Friday, March 4, 2011
If anything will doom the conversation that Missouri needs to have it is when we focus on the little things that get on our nerves instead of hearing the whole thing. I am not suggesting that I am immune from this. I am not. I struggle with the same temptation to sift through things and find something that hits my hot button and then react to that instead of overall article. It is, probably, human nature, but it will surely kill the very dialog that we need to have.
So what do we do? I would suggest that we learn to ignore the obvious things that touch a nerve and listen to the rest of it, reacting to the larger thrust of the article before addressing any of the specifics that we find objectionable. As an example, I read Burkee's book on the power and politics of the Missouri Synod in the 1960s and 1970s but his repeated error of calling Robert Preus the older brother instead of Jack Preus (who was four years older than Robert) almost caused me to put the book down. In the end I felt compelled to mention this flaw in the book (which should have been caught by a good editor or proofreader) and used it to paint the whole scholarship of the author. That was not exactly accurate. I did find much in the book both accurate from what I knew and experienced living through those years and even learned a few things. I am still not much of a fan since I believe there were broad strokes that were not fair (such as painting Missouri's conflict in the context of Nixon's resurgence of the right after the rebellion of the 1960s). In the end it was a good read and I was glad to have read it.
I believe that most Lutherans would find things in Luther that they cannot believe or abide (his more Marian devotion than ours today, being one of them). But we do not judge Luther on the basis of every one of his written words. We make a judgment of him based upon the whole of his contribution. The great tendency of worship wars or communion wars or Bible wars is to nit pick and to tear down the big things by nibbling away at the small things. If our church body is to find some consensus, if we are to heal the divisions, or if we are to learn together, we will need to resist the great temptation to react to the raw nerve things and speak to the major thrust of the article first.
Both sides of these Missouri wars have a well-deserved reputation for prejudging, for dismissing because of details, or for refusing to listen to anything by this author or that. It is not helpful to us. We need to be serious and we need to seriously address some of those divisions that are testing the very seams of the garment that is Missouri. At the same time, we best address those divisions more with a needle and thread and less with a scissors.
On many issues I am probably pretty right of center in Missouri; on others I am in the middle. On one or two I am probably left of center (at least judging from the blogosphere and the comments on this particular blog). I suspect that each of us has some of the same contradictions within us. Missouri's strength of the past and the promise of its future lies in our willingness to listen a bit more and to react more deliberately than instinctively.