Saturday, October 4, 2008

Tolerance

Tolerance: "a fair, objective and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, nationality, religion, etc. differ from one's own. Freedom from bigotry."

The other day, J got into a discussion with some co-workers/friends about the issue of abortion.  Now my son doesn't back away from arguments very often, even when he's in the minority.  And in this group, he was definitely in the minority.  The question, he said, is based on when life begins. Then he talked about what churches believe.  And a girl interrupted him to say, "This has nothing to do with church."  She was angry, which made J very frustrated.  He told us, "She tried to tell me that Christians are intolerant, but she was far less tolerant than I was."  I've had this same kind of experience--being accused, without any evidence, of being narrow-minded simply because I profess Jesus as Lord.  These accusations have come from people, who, in my mind, are exhibiting the very intolerance of which they accuse Christians.

A couple days later, after a small incident at school, Beve told me he had a great sharing question for his early morning 'coffee klatch,' a group of teachers who congregate in his office an hour or more before school starts.  These teachers always have lively discussions as they sit on Beve's couch and get energized.  It's Beve's favorite part of the day.  I've often wanted to stop by, just to join the conversation, but 6:00 am is far too early for me to be coherent.  Anyway, his conversation starter was, "In what ways are you intolerant?"

Wow, what a great question, I think.  And, I knew instantly where my biggest biases lie.  It has to do with education.  Specifically, I have an instinctive reaction to people who do not speak correctly, because it sounds like a lack of education, as well as simple laziness. I'm not talking about accents, because different parts of the country also use words differently.  But using improper grammar, sounding 'folksy' and peppering one's conversation with idioms and slang (not to mention curse words) annoys me deeply.  In fact, it bothers me so much that I instinctively tune out the speaker, and stop taking them seriously.  And I was struck by this propensity of mine to judge a person by their ability to speak the other night during the VP debate.  The folksy, downhome way the Alaskan governor spoke increasingly annoyed me as I listened to her.  After a while, I stopped being able to hear the content of her words because I was so aware of how she drops final consonant sounds, how she uses 'Yeah,' and 'you know,' and said, "Joe six-pack" as a way to describe middle-class men.  And said, "Say it ain't so, Joe," to Joe Biden... It made her seem hickish to me.  Based on nothing more than language.  To be completely transparent, I always think I'm smarter than such a person...

Admitting this doesn't mean I'm liable to change very easily.  I was raised in a rather cerebral, academic family.  In my family, education is prime.  Both of my grandfathers were college profs, as well as my dad (and father-in-law). My mom was a teacher.  I remember conversations with my parents when I was a long ways away from marriage that it would be difficult for them if we married people who hadn't gone to college.  It was taken for granted that we would be college graduates ourselves. And I'm not talking about community college, either.  No, a 4-year liberal arts university was the only option for my parents' children.

Six years ago when E was a high school senior, she dutifully applied to six or so (I honestly can't remember now) different colleges.  She was accepted into every place she applied.  But after looking at these schools, making a tentative plan, she found out she could play basketball for our local community college. And suddenly everything changed.  The chance to play a couple years longer--it was like a dream come true. 
When she told us it was what she wanted to do, the Beve, a college hoopster as well, was instantly supportive.  I, on the other hand, was quite conflicted about it.  It was easy to understand why she'd want to go that route.  Athletic careers end all too soon for most people.  The opportunity to extend it was very appealing.  But, it was community college.  And in my family, not quite acceptable.
During that same spring, Beve was interviewed by our local paper about educational options after high school, the fall E started at the community college.  He told the interviewer that to my family--my mom, particularly--it was like we'd allowed E to go into prostitution.  Oddly (or maybe not), that quote made the paper. 

Looking back, I can see clearly how it was the right decision for E in every way. Her career choice changed as a result of the leadership opportunities she had at WCC, her athletic career ended gracefully, and she learned many intangibles in those two years.  Plus, it cost her nothing--NOTHING--to go to community college, after all her talent awards were given.

The thing about intolerance is that we close our minds to any way but the one we know.  We become smaller and smaller.  It's like Jesus eating with the tax-collector.  The masses couldn't believe He would associate with such a sinner.  But that tax-collector not only gave his life to following Jesus, but was used by Him to write down the story of Jesus' life and ministry.  The amazingly learned gospel of Matthew, written by one who had walked with Jesus, been saved by Him, and understood how the scriptures had been fulfilled by Him.  He was used by God, Matthew was.

And who knows who God will use in my life?  Who knows what it takes for any person to be His instrument?  When I hear Christ's voice in my head, He speaks in English, with perfect diction. Pretty ridiculous, when I stop to think about it.  Jesus spoke aramaic. He certainly didn't go to university.  Perhaps, though I hate to admit it, I'd be put off by His language as well. 

Perhaps I am so busy listening to the way people speak that I don't listen to what they have to say.  So busy cringing, correcting, judging, I miss something far more important, like truth.  It's possible.
Change my heart, oh God. Let me overcome my own heritage, my own biases. Overpower my weakness in this area. Please, Lord.

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