Preached down to four

Preached down to four October 16, 2010

Clarence Jordan, the late founder of Koinonia Farm (the community that gave us Habitat for Humanity), used to tell a story that nicely illustrates the importance of "Test everything. Hold on to the good."

In the 1950s, an old hillbilly preacher invited Jordan to come and speak at his church in rural South Carolina. Jordan arrived to find, to his surprise, a large, thriving and racially integrated congregation — a remarkable thing in that time and place. (Sadly, it's actually a remarkable thing in any time or place.) So Clarence asked the man how this came about.

When he first got there as a substitute preacher, the old man said, it was a small, all-white congregation of a few dozen families. So he gave a sermon on the bit from Galatians where Paul writes: "You are all children of God … There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Here I'll pick up from Tony Campolo's retelling of Jordan's story:

"When the service was over, the deacons took me in the back room and they told me they didn't want to hear that kind of preaching no more."

Clarence asked, "What did you do then?"

The old preacher answered, "I fired them deacons!"

"How come they didn't fire you?" asked Clarence.

"Well, they never hired me," the old preacher responded. … "Once I found out what bothered them people, I preached the same message every Sunday. It didn't take much time before I had that church preached down to four."

That story gets at something I was trying to say Thursday in my strange phone conversation with the Granny Inquisitor, my first-time-caller, long-time-nonlistener.

And yeah, that really happened — at 11 a.m., no less, which is for me pretty much still the middle of the night, the equivalent of 3 a.m. for those of you who work 9 to 5 (although she couldn't have known that).

I'm still a bit frustrated by the thought that this was probably my only chance to have a conversation with this fierce aunt and that I didn't make better use of this one chance to communicate the most essential things I wish I could have expressed to her, in part because I lost my temper. My patience with her for the first 20 minutes or so really was commendable, I think, but it doesn't excuse my angry impatience in the last five. Confronted with someone confrontational and constantly shouting interruptions I eventually wound up just shouting back — a failure of imagination and bad behavior on my part.

When I'm more awake, I often try to approach such situations by asking WWDND? or sometimes WWTDD? What would David Niven do? Or What would the Doctor do? In his Cliff-Notes summary of the Sermon on the Mount (in Romans 12), St. Paul said, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." That's sound advice (or, if you like, a wise command), but it's far from easy. So sometimes the next best thing to overcoming evil with good is to try to respond to it with an unflappable politeness.

In this case, I'm afraid, I turned out to be quite flappable. I flapped. Instead of overcoming evil with good, I wound up just naming it as such, loudly, and then hanging up. Could have done worse. Should have done better.

As a result I wasn't able to ask what I really wanted to ask her, which was this: Your nephew has rejected something or someone — but are you sure that it's really Jesus? Was he rejecting the genuine article, or just some counterfeit impostor?

The former would, in my view, be grounds for great sadness. The latter, however, ought to bring rejoicing here on earth as it does in heaven.

After all, we can't hold on to the good if we're trying to hold on to something else instead.

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  • @Rusty: News flash. I’ve only been here for maybe a year.
    Now I have had my bruisy interactions with here, mild though they be, with MadGastronomer, but it was settled amicably (I hope!).
    The key here is, I’m already a 20-year veteran of online forums ranging from BBSes to web forums to blog comment spaces. I’ve been around enough different places that I know how to usually painlessly start participating without being shouted at for being a beckwit.
    Why?
    Because the first order of business is to realize the flip side of your argument: Nuance is meaningless when the person posting is a newbie. They could be a genuinely nice person, or they could just be setting up for what they think is a funny judo-move trolltastic argument.
    It takes work and time. Just like when you were in school and you had friends, right? At first you folks probably got on semi-OK, sure, but it took a while to really begin to read each other’s moods and know when to say something differently or just avoid a subject altogether.
    Same thing here. You’re saying “Hey, I’d like to get to know you all as we chat”, but it takes time until things settle down and they know when you’ve just accidentally misphrased something versus deliberately said something asinine.
    Ok, analogies aren’t always worth a lot so there’s no point carrying this one too far. But maybe you could think about the entering-a-new-circle-of-friends analogy for a bit.

  • @Edwin-
    Dude, you are making this too easy….
    Dismissing a comment by calling it immature? How mature.
    Well it wasn’t really a comment. A comment has some sort of meaningful content and adds something to the discussion. All you did was tell everyone to shut up, because you didn’t care for the topic. See you are reading this on a thing called a web browser, where if you think a certain comment is stupid or inane, you can go a different site. Telling everyone to stop having a conversation that they find interesting and meaningful in all caps isn’t a comment its a demand and since its not your blog, that’s not really your place to make that demand and its rude and immature. I’m not sure how calling immature behavior makes me immature, but hey, if you say so, hoss.
    I would love nothing more than to leave this place forever and get back to finishing Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, but when God calls me to correct the errors of the lost, I might as well try to ignore a bullet in my head.
    Oh pardon me, I wasn’t aware that I was in the presence of such a great prophet. You know what might do you some good, a little healthy introspection about your own life… You see I too am a follower of that Jesus fellow you seem to admire so much and I seem to recall him saying this:
    1″Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
    3″Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
    Matthew 7:1-5

    Chew on that for a while, skippy.
    My skill at debate is far too valuable an asset to waste when it could go to His service.
    *snerk* your skill at debate, huh? Well, when you start using it around here, give me a call because I want to see it. I guess you’re holding out so you can dazzle us all later unexpectedly.
    You know I’m pretty sure God wants you to help the sick, poor, and needy (the least of these… remember that story?). I don’t remember Jesus ever asking his disciples to go act like asses on blogs. Of course, blogs weren’t invented then, but I’m sure there was some sort of public forum back then.
    Never do I recall Jesus saying “A New Commandment I give unto you. Thou shalt act like a total douchebag in public forums where thine brethren disagree with thou on social issues.”
    Maybe its in one of the apocryphal gospels.

  • @Rusty: Much earlier in this thread you made a claim about Logic and rhetoric. I posted a long discussion about history of rhetoric and the different styles of argument. Instead of responding to my attempts to actually answer questions about rhetoric and logic you acted as if I (and others) hadn’t attempted to answer your questions/engage with you. Oh, you did acknowledge that you didn’t have a graduate degree in Rhetoric but it didn’t seem to occur to you that that might be one of the reasons that we weren’t paying much attention to your attempts at logic.
    You know that sometimes people don’t really want to be educated or have their questions answers.
    And so the next time perhaps we don’t bother to offer answers.

  • @Counsumer Unit: What’s the “Five Paragraph Rule”?
    I hope truth is life doesn’t mind if quote zir’s description:

    It’s a standardized essay structure in middle-high school English (so about 6 year up until you go to college, with occasional outbreaks even later) designed to make the process of writing an essay easier. Essentially, it consists of an introduction paragraph, 3 paragraphs of argument, and a paragraph of conclusion, ie. 5 paragraphs in all. Each argument paragraph addresses a different point.
    As you can probably see, it’s quite rigid and unrealistic for “real” essays or similar-length papers (eg., “letters” in science). The advantage is that it’s quite rigid (so easy to learn) and provides for a decent teacher a way to teach the basics of writing form (paragraphs, introductions, conclusions, etc.) one at a time, without having to deal with a bunch of people’s different ideas about what the ideal essay should look like in terms of paragraphing, order, etc.

  • @Pius Thicknesse: News flash. I’ve only been here for maybe a year.
    Wow, I would have guessed you had been around for a much longer time. I don’t remember you coming onboard although I do remember noticing that there was this guy who made really interesting posts and was Canadian, into science and whose name referenced Harry Potter.

  • Bryan Feir

    @Kit Whitfield:

    There are few things less rational than someone who fetishises rationality.

    Reminds me of the French Revolution and some of the changes made around that time.
    @mmy:

    However, one difference that does stand out is that Canadians tend not to be disillusioned by politicians because they have fewer illusions about them in the first place.

    Bwahaha. I like that one. Then again, we don’t have anywhere near the mythologization of the Fathers of Confederation as the Americans do. Though I suppose it helps in that our first Prime Minister was, while a great man for the time and a force of personality, also a drunk and a man who got caught with his hand in the till.

    Want to know how long ago I started programming? I was insanely thrilled when the computer language I had to use finally got an ‘if then else’ command.

    Same sort of thing here… then again, the first programming language I learned was APL, which doesn’t even have an ‘if’ statement as such: it’s a functional language, and conditionals tend to be done by selecting results from a vector.
    Pius Thickness:

    I was briefly exposed to the five para structure because it was considered a good way to structure an argument to get a good mark on the BC government English 12 exam.

    Same here; I went to high school in B.C., and we were exposed to that as a standard short essay format. Of course, the same teacher also expected us to write longer essays than that for his class.

    It’s now at the point where in some unis, some philosophy courses are explicitly barred to computer science undergraduates because otherwise it’s the easiest A they ever got.

    Such as PHIL 140 at the University of Waterloo: Boolean Logic. Also known as ‘Filler 140’. It’s the only philosophy course at the University which is explicitly listed as not acceptable for the ‘non-technical electives’ that Engineering students must take. (On the opposite end was PHIL 315, which was actually cross-listed as an Engineering course as well: that was the Engineering Ethics course.)

  • K.Chen

    Because of the sheer unpredictability of these behavioral distributions it is not really fair to ask people who have already found they are in the minority or the margins of society, to be the ones to show amazing forebearance and gentility of expression when too many people on the other side are doing the equivalent of either unintentionally or intentionally repeating the behaviors they’ve been asked to stop.

    So, if I understand this correctly, you’re roughly saying as a general rule that if:
    1.) you cannot accurately predict how people will respond to your tone/attitude/politeness and
    2.) you are in the minority or margin of society and
    3.) there is a history of people sharing a viewpoint opposed to yours acting in a similar unwanted manner
    then it is unfair to be asked to show “forbearance and gentility of expression.”

  • @K. Chen: Ok, lemme make it even simpler for you: Would you have told MLK Jr that he just had to ask nicely to get white people to stop treating blacks as though they didn’t exist?
    ‘Cause there were sure some folks who bitched and moaned and wanted him to be niiiiiiiiiiiice, though we kind of ignore that from the perspective of 50 years.

  • Jason, what gives you the idea I don’t help the poor or give any charity? Just who the hell do you think I am? making a groundless accusation like that seems to be a universal expression of butthurt when corrected. Honestly, I could not care less about your precious delicate feelings, or if you think I’m a troll. What I do care about is obeying God’s law, and the sensibilities of humans stand a distant second to that.
    As for accusing me of acting like an ass, check your eye buddy, because you called me immature, as well as a few less polite things!!

  • @Bryan Feir: Same sort of thing here… then again, the first programming language I learned was APL, which doesn’t even have an ‘if’ statement as such: it’s a functional language, and conditionals tend to be done by selecting results from a vector.
    First programs I wrote were for CP/M operating systems with 64k memory. Fun times.
    If nothing else we wrote tight code cause there wasn’t a bit or byte to spare.

  • @mmy: Those were the days. :P
    I remember squeezing every last byte out of my 65C02 machine language as well as Applesoft BASIC programs ’cause you wanted to have as much RAM as you could. :P

  • Just who the hell do you think I am?

    Clearly, not Kamina or Simon in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

  • @Pius Thicknesse: Would you have told MLK Jr that he just had to ask nicely to get white people to stop treating blacks as though they didn’t exist?
    And, as you know, there were people who did just that.
    There is a reason that the “I have a dream speech” was delivered at the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln didn’t talk about being nice:
    Fondly do we hope–fervently do we pray–that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword [Lincoln: Second Inaugural]

  • And, as you know, there were people who did just that.
    See also: Letter from Birmingham Jail. Love it.

  • @Pius Thicknesse: I remember squeezing every last byte out of my 65C02 machine language as well as Applesoft BASIC programs ’cause you wanted to have as much RAM as you could. :P
    Sigh, talking about programming brings out the ‘get the kids off the lawn’ codger in me. I love having access to terabytes of space but wayyyyy too many of the modern, expensive programs are flabbily designed with lines of code that [maybe] redundant or [maybe] useless and no one knows and hell, everyone has gigs of free space on their computer so who the hell cares if the programming is tight let alone elegant and can you tell this really bothers me?

  • K.Chen

    @K. Chen: Ok, lemme make it even simpler for you: Would you have told MLK Jr that he just had to ask nicely to get white people to stop treating blacks as though they didn’t exist?
    ‘Cause there were sure some folks who bitched and moaned and wanted him to be niiiiiiiiiiiice, though we kind of ignore that from the perspective of 50 years.

    If MLK Jr. had been kicking around on the internet arguing about the relative benefits and responsibilities of being a jerk or not, possibly. And if MLK Jr. had been online vacillating between a using the line “What I want to know is how the white man, with the blood of black people dripping off his fingers, can have the audacity to be asking black people [why] they hate him?” rather than “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom” I would’ve voted for the second one.
    Besides, thats not what you were talking about. You were talking about whether it was fair to ask certain people to conduct themselves in a particular way, and, again, assuming I didn’t misunderstand you, (thus the original question) this seems to be in part contingent on such people being marginalized/minorities and in part contingent on how an unknown number of people on a “side” acted.

  • albanaeon

    Giggle…
    Edwin’s grand reply to Jason is basically “I know you are, but what am I…”

  • I thought that D&C (Dilation and Curettage) is the procedure for early stage abortions (and also used for removing some uterine tumors and in the instance of un-shed uterine lining cause by some hormonal conditions) and D&E (Dilation and Extraction/Evacuation) is the procedure for late stage abortions. (And neither of those is the procedure used in most ectopic pregnancies, which require a surgical removal of part or all of the Fallopian tube, depending on how advanced the pregnancy and whether the tube has ruptured.)
    Pius is confused, you are correct.

    I didn’t sign up for anyone’s support group, I didn’t take a job as a teacher, and the feelings of the ignorant are not my problem.

    All true, but if the feelings of the ignorant aren’t your concern then why do you bother to correct them on them?
    Because the feelings of those hurt by the ignorant are very much my problem, as they are often me and those I love.
    People are spending so much time and energy worrying about the feelings of the people who say hurtful things, out of ignorance or whatever else. What about the people they hurt by saying those things? Our hurt doesn’t just evaporate because ignorant people didn’t mean to hurt us.
    Who will speak for us, if we don’t?
    Let us say that an outsider to your cause (though one who had experience with another, at least somewhat similar one) gave you advice, would you really consider them to be out of place?
    If they listened to what I had to say about my goals and experiences, and had ones similar enough to mine that they had useful advice? No, that would not be out of place. But telling me what I should be doing while ignoring what I tell them about what I’m trying to do? Yes, that’s out of place.
    I feel that people should always be called on bigoted statements, what I dispute is the idea that the first response should always be to yell at them.
    No one has said that yelling at them should always be the first response. Indeed, it is not usually my first response. Generally, I give people a chance to show good faith, and if they fail to do so, then I yell. But it is not appropriate for anyone else to tell me what to do about this.
    Ah, well then, I guess most of the above stops applying then, doesn’t it? Your method will certainly be better at that than asking nicely.
    I’m sorry, have you spent years trying both methods to see what works best? I have. And I have settled on the methods I have as the most effective ones for me.
    Er, isn’t that what zie’s doing?
    No. Posing absurd hypotheticals to a bunch of random people on the internet, who may or may not be well educated about the topic, is NOT doing research. If she actually wants to understand, she should go do actual research, by looking up facts and personal accounts.
    GDwarf, you sound very much as if you want to tell me how you think it is without attempting to understanding my viewpoint. I have heard viewpoints nearly identical to yours many, many, MANY FUCKING TIMES. Why on earth would you think otherwise? And yet I hold to mine. Could you maybe stop and think that I might have carefully considered reasons for that?
    Maybe you find something else works better for you. That’s fine. I’m not trying to tell you different, sorry if I come across like I’m trying to tell you how to live your life. Really, I’m not, for however much saying that is worth.
    Then stop saying “You should do X. X works better, while Y is bad for your cause,” particularly while ignoring what people are telling you that contradicts your theories. Because that is telling people what to do and how to live their lives. If you don’t want us to think that’s what you’re doing, then don’t sound like that’s what you’re doing. How hard is that?
    Now I have had my bruisy interactions with here, mild though they be, with MadGastronomer, but it was settled amicably (I hope!).
    You are one of my favorite people here, Pius.
    Actually, a number of my favorite people here are ones I’ve had to go all HULK SMASH on at some point or other. *shrug* Happens. And sometimes my favorite people here have told me off. That happens, too.

  • K.Chen

    If MLK Jr. had been kicking around on the internet arguing about the relative benefits and responsibilities of being a jerk or not, possibly.

    To clarify, I would possibly weigh in on the not jerk side. Which is not to say that not being a jerk is the same thing as saying “he just had to ask nicely to get white people to stop treating blacks as though they didn’t exist.”
    All of which is separate from the point that its ludicrous to compare MLK Jr. to the lot of us arguing on a forum on the net.

  • albanaeon, did you read any but the end of my post?

  • @Rebecca: Agreed
    Lincoln Inaugural is a 19th century equivalent of a sound bite. It is short and punchy and could be quoted in stump speeches and by military men going into battle.
    The Letter from the Birmingham Jail is a longer, deeper, more reasoned, more philosophical work.
    They are both great pieces of political speech.
    As much as I complain about my undergraduates those two (the letter and the speech) were among the pieces of rhetoric they could choose to analyze in one of their assignments and most of my students found them compelling and engaging.

  • So, if I understand this correctly, you’re roughly saying as a general rule that if:
    1.) you cannot accurately predict how people will respond to your tone/attitude/politeness and
    2.) you are in the minority or margin of society and
    3.) there is a history of people sharing a viewpoint opposed to yours acting in a similar unwanted manner
    then it is unfair to be asked to show “forbearance and gentility of expression.

    Well, duh.
    I used MLK Jr as my example because the people who wanted him to be niiiiiiiiiiiiice and go slooooooooooow were the ones who wanted him to show forbearance and gentility when they themselves did not have to and had no intention of changing their behavior to match his.

  • Emcee, cubed

    I have rarely seen someone harshly snapped at immediately for an unthinking or badly worded post here, unless they have a history of it (and we do have some of those). An “All you atheists/theists/liberals are stupid” type comment will get that, but I think deservedly so.
    More often I have seen conversations where someone says something problematic. Someone else points out that it’s problematic. The first person defends what they said. The second person points out why it is problematic. The first person goes on about how they don’t think it’s problematic. Maybe somewhere in there a couple of people pipe in to help the second person explain what was so problematic about it. Some others chime in to say they understand why the first person doesn’t see it as a problem. This goes on for a few pages. Then the first person, or one of their supporters goes on about censorship, or controlling language, or “You shouldn’t be so sensitive, it’s just words on the internet” or some such shit. Or maybe they just keep basing their arguments on assumptions that have been refuted several times, but have been ignored. The second person or one of their supporters loses their shit and goes off on a profanity tear. Suddenly, a third person who has not yet participated in the thread, tells the second person they should be nicer and profanity never solves anything. Maybe it’s a little condensed, but unless someone is blatantly obnoxious, it is pretty rare someone yelled at right away.
    And I don’t believe I have ever seen a post where someone said something problematic, another person pointed it out, and the first person went, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that, I’ll be more careful” and the first person continued to rail at them about it. The continued rail only happens when the first person refuses to acknowledge they did something wrong.

  • @Emcee, cubed: And I don’t believe I have ever seen a post where someone said something problematic, another person pointed it out, and the first person went, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that, I’ll be more careful” and the first person continued to rail at them about it. The continued rail only happens when the first person refuses to acknowledge they did something wrong.
    Having been on occasion the person who said something problematic and who realized when it was pointed out that it was problematic I found that saying “I’m sorry” was the end of it with two exceptions: people who came late to the thread and read and responded to my first statement before reading my “I’m sorry” (they usually end up profusely apologizing); and the person who pointed it out, who usually thanks me for my apology.
    All over with.
    Easy-peasy.

  • Wow — after Rebecca’s mention of the Letter from a Birmingham Jail I just went and reread it and think that King eloquently answered there, most of the questions that have been put forth in this thread about ‘being nice.’
    It is worth rereading.

    I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another mans freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro the wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating that absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

    Exerpt: Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Martin Luther King Jr., 1963.

  • Froborr

    Haven’t read the thread, but in response to the main post, it doesn’t matter. There is absolutely nothing you can say to this aunt; with modern conservatism stupid-evil has finally reached total, civilization-killing perfection. They have already won. Somewhere in the months after Deepwater Horizon I reached the nadir of political despair; it’s why I stopped blogging and mostly stopped commenting. I can’t watch the news anymore — it is nothing but disaster after disaster, and there seems to be no one in a position of power with any interest in doing anything other than perpetuating power.
    But I digress. The point is, the techniques of evil stupidity developed by the RTCs provide completely invincible armor against goodness and reason, and they are now being used everywhere, for everything. Nothing you could have said would have helped.

  • albanaeon

    Nope. And there’s really no point. You’re just another twit who thinks self-righteousness and a passing familiarity with bronze age myths somehow make you a superlative example of a human being who’s ideas and arguments, augmented by the power of JEEBUS, are invincible. You are going to shout a lot, spew dozens of unconnected arguments, belittling vitriol, blinding illogic, and take the inevitable “Go perform an impossible anatomical act with yourself” as proof that you’re right. I’ve seen dozens of you before and will undoubtedly seen dozen later. There’s no point in trying to debate you because YOU AREN’T HERE TO DEBATE. You’re here to wallow in you’re self-indulgent, Better Than Thou, fantasies about confronting the heathens, and in your mind, walking away secure in your own ideas of righteousness. Unfortunately, you will never realize that thinking, intelligent, people who have more compassion and virtue in their pinkies than you have in your entire, bloated ego, find you to be a pathetic, shriveled, turd of a person, gnawing on your wreck of a soul, drawing slight comfort from tortured Bible verses said as loudly as you can to cover the true shallowness of your beliefs. So do us all a favor, eh? Go back to your game and leave the rest of us to do the moral heavyweight lifting, okay? You’re not even in the same league as MG, Jason and the rest.

  • Consumer Unit 5012 is religiously opposed to abortion after the 48th trimester

    Apropos of the Great Floating Abortion Flamewar, there’s yet ANOTHER proposition on the Colorado Ballot this year to define fertilized egg cells as ‘people’. (They tried this in 2008, and it failed then, too.) I am _almost_ tempted to vote for this obviously terrible measure just for the resulting legal shitstorm, but the women of Colorado haven’t done ANYTHING to deserve that from me…