People tend to be surprised when I tell them I have a blog. Some are confused, and a few have no idea what a blog is. Most are simply surprised, wondering how I would find the time and energy to write something with any frequency.
The fact is, there’s a lot to write about, just in keeping up with the day-to-day discussions on other people’s (busier) blogs, and trying to participate in a conversation. I mean, I’m certainly opinionated, and I enjoy laying my thoughts out; but it’s pretty dull without someone to talk back. I do get comments on many of my postings, and I appreciate every person who responds; but rarely has there been enough exchange to speak of a conversation. So, I go elsewhere, as Terry Jones, “coming in for an argument.”
That’s an argument, as in “An argument is a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition.” And “An argument is a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition.” Some of you will recognize that from the “Argument Clinic” sketch, Monty Python’s Flying Circus,
Episode 29. Those who do will remember just how far in that quest Jones’s character actually got.
All of which is remarkably prophetic of the blogosphere. Oh, on a whole there are many folks making statements that go beyond simple assertion to actually make an argument. On the busier sites there can be participants in the conversations that want an argument, an exchange of ideas with opportunities for people to think, if not to be convinced. At the same time, there is an awful lot of assertion and contradiction our there pretending to be argument; and even those blog sites that do encourage many voices will have to put up with a significant measure of that. It becomes quite tiring, really.
Which is all the sadder, since the blogs I frequent are those of professing Christians, and specifically (usually) professing Episcopalians and Anglicans. I don’t know that those blogs are any better or worse than non- Episcopal and Anglican blogs, religious or otherwise. I only know that they do carry their share of blind assertion and contradiction and repetition adulterating, and sometimes overwhelming, efforts at argument.
That brings me to a comment I heard from my mother as I was growing up. I was instructed “to learn to disagree without being disagreeable.” I suppose often enough I was disagreeable, which usually meant loud and stubborn with an occasional moment of spite thrown in. And often enough I think my mother wanted me to be agreeable at the expense of my actually disagreeing. But in principle, the point was worthwhile: not to stop honest disagreement, but to present it calmly, rationally, or at least politely.
Now, that was frequently tied to the injunction from Ephesians 4:15 “to speak the truth in love.” I grew up in a culture that largely avoided emotional display, and in a household that largely avoided conflict. I suppose in that context it was not unexpected that “disagree without being disagreeable” and “speaking the truth in love” could sound a lot alike. It was also tied, in some mysterious way, with “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Yes, it made for some terrible mixed messages; but, well, there you are.
As I look at Episcopal and Anglican blogs, I find myself wrestling with what it means, “to speak the truth in love.” With that in mind, I did some digging, and found some variation in how different English translations have dealt with that phrase.“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (NRSV; RSV; NIV; KJV)
“we will speak the truth in love” (New Living Translation)
“Love should always make us tell the truth” (Contemporary English Version)
“we will lovingly follow the truth” (The Living Bible)
“we are meant to speak the truth in love” (Phillips Modern English)
“by speaking the truth in a spirit of love” (Today’s English Version [“Good News Bible”])
“If we live by the truth and in love” (Jerusalem Bible)
“let us speak the truth in love” (New English Bible)
“living the truth in love” (New American Bible with Revised New Testament)
Now, not all of these are the same provenance; but certainly all of them are faithful. All of them reflect the Greek: aletheuontes de en agape
. But, they certainly see some nuance in understanding. Mark the difference, for example, between focus on verbal communication and on the spirit that motivates the speech, or the life that gives context to the speech. And other commentators see and apply the broader context. In my Arndt and Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon,
the note is made of behaving “in such a way that the spirit of love is maintained.” In my Interpreter’s Bible, the commentator wrote, “The meaning of aletheuw
is wider than this: it includes such senses as “apprehending the truth, “ “living by the truth,” “being true,” not only in speech but even more in the whole inward disposition.”
And in that light, I am saddened by some of what I read on Episcopal and Anglican blogs. Sure, some there are trying to disagree lovingly, even if they don’t always manage not being disagreeable. Most are there lovingly, trying to form an argument. But there are always those on both ends of any discussion who are simply into contradiction, and whose speech seems to carry little of the love to which we are called. To do that would require, I would think, some humility, and some sense that the other person is worthy of respect, even if a given opinion isn’t. Simple contradiction isn’t an argument; and playing “Gotcha!” can’t build up the body.
Moreover, in that light, what might I expect of the lives, the contexts, from which unloving speech arises? If the Greek carries beyond simple verbal assertion to encompass the life, the soul that speaks, what sort of person should I expect? Now, I’m the first to recognize that people are as truly themselves on line as they wish to be, and certainly no more. I cannot be certain of any person, based solely on what I read on the screen. At the same time, I think – I hope - that most of us in these conversations are trying to be honest, at least in the opinions we express; and not simply choosing our words to pick a fight, or to pick a scab.
In these Christian and specifically Episcopal and Anglican blogs, there are some discussions that can bring me to thought, to reflection, to be concerned for others and to honor others. I seek myself to speak the truth as I see it, as lovingly as I can – and still trying not to be disagreeable. For the exchanges I enjoy I will still seek to share thoughts on line with others, hoping all will “speak in love the truth they live.” And I do that knowing I’ll see some things that, all in the name of Christ, speak without any apparent love at all. It will make me sad. I can only wonder what Christ himself must think.