Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Having a sense in common: Bernie & the Apostle Paul

One of my most treasured friends is a retired Jewish attorney named Bernie. He resumed his law practice a few years ago, until a stroke last year - on his 83rd birthday - forced him to finally slow down a bit.

Bernie and I get together for a meal once every 3 to 4 months and spend a couple of hours talking politics. We find that we agree on much even though we arrive at our positions from different perspectives. My political positions are largely informed by my Baptist Christian ethic of justice, grace, and freedom, whereas Bernie's are informed, for the most part, by his unswerving commitment to justice, fair play, and the U.S. Constitution. But our conclusions are in agreement more often than not.

However, one ongoing disagreement we have is about the word "humility." Bernie grew up in the Bronx and served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and he has told me more than once of threatening to deck any guy who questioned his patriotism. Bernie has encountered too many phonies using the most spurious criteria as tests of his patriotism, and he hasn't the patience to be "humble" in responding to them.

Then I explain what "humility" means to me, and our disagreement seems to fade. Humility, to me, means accepting that I don't have a monopoly on the truth, that I don't perfectly know the mind of God, that the other person might in some instances have a better understanding of the truth than I do. In other words, accepting that I could be wrong and the other fellow could be right.

"Sure," Bernie replies, "but that's not 'humility.' That's just common sense."

So our disagreement is more semantical than substantial. And I agree with Bernie that what I call "humility" is really common sense.

Only . . . that sense doesn't seem to be very common today.

"Compromise" has become a dirty word. Why? Because too many insist that their own particular perspective is absolute truth.

Our U.S. Congress is in a permanent state of gridlock, because the old give-and-take has been replaced by simply take, with no give. Political parties insist on "ideological purity." But that assumes that one person's ideology - or philosophy - or theology - can be totally "pure." (In matters of biblical interpretation among Baptists, "ideological purity" becomes "theological conformity," again assuming that one Baptist - or a group of Baptists - has a corner on theological truth.)

In politics - whether presidential, legislative, or Baptist - "moderates" have been given a bad name. The purists - the fundamentalists, if you will - accuse moderates of having no principles, standing for nothing.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth. I'm a moderate not because I have no principles or beliefs, but because I believe we all have some truth on our side, but none of us has the whole truth. After all, you'll never learn anything if you insist that you already have all the answers.

Too many politicians - and yes, too many Christian leaders - claim to know the whole truth, whether it pertains to secular politics or theology and ethics.

The Apostle Paul spoke boldly, never pulling his punches, never apologizing for strong, even dogmatic, statements in proclaiming his faith in Christ. Yet it was he who admitted, in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV),
"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
For all his boldness, Paul used that chapter we know today as "the love chapter" to remind us that boldness and truth mean nothing without love and grace.

And love and grace are impossible without humility. Or, as Bernie calls it, "common sense."

For more on this subject, read David Currie's "The Certitude Disease," A Rancher's Rumblings, April 24, 2009.

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