Monday, May 6, 2013

I'm Not Listening to You

I know I get on your nerves. From where you're sitting, I'm an inexperienced, impractical, unbiblical bleeding-heart liberal, yes? I reckon I know just how I look to you, because twelve years and 600 miles ago that chair you're sitting in was mine.

You are brave. I'll give you that. Or maybe "brash" is a better term. You know that your opinions are unpopular around here and you keep sharing them with pride. Not me. I sit and keep my mouth shut, for "Christian unity" and for that feeling of enlightened superiority I get when I just smile and cock my head at you. Each of us thinks that the other is concerned with the wrong thing.

I wonder how many times this not-conversation has repeated through time, with a now-irrelevant contentious issue, a different table, a different city. I wonder if any souls got lost or saved. Last week you complained that this congregation doesn't take a stand on the truth. One of the particulars of your meaning was: we haven't had any sermons against gay marriage.

A disagreement on homosexuality is only a tiny bit less painful to me than a bikini waxing. That's why I redirect and I roll my eyes in a way that, from the inside, looks jaded and knowing and from the outside makes me look like a jerk. That's also why I come home and blog about it, where I can cool down and roll the words around in my head to take the sharp edges off. I don't like speaking forcefully. I did it once in a town hall meeting, and when the pastor handed me the mic and asked me to repeat myself, I stammered and rephrased and took off the sharp edges that I should have left on.

Here's something I'm sure of: my opinion isn't worth much. I used to think that my opinion could get me into heaven. My opinion on the mechanism of salvation (penal substitutionary atonement or ransom theory?), my opinion of the president (Democrats are servants of evil), my opinion of women pastors. But in terms of eternal destiny, really, how many of my opinions are worth jack? How many of yours are? Is the value of my soul judged by the accumulated mass of my correct or incorrect opinions? Does speaking the truth mean saying a catchphrase aloud, saying it louder, shouting it so that nobody else gets heard? Is God going to look down from the seat of judgment and say, with sorrow, "You got the gun control thing right but you thought that gay people could have holy marriages, so I knew you not; depart from me"? Is my "Like" on the right Facebook post going to tip me from damnation into salvation?

Also: I always pictured the casting-out-to-Gehenna part involving a pull cord and a trapdoor, like so:

What I'm saying is, in this room and between the two of us, this argument is very low stakes. How easy and comfortable for two people in straight marriages to discuss God's intent for gay Christians.

But we still get angry. Oh, I get so angry. I smile and talk more softly and I tease and bait, just to show that you're the one with the problem. I think of all the reasons I have for disagreeing with you, but I assume you'd cut me off and shut me down and so I never even try to tell you about the journey, about the fears and the grace, and about what it was like to go back to pull my old convictions out from where I'd squirreled them away, only to discover that some had changed shape and some had crumbled away entirely. I suspect you'd have a ready answer that I'm weak and talking circles around the truth.

I'm afraid to show you my mind because it's so closely connected to my heart, and I think you wouldn't like my heart. Now I realize that I've always wanted you to keep your own heart hidden away so I wouldn't have to look at it. I'd like to yell my opinions over yours, always have the last word, make sure everybody thinks of me instead of you when they try to puzzle out the truth.

The objective truth. A truth that isn't relative and doesn't change. But if the truth is complex and relevant, then it shouldn't surprise us that it relates to us differently, in our so-different lives and so-different minds. Our lives and our minds change, and we relate to each other better at some times than others. We go through life finding new and beautiful and precious facets of the truth, and I can't see what you see until I let you show me. How good can we be at seeing the real truth if we don't want to really see each other?

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