Saturday, March 26, 2011

Being the Enemy

When I was smallish-- maybe eight or ten-- I found myself on a bus sitting next to a young woman. We made small talk. I mentioned that I was homeschooled.

Suddenly, the woman's face scrunched up. Her eyes narrowed. Her mouth pursed. And she proceeded to tell me that homeschooling was the stupidest thing that anyone could do, and that I would never learn anything, and that I wasn't learning how to socialize, and that my parents must be real idiots or hate me if they were homeschooling me. She knew better, because she was a public schoolteacher.

I hadn't said anything to her about the quality of public schools in the region (god-awful) or about the benefits of homeschooling. All I'd done was mention that I was homeschooled. I sat there, stunned and silent. Children know it when they've met a bully, even when the bully is an adult, and I thought she must be a nasty, insecure person to pick on a little kid. I also thought she was nuts for terminating a perfectly polite conversation in order to snarl that I was not properly socialized.

But she knew who her enemy was. It was the little kid sitting next to her. I was the upending of everything she believed in and worked for. So she hated me.

My Sunday School group is composed of a bunch of twenty- and thirty-somethings who like picking at the big problems of theology. And at the little problems of theology. And at politics, economics, history, and pretty much anything else that liberal arts types like to talk about. We get pretty feisty. So after a couple of months of meeting behind an accordion-fold partition in the Fellowship Hall, we got kicked out down the hall because we were disturbing the little old ladies who met next to us. Several months after setting up shop in the library, we got kicked further down the hall next to the high school class. Depending on the discussion topic and on which class has had more glazed doughnuts and lemonade, we and the high schoolers take turns opening the door between the classrooms and yelling at the other group to settle down because we can't hear ourselves think.

But one week over a holiday, everyone else in our class was traveling. So I went and sat in with the class that had displaced us and taken over the library. There was another guest who sat silently next to me, a pastor from out of town. When we stood to leave I remarked on the Bible that he carried and asked about the translation-- was it one that focused more on the literal meaning of the words or on the ideas behind the words? He responded by stating that most contemporary translations are corrupted by the attempts of liberal scholars to remove male language from the Bible and how that practice destroys the word and instruction that is specifically directed to men. Not that there is anything wrong with women, he respects women and believes that God has a special role for them, too, but the Scripture should be rightly translated to communicate the complementary nature of men and women.

I think my frozen smile must have looked pretty gruesome by the time he finished speaking. As soon as he had begun to talk, I knew that he was the enemy. All desire for polite conversation or an earnest exchange of ideas was out the window. The only thing that kept me from arguing with him was the knowledge that I didn't have enough scholastic and theological ammunition to take out an educated minister twice my age. The only thing that kept me from bopping him over the head with my hardcover New Jerusalem was the knowledge that it wouldn't advance my position. I excused myself and left, quickly.

So homeschooled children are the enemy if you're a rabid believer that public education is going to save the world. Complementarians are the enemy if you're a paranoid escapee from the world of complementarianism. There's always somebody who is the enemy, by dint of belonging to the camp of whatever group is definitely the worst thing that anybody could possibly be. I've got my pet groups to hate-- organizations whose ideologies are, I think, destructive to the dignity, safety, health and spiritual well-being of humanity. You can insert your least-favorite oppressive political party here or think of the nastiest, most violent radical religious movement you've ever encountered.

The interesting thing is realizing that not only is the world filled with people who are part of the groups that I hate and fear, but also that I-- mostly clueless, mostly powerless, and more or less meaning well-- inspire that kind of hate and fear in others. I'm the enemy to somebody because what I think and the way I live is a threat to the way they want to believe the world works.

So what to do with that information? Does it mean that I can stop seeing others as enemies based upon their affiliations and creeds? Maybe not. Does it mean that I listen to the other perspective with a little more grace? The same things still drive me crazy. Just being polite is hardy easy, never mind being attentive and gracious while my insides are churning with fury.

How do you handle an encounter with the enemy?

1 comment:

  1. Just found your blog from Matt's. Loved reading this. My son was also unschooled. Not intentionally. We tried to Homeschool but ended up unschooling due to his health issues. Now that I don't really need to know all about unschooling, I am fascinated. I'll be reading more. Thanks! (P.S. - He turned out just fine ;-)