One each appointed day (multiples of seven, if you hadn’t noticed), I’ve been trying to cultivate the habit of coming home from work, turning on my computer, and putting together each post for this blog before I do anything else. Today, I had such a soul-sucking day that I just couldn’t write. Sometimes when this happens, I need to put myself in a better frame of mind by reading a book or watching a movie that makes me laugh. Today, it didn’t work. That’s because today’s drain wasn’t just the constant irritation of work-as-usual, which consists of sensory overload and an abundance of petty sniping between coworkers. Today someone attacked my faith. Not personally. I’m pretty sure she didn’t even know what she said could be taken personally by someone like me, because I do not fit her preconceived notion of a Bible-believing Christian. She belongs to the raging ultra-liberals. She does good work with underprivileged black kids and participates in teachers’ union politics to defend her profession. If you asked her to draw a picture of a Bible-believing Christian, she would sketch something out of a tabloid, a creature with teeth numbering in the single digits and an IQ only slightly higher, born to suppress other people’s liberties by bludgeoning them with a hardcover King James. You see, she doesn’t actually know any. Or she doesn’t recognize any, although she might exchange greetings with at least half a dozen on a regular basis as she walks through the halls of our school, because (as I said) they don’t fit her preconceived notions—her prejudices, if you will.
I owe a big thank you to my newest Facebook friend, Joel, because when I posted my frustrations he responded with the usual Christian reaction: They don’t object to other religions, only to ours. I’m glad he did, because he made me uncomfortable with my own perspective on this incident, and through that discomfort I emerged from my funk at last. I hate the usual reaction, specifically because it is a reaction. I hate having my thoughts, emotions, or actions dictated by those of another. I always have hated this with a passion—just ask my mother. (Poor Mom. The older I get, the more I admire the fact that she and Dad raised me to adulthood without resorting to infanticide.) Reactionary thinking drives me absolutely spare because it means I’ve yielded the initiative to another. Call me contrary, but it’s true.
That’s part of the reason why writing is so important to me. I need space to compose my thoughts into an order that pleases me, all the more so when my emotions are stirred. Writing is a way to think out loud in a deliberate, unhurried manner, safe from the rudeness of interruption that so many argumentative people fall into when they feel that my ideas are less worth hearing than their own rebuttal. If I can put my thoughts in order via print, whether in ink or in pixels, I can retrieve my sangfroid (also important to me, as you might have guessed). A charitable spirit is impossible for me without at least a pinch of sangfroid.
Thus, through the wonders of asynchronous communication, I have come to a conclusion about the teacher I mentioned previously. I’ll tell you what I told Joel: this is not a battle I must fight. As soon as I begin to consider it in that light, I might as well concede defeat. There’s a much better way to consider it. You see, I grew up in a very safe environment, a world where all I really knew was the community of believers and a few approved outsiders. I have never suffered a substantial challenge to my beliefs, because everyone around me agreed on the same basic—I don’t know if I’d call it courtesy. Perhaps I’d better refer to it as shared social mores. I no longer have this buffer around me, and that’s a very good thing. I must hone my abilities. I can write fantasy for my own enjoyment, but there’s another side to my persona. I have a fiction self and a nonfiction self. I am designed to be an apologist, I suspect. Such a person can’t afford thin skin. So, in that sense, I owe God thanks for bringing me my prejudiced activist colleague. In order to take and keep the initiative, I need to begin to find ways to communicate with her in an honest and charitable manner. I refuse to fall back on typical reactions. I can’t afford it, since I never know whether I might be the only member of the community of believers to cross paths with this woman in a given day. I need to find ways to make it clear who I am—who I really am—so that the Lord Jesus might make himself known to her through me. That is what “Christian” means: Christlike one. It is my great privilege to be the image of Christ. She gives me a chance to do just that. Therefore, she is a blessing to me. How can I be any less to her?