I ran across a handout which was distributed to participants in a weekend seminar dealing with issues of conflict resolution, group communication dynamics and the like. The two page handout was an excerpt from a book written by Margaret J. Wheatley called Turning to one another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future (SF: Berrett-Koshler Publishers, Inc, 2002).
Wheatley writes, “As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally — our willingness to be disturbed. Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think. No one person or perspective can give us the answers we need to the problems of today. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don’t know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time.
“We weren’t trained to admit we don’t know. Most of us were taught to sound certain and confident, to state our opinion as if it were true. We haven’t been rewarded for being confused. Or for asking more questions rather than giving quick answers.”
I like Wheatley’s suggestion that most of us probably need to be willing to be disturbed. However, I don’t think she’s suggesting — perhaps it’s not even possible — that we embrace disturbance as the leit motif of our existence. I don’t want to be, or to be known as, a disturbed individual. But I am willing to be pushed out of my comfort zone with regard to certain areas of my belief system. There are some beliefs, however, that I don’t want disturbed, and I am quite happy with that.
This is not to suggest that these “protected” areas—tenets and dogmas that are non-negotiable or untouchable—are being protected because I think they are vulnerable to criticism, that they’d collapse under the weight of scrutiny. No, they’re protected right now because I am disturbed on so many other levels and concerning so many other issues. I can handle only so much disturbance! Know what I mean?
For example, I am a theist. I am really comfortable with that. Do you want to talk to me about it, challenge me, debate, argue with me? Fine. But I am not really open to changing my view or position. It’s closed. I believe in God. I got other things in this complex world right now that are pushing around my pre-conceived ideas, biases and prejudices. You’re not going to disturb me about my faith in God. Not going to happen.
So, like you, I have topics, dogmas and beliefs on which I've hung a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign. Not only am I a theist, I am also a Christian. I am not a vegan and never will be. I don’t want to be told about the dangers of eating red meat or drinking diet soda. You can’t convince me that "Downton Abbey" is good television. I believe the Cubs are going to win the pennant someday. I am a PC person, not a MAC person, and that’s not going to change. And on a couple big ticket political issues, my opinion is formed—in concrete.
But, engage me on most other issues, and I am willing to be informed and disturbed. And here’s the thing: It’s being willing to be disturbed on the little stuff that comes up day-to-day at home or at work or school that’s important. In your relationships, can you be pushed, jogged, nudged, challenged—without reacting defensively?
As preachers, we are called to disturb. No argument there. But we also need to remember that not everyone is ready to be disturbed about everything and about everything all the time. Sometimes, we got to give it a rest. There’s a time to sing a lullaby, and there’s a time to blow a trumpet.
And we also need to give people the right to hang a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign and honor that—unless the building’s on fire. In such cases, speaking metaphorically, we need not only to disturb, but intervene. And that’s another discussion …