my blog. It’s going to come to that. Given the tone of the comments on the blog post in question, I don’t see any other reasonable choice on my part, especially if “respectfulness” is to be maintained rather than me just being “assertive” all the time. I’ve already taken it too far.
In exploring whether or not my pontificating about church is a sign of my personal arrogance, I consulted Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s series 48 Ways to Wisdom and specifically Way #29: Subtle Traps of Arrogance. Am I really all that smart or well-educated in theological knowledge that I always know better than trained and educated Pastors and Bible teachers? Am I infallible? Certainly not. Then where does this drive to learn more and express what I believe come from? You’d think I’d be smart enough to shut up, listen and learn.
Who is wise? He who learns from all people.
-Pirkei Avot 4:1
On the other hand, self-expression, particularly in writing, is how I process information and make sense out of it (which is what I’m doing right now). Until then, it’s just a bunch of thought fragments floating around in the global context of my mind or at best, scrawled and scribbled notes on torn and frayed pieces of paper. Dressing them up, so to speak, by blogging creates a framework within which I can organize that information and even respond to it in some fashion. It has the added (if sometimes dubious) benefit of eliciting responses from interested readers on the web.
R. Weinberg’s article ended with a bullet point summary:
- If you’re busy patting yourself on the back for what you’ve achieved, you won’t make an effort to do more.
- If you’re constantly defending your opinions, you’ll never be open to hearing new ideas.
- If you are arrogant about your ideas, then you are limiting yourself.
- If you’re grateful, you will grow.
- If you experience pleasure in doing the right thing, then look for more pleasure.
I suppose the point stating “If you’re constantly defending your opinions, you’ll never be open to hearing new ideas” is the most applicable one since by the very definition of my “mediations”, I’m expressing opinions that are in need of defending, at least at the moment when someone disagrees. I guess turning it around, I’m the one disagreeing with traditional Church doctrine, and that has resulted in Pastor Randy having to comment on my blog to defend his position, something he wouldn’t have had to do if I’d have kept my hands off the keyboard and my opinions of his sermon to myself.
I suppose it also comes down to whether or not I’m limiting myself by being arrogant about my ideas.
But these aren’t ideas I’ve cooked up out of “ham fat,” so to speak, but out of hours and hours of reading, listening to lectures and sermons online, and writing, and pondering, not in order to puff myself up, but to authentically read and understand the Bible as a single, unified document containing the single, unswerving intent and plan of God to redeem Israel and thus redeem all of Creation. For me, Christian theology and doctrine doesn’t provide the solution. No matter how I slice it, Christian doctrine forces the plan of God to “jump the tracks” at least once in the Bible, in order to take the plain meaning of Torah and the prophecies in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and make them fit traditional Christian beliefs as they have evolved in the centuries of the “post-Nicene Church”.
If the Bible is as Evangelical Christianity says it is, then both God and the Bible don’t make sense and further, they (in my opinion) pull a major bait-and-switch on Israel and the Jewish people.
I just want the Bible to make sense and from my current perspective, I believe it does.
But back to the question of what to do about this?
In general, writing little theological essays from my amateur’s point of view probably does little if any harm. According to one estimate, as of November 2013, there were over 152 million blogs in the Internet, and a new blog is being created somewhere in the world every half a second.
That’s a lot of blogs.
Among all of that, my one little blog is completely insignificant. Of course, I occupy a rather rarefied space in the blogosphere, not only as a religious blogger (plenty of those around), but one who specifically comments on non-Jewish participation in Messianic Judaism (or maybe it should be expressed as “Messianic Gentilism” or something like that).
Of course, the second I comment on a specific individual, such as a Pastor, or on the teachings of a particular church, things narrow down considerably in terms of the “influence” or at least the “impact” I can have on people’s lives.
I really don’t think I’m being arrogant in the sense that I’m always right and people had better see things my way or else, but that isn’t to say I couldn’t have done things better or have been more considerate. Where’s the fine line between being respectfully assertive and being arrogant? Where’s the line in the sand separating humble respect from passivity or censorship (even if self-imposed)?
The only solution that avoids hurting others in relation to church is to not talk at or write about church. Oh, I guess I can say “Hi, how are you,” but expressing a theological opinion in Sunday school will have to be a “no-no,” and certainly writing any commentary on sermons or Sunday school lessons must be taken off the table completely.
That’s probably like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped but it’s better than continuing to hammer away at a nail that’s already been beaten flat (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor).
Better late than never.
What do I do from here? I have a pretty good idea about that but will let it cook for a day or two (or more — or less) longer just to make sure. Given a good enough reason, I can go off half-cocked but I’d like to avoid it if at all possible. I spent a long time praying and pondering before returning to church. I’ve made a nearly two-year investment in Christian community. In the aftermath of what I’ve done, I have to see just what is left…if anything.