Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Teaching former soldiers to dance.

While at a conference this past weekend, I eagerly attended what I thought was a seminar on meditation. Imagine my surprise when TJ and I learned it was actually on mediation. We noticed the missing T during the introductory thoughts and, realizing we were in the front row of a sparse crowd, decided to stay and see what we could learn about this slightly shorter word.

The man spoke about managing conflict and how to apply love and peace in seemingly love-and-peace-starved circumstances. At the end, a man asked a seemingly simple question. "What do you do when you seek to be peaceful and loving toward someone, but still have to stand up for the truth?"

There are all kinds of good things this question could be getting at, but it got me thinking about how we think of ourselves in a battle over ideas with each other, and yet somehow called to love those we're fighting. So much so, that the man's question (coming from a faith who says the Truth we stand for is the love of others, especially when they seem to deserve it least) seemed perfectly reasonable: What do you do when in loving someone who is causing problems, something True is at stake? Do you go on loving the guy, or do you abandon that tack and go on about defending the greater Truth?

My love of words drew me into reading an often quoted book called Metaphors We Live By. Anyone seriously interested in what we are all really doing when we speak or listen should add this book to their list. One particular section talks about how we use a very consistent, often problematic metaphor when we disagree. Lakoff and Johnson call this the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor. In this, we disagree within a framework that not only gives us a way of describing what is occurring in the disagreement, but actually informs how we think of it as it unfolds.

Some examples of how argument is thought of in a metaphoric framework of war:

Someone's claims are indefensible.
We attack or counterattack weak points in arguments.
Criticisms are on target.
We demolish/destroy arguments.
We use strategies in debates to wipe out the other's position.
We shoot down arguments.

At the end of the section explaining how indelible these ideas are in shaping how we see ourselves winning or losing these battles we have with each other every day, they write, "The language of argument is not poetic, fanciful or rhetorical; it is literal. We talk about arguments that way because we conceive of them that way- and we act according to the way we conceive of things."

The metaphor has become literal. We're actually fighting, and in many cases we believe, fighting for survival. If you and I disagree, we assume by the very nature of our core explanations of what's occurring, that a fight must ensue.

Within faith, this is often done with an assumption running in the background that we are defending "the truth". We're not just arguing- we're speaking on behalf of heaven, so it's like we're just being petty. It's not like we're just defending the slander that side of the bar has launched at this side about our favorite team....this is THE truth, man. So, we argue and do battle with the ultimate prize in mind- being aligned with Absolute rightness. We defend truth from attacks and take stands against seemingly dangerous ideas. We're Christian Soldiers after all. And his truth is marching on.

So we march on and on as though we're commissioned to do literal battle over a literal thing called The Truth. And our fighting and dividing in our disagreements reinforces arguments aren't just like wars, but especially within a faith context, ARE wars.

In fighting for truth, there are some unfortunate messages being conveyed:

1. We are admitting our truth's weakness. Anything that needs me to defend it is assumed to be weaker than I am. Who would defend something that would be better suited to defend me instead? 

2. We are saying there is no winning in learning someone else's perspective. Learning is losing. Getting others to agree is winning.

3. We are stating that we believe ideas can be willingly embraced through verbal force. In other words, we believe Jesus' way doesn't work, so we argue people into conformity with the truth.

4. We admit that we don't know there's a night/day distinction between truth and our perspective about truth.  No one has has exclusive rights to truth within a faith system. That's what makes it faith. No body gets the ego-soothing position of "knowing". 

5. We make the Gospel, the good news that the War is over and there is peace for all, yet another way that "might is right". We essentially write Jesus on our bullets before firing them.

Paul says something interesting to young churches, recorded in the end of Ephesians chapter 6:

"Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:11-12)

If you're going to take a stand...if you just can't help but fight, Paul says you do it against the vacuum, not the people sucked into it. Armor up against the anti-Kingdom forces, not people. Against the influence of selfish, anxious evil pervading the air we breathe; The Satan. But we do not battle against flesh and blood. We don't wage wars against each other. We've been called out of the war and into the Kingdom of Peace. Any fighting we do is against that which Jesus was against, and done with the weapons of shalom. Of Love and patience. Of whole, attractive living. Of joy and peace and stability in the face of circumstances trying to get us at each others' throats. 

This is true for people of faith discussing the variances of their perspectives with other people of faith. And it's no less true for people of faith interacting with those who sincerely believe very different things. Even when the ideas of those outside the faith, or a particular expression of the faith, seem like the things we've been told are dangerous and need counterattacked or our side will lose ground. Even then, the battle is over, and we must exemplify this to get that whole Heaven-on-Earth vibe right.

Lakoff and Johnson wonder about a culture that doesn't use ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphors when an inevitable disagreement arises, but instead sees disagreements like a dance. In this, they write, "the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way....It would seem strange even to call what they are doing 'arguing'."

Some mediating meditations...

When I see or hear something with which I disagree, whether coming from an organization of people or out of the mouth of someone I'm meeting with (or even married to...), I'd do well to:

*Recognize my rapid heartbeat and sense of anxiety about getting the truth communicated in some form of a counter argument isn't probably the Holy Spirit springing me to battle. It's me defending myself because new ideas often threaten my understanding of the world, creating a perceived vulnerability in my possible lack of understanding of it.

*Acknowledge that if I'm defending myself because I wrongly believe I am my current ideas, I am not dealing in "Truth" in any absolute way, no matter how effectively I wage war to the contrary. I am simply trying to not lose.

*Ask questions of the person(s) I am disagreeing with (real questions, not judgey, condescending ones) about how the other arrived at his or her conclusion, rather than point out that arriving at that conclusion is flawed. 

*Remember to be eager to learn something, more than eagerly work to be perceived as a receptacle of answers.

*Understand humility requires that I learn truth from people outside my recognized framework. Not on chance; I have to go and look for it outside my recognized framework or I'll never know if my "truth" works beyond the borders my world.

*Ask if I might dance elegantly with another broken, beloved human being and potentially make something beautiful rather than bellicose.

I believe, in here somewhere, is the answer to the guy's question about standing up for truth and loving people you disagree with on some level. Putting down the weapons and the metaphors and the structures and the defensiveness of war will slowly but surely help us re-learn what to do when we disagree. Whether the disagreement is petty or foundational, love and peace are Dance Instructors before they're Commanders in Chief.

His truth is dancing on.

Chew on the these for some helpful deep thinking on the subject.

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