I find myself softening a bit when it comes to the ferocity of my ideas and convictions. In spite of what some would consider a quiet personality, i have always loved a good debate (if i thought i could win it), and i have a strong opinion on everything–opinions so strong that i told my pastor the other day that they are always right. I was only half joking.
Recently though, i’m starting to understand that there are some things in life and in christendom that are more important than winning the debates that i am so fond of. I don’t really know when this softening started. The last three months of my life have seen a big change in my thoughts and attitudes about a lot of things. Most of these changes have been internal, and have not yet begun to show on the outside through my words and deeds, but they are slowly working their way out. I think that the change simply has a lot to do with the fact that i’m finding myself in strong Christian fellowship again, for the first time in a few years, and the people i’m spending my time with are starting to influence me in many good ways.
One of the changes i am noticing in myself is a sensitivity and a tenderness to the feelings of others. There are really two aspects of this idea that i’m talking about. One is simply a rude habit that i’ve formed over the past few years, and one has more to do with the attitudes of my heart.
The bad habit is that of disregarding people when i sense some urgency to complete a project or an argument or even a spoken thought. Elizabeth knows better than anyone that i have a very disrespectful way of interrupting people mid sentance to interject a thought or an opinion–often ones that are completely unrelated to the present conversation. The friends that i converse with often show me a lot of grace by ignoring this character flaw as often as they do. I am working hard to break myself of the sin of showing others through my interruptions that i think my words are more important than theirs.
The heart attitude is something that i have struggled with for years (sometimes unconsciously). I have always been an empathetic person. I don’t like to see people hurting, and i really don’t like to cause harm to anyone. However, i have on many occasions put my empathy aside for a few moments as i brutally argued any number of different opinions (some important, and some not so much so), under the false assumption that winning the debate in the end would justify tearing someone’s feelings to pieces in the process. I’m sure that i’ve hurt more people than i know of in this way.
Here is the bottom line, and the conviction that God is gently working through the layers of my heart: Few ideas matter most, and a most ideas matter little. I think that the majority of us, especially those with opinions as strong as mine, would be surprised to find out how worthless most of our arugments and debates really are.
The ideas the really do matter are what CS Lewis called “Mere Christianity.” These ideas are the fundamental tennants of the Christian faith, and essential to all believers. Most people reading my blog are born-again Christians, and these ideas are familliar to all of us. We understand that we are saved not by our own labor, but by the work Christ has done for us (by dying as punishment for our sin), and that we must simply accept His free gift of salvation in order to be saved. I am not a theologian or scholor, but i understand this to be the central and most important concept of our faith.
There are miriads of other ideas that are not as important, and that shouldn’t distract us from the basics. Most of us have run into debates (either intentionally or by compulsion) about predestination vs. free will, baptism, spiritual gifts, communion, Bible translations, and any number of the other things we like to challenge each other with. I am not saying these issues shouldn’t be discussed, debated, pondered and prayed about. I am saying that i believe it is more important to love each other than it is to agree on each one of these secondary issues. I have often been guilty of putting my opinions over my love for others. For this i apologize to all of you, and ask for forgivness.
Derek Webb has a new album being released on May 1st. I have, in the past, been somewhat outspoken about my dislike for much of Derek’s recent work, but this new album is striking a chord with me. I pre-ordered the CD last week (and was therefore given the chance to download an mp3 copy), and one song in particular really hit me right in the middle of all of these thoughts. The song is called “I Don’t Want to Fight” and really gets to the heart of this issue. The lyrics are some of Derek’s most profound in recent years, and deserve to be pondered by all of us. Here they are for consideration.
don’t want to be right anymore
I don’t want to be good
I don’t want to change your mind
to feel it like I do
I don’t wanna sell graves
peddle them door to door
a little something to ease your mind
and prepare you for what’s in store
I don’t want to fight
brother I’m not joking about peace
we can have it here tonight
it all comes down to you and me
you never asked me to save anyone
not in whole or in part
like I was some kind of Holy Ghost
come to change their hearts
you know the tree by the fruit
but just between me and you
I never do what I want
I do what I’m taught
and I’ve been learning a lot
about the violence I’m capable of
so I’m walking away from this
before I hurt someone
‘cause I’m facing enemies
on both sides of the gun
Derek really hits the nail on the head when he talks about “the violence i’m capable of.” I am a dangerous person when i allow myself to engage in argument–because i want to win. All of us, in some way, have the potential to hurt each other–and we do it for such stupid, selfish reasons. For me, it all comes down to pride and my desire to feel like i have control of my life. Winning a debate, no matter how stupid or how small, allows me to put a mark in the win column. But at what price?
I hope that all of you who are reading this realize that i am preaching to myself. I am the man who needs to learn to love my brothers and sisters. I need to learn to hold my tongue and consider the impact of my words. I need to walk away from argument for agruments sake and stop the ‘violence’ before it begins. I simply need to love more than i do now. I would like to ask all of you to pray for me, and to hold me accountable to these words.