This week marks the first round of the 2012 presidential debates. President Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney, will meet in the divisional play-off, if you will, to wrangle with the many serious issues facing Americans. Well, hopefully, they’ll discuss what’s important to the country and not get sidetracked by sound bites and vapid personal preening. To politicos, this quadrennial debate season is their Super Bowl – their “Olympic” moment.
Your vote in the upcoming election.
Everything. Absolutely everything.
Generally, I try to avoid public discussions of political issues – in particular I avoid verbalizing my personal position on disputable matters. It’s not that I don’t have opinions; I do. In fact, my opinions even have opinions, but I can’t enter into a political conversation without shifting into the “debate” mode.
I love to debate. The argument, anxiety, adrenaline, sarcasm, and challenge to exceptional reasoning engages my mind and heart faster than just about anything. If I were honest, though, I’d tell you that I really love to debate because I have this insatiable desire to prove you wrong. Horrible admission I know, but there it is. I’m not proud of it, but it’s long been one of my quirks. I want you to believe I’m right, even if I’m not – though I’d rarely admit an error even if I made one.
That tendency was never on more hideous display than with my college roommate, Jeannine, during my sophomore year. We were both Christian Education majors and shared a deep love for scripture and for ministry. Back then most issues were either black or white with almost no room for gray. Gray was truth compromised. Gray said I’d become unsure or ambivalent in my persuasions. Gray was weak and infirmed. No, in those days there was black and there was white – and I defined them both.
One afternoon Jeannine and I got engaged in a conversation that I clearly had strong opinions about. Jeannine did not. In fact, I don’t think she really cared about the subject at all. How could she not? I’m quite certain the future of America and world peace hinged on the outcome of whatever it was we were talking about, but she was uninterested. I’m a patriot; I insisted she take a position. She refused. I tried another approach to bait her, but she balked.
I regrouped and prepared to launch a new assault, but Jeannine knew better. She was smart enough to defend herself from what was coming. She knew I only wanted to set her up so I could destroy her with my argument. I wanted to bury her. As I pushed her into a corner and pressed her one last time to take a side, she rallied. With all the blasé attitude she could muster in the face of my frothing Americana zealotry, she uttered what has become the most life-altering statement anyone has ever said to me.
“You know,” she said, “I don’t have to have an opinion.”
“What! How can you not have an opinion? What’s wrong with you?” I retaliated internally.
It felt like she’d just told me she hadn’t even registered to vote. How could I even be friends with this girl?
“No, I don’t have to have an opinion,” she repeated softly from her side of the room.
It couldn’t have blared louder in my soul. It never had occurred to me that someone would choose to not have an opinion about something. To not have an opinion seemed indecisive to me, like they didn’t know their own mind. It was weak. It was compromise. It was gray. I hated gray.
To Jeannine, her position was one of grace and latitude. She understood James’ discussion of the tongue in James, chapter 3. Clearly, I did not.
“In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire…People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.” (NLT)
Obviously, I had missed the truth of James’ words until Jeannine demonstrated them in action. My fiery words were actually cursing her; I was hurting my friend. It wasn’t my intention to hurt her; I just wanted her to know I was right. Well, in one fell swoop I had also missed the spirit of 1 Corinthians 13:2 which says, “If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge…but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.” (NLT)
I was nothing. In my rabid desire to be right, I elevated “truth” above the love I had for my friend. Jeannine’s refusal to cooperate with my antagonism instantly confronted my arrogance and left me broken.
Grace can destroy pride? Who knew?
I still love to argue and debate; I do, but I don’t. I won’t. The line between having a dialogue about issues and verbally destroying the other person is too thin for me. I prefer now to listen, ask questions, and learn.
In the thirty plus years since Jeannine and I were roommates, I’ve learned that I don’t have to have an opinion about everything, and that some gray is okay (unless we’re talking about hair, but that’s a different subject altogether). Yesterday, Jeannine and I rendezvoused in Denver for a rare day together. She lives on the east coast now, so I only see her once a year at the most.
We wiled away hours of conversation that passed like seconds. Late in the day Jeannine had a question for me. It was a church policy issue regarding the role of women. She wanted to know what I thought.
“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “There are cultural things in sway and there are biblical issues to consider…” my indiscriminate thoughts trailed off without clarity.
“Come on,” she pressed, “This is a big enough issue for you to take a stand on. I want to know what you think.”
I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer. If it ever affects me, I guess I’ll have to decide, but until then I don’t know.”
“You don’t have an opinion?” she asked incredulously.
“I guess I don’t,” I stammered. “Seems a bit more complicated than a simple…”
Jeannine cut me off.
“I’m so proud of you,” she said.
I couldn’t help but smile in recognition of the blessing she has been to me all these years.
She was right and I was wrong.
© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.