Posts Tagged ‘conversation

19
May
21

Tennis anyone?

Watch out for his wicked backhand!

I am not a huge tennis fan, but I do love watching a good, sustained, competitive tennis volley. Each player is moving to the ball… returning their opponent’s shot with confidence… probing to find the perfect angle to sneak the ball past the opponent… hustling to get in position for the return shot…

It reminds me of a few conversations I’ve had lately.

I am sure you know what I’m talking about. The settings are eerily similar; first, there is something in play, only in the case of the conversation it is a Topic of Mutual Interest (TMI for short) instead of a tennis ball. Second, instead of high-performance rackets, the combatants are wielding Perceptions

Custom-built, finely tuned Perceptions

Back and forth flies the TMI, vigorously batted from one side to the other. Sweat begins dripping down the face of each player as they grunt with the exertion of each stroke. Finally, one player breaks through and hits a screaming, utterly unreturnable shot past the flagging defenses of the person on the other side.

Game. Set. Match. On one side, a winner. On the other, a sad, deflated loser.

Flipping back to the tennis setting, we almost always experience great joy and satisfaction when we are the one standing on the winning side of the net. But when we shift our focus to the playing field of the person-to-person conversation, that moment of victory can sometimes ring a little hollow, can’t it?  

 Let’s all confess this right now, in unison: “I LIKE TO BE RIGHT!”

This is certainly true of me. Anytime a person makes a statement that exhibits deep, factual flaws [statements like, for example, “This whole COVID thing is a sham,” or “I’m really not sure these vaccines are safe, so I’m not getting one.” You know… dumb stuff like that] I feel a compulsion to rush in and set the record straight by lobbing a truth bomb and blowing away such blatant tomfoolery. 

But is that always needed? Are there times when there are higher values to uphold than factual correctness?

The Bible speaks frequently about the need to be “righteous,” (also translated as “right”).  By my quick count, the Good Book uses the words “righteous” or “righteousness” a total of 493 times. God is regularly quoted as saying – in effect – “It’s got to be MY way or the HIGHWAY.”

Jesus’ take on righteousness, in contrast, is markedly different than the one we find in the Old Testament. His call was for a right adherence to not necessarily all 613 commandments of the Torah, but to the Two Great Commandments: love God and love your neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV). 

Here is what Jesus has to say about the relationship of LOVE and RIGHTEOUSNESS, as he quotes Proverbs 21:3: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13, NRSV).

Being so brash as to interpret Jesus’ direct words to you, he seems to be saying here that he is more concerned with right RELATIONSHIP rather than factual or scriptural rightness. In other words, I think Jesus would be totally cool with you if – while stumbling to quote a passage of scripture accurately – you fed a hungry person. 

Which brings me back to my original question; are there times when you and I need to adhere to a higher value than our need to be right all the time? 

If you are married, you already know the answer to this one.

If you are NOT married, the answer is: YES…. there absolutely are times when you need to bite your tongue, refusing to return that shot for the sake of the relationship. 

Much easier said than done, I’m afraid. 

Abundant blessings;

02
Sep
20

Time for a jolt?

As a child of the 60s, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about protests. 

Granted, most of my participation in the anti-war or civil rights protests of that era consisted of watching them on TV from the safety of my parent’s living room. 

Then again, there was that one time when five or six of my friends and I “took over” the roof of the administration building on our college campus for a few hours in order to protest the Vietnam War. 

The quotation marks around the words “took over” in that last sentence stem from the fact that no one really seemed to much mind us being up on the roof of the admin building. They studiously ignored our chanting and passionate singing of “We Shall Overcome.” We maintained that righteous rooftop vigil right up until it was time to head home and finish the term papers that were due the next day. 

While it is true that I was personally a bit of a protest weenie, I see real value in taking a grievance to the streets. I believe that the Vietnam War might have dragged on for years longer had it not been for those anti-war peaceniks. The struggle for civil rights – though far from resolved even today – might not have gained even token footholds without the people who were willing to gather publicly and express their collective outrage at America’s Jim Crow status quo.

As I think about protestors, I also think about the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire… the young man in Beijing (and his friends) who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square… and of Nelson Mandela sitting alone in a South African jail cell for 27 years.

At the time most of these people were labeled extremists… kooks… dangerous radicals. So-called reasonable people denounced their tactics as wholly unnecessary. They urged calm, cogent conversation as the preferred way to solve society’s problems. 

But as history has demonstrated again and again, calm, cogent conversation doesn’t always move the needle. Sometimes, it takes an abrupt JOLT!

As it turns out, no one understood the strategic use of the abrupt JOLT quite as well as Jesus of Nazareth. He employed it regularly in the rhetorical technique known as “prophetic hyperbole.” A great example shows up in Mark’s gospel where we read these jolting words: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.” (Mark 9:43-45, NRSV). 

Does he really mean people should cut off their own hands or feet? 

Or when he told the rich young man that salvation meant selling everything he owned, giving the money to the poor and following him, did he mean that literally?

My guess would be that Jesus didn’t really intend for his words in Mark to be taken as a literal command. In the other one, maybe he did. But maybe not. 

You see, Jesus was a revolutionary. He came to turn the status quo of the world upside down. He did not come for calm, reasoned discussions. He came to instigate radical, top-to-bottom life change. 

In fact, when this man – sometimes called the Prince of Peace – talked about his earthly mission in Luke’s gospel he said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51, NRSV). 

Jesus sought to WAKE PEOPLE UP! To shake them from their complacency! To stress the urgency of the moment. 

Please understand… I am not saying that the people taking violently to the streets today are shining examples of Christ-like behavior. I have no insight into their hearts or minds. Many, I feel certain, are interested only in mayhem and destruction. 

What I AM saying is that sometimes the world finds itself in a place where a good, old-fashioned JOLT of prophetic hyperbole is exactly what the doctor ordered. 

What do you think… is this that kind of time? 




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