WARNING: slight profanity– quoted — below.
In the comic novel, Through the Fields of Clover, by Peter de Vries (1961), one of the sub-plots involves Harry Mercury, a comedian who hosts a TV variety show. His “people” and those of another TV host, Lew Pentecost, devise a plan where the two comics would “feud” with each other over the course of the season. The idea would be that both shows would benefit, because audiences would tune in every week to see what insults each comic would hurl at the other.
(People of an older generation will recall that Jack Benny and Fred Allen did the same thing, with remarkable success. A typical insult would be Fred Allen, “When Jack Benny plays the violin, it sounds like the strings are still in the cat!”*)
Alas, the wheels fall off the plan when one of Harry Mercury’s writers writes some jokes that make fun of Lew Pentecost’s obesity and the size of his nose. Pentecost hits the ceiling when he sees the jokes. As Mercury’s two writers try to decide how to salvage the deal, one of them says, “It stands to reason that you can’t have a feud with a goddam sore-head!”
That line keeps coming back to me when I look at the level of discourse in our society these days. Not just in the things people say, but in the reactions.
A few days ago, a female member of Canada’s parliament was speaking about the recent murder of a prostitute in Montreal, making the case that the government needs to do more to protect sex workers. A male MP from another party asked her if she had considered sex work.
In the uproar, the male MP apologized unreservedly, and tried to explain what he meant, but his meaning was lost in the controversy of the way he said it.
As I understand it, the MP was not asking the other member if she had considered going into sex work, but was leading to a point that “sex work” is not something any woman or girl should be forced into.
This is not about that discussion. It’s about the fact that there are a whole lot of complex issues in our world, and people are so divided and entrenched in their views, that anyone who tries to have a conversation about these issues needs to be really careful how they broach the subject.
Point One: we need to lighten up. Just because someone disagrees with us doesn’t make them evil or even inferior to us. And let’s try to grant someone the grace to realize they’re saying something with the best of intentions.
In other words, don’t be a ****** sore-head.
But my main point is, the male MP could have put his point better, if he’d paused to consider Jesus’ words.
“Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say.
“For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you should say.”– Luke 12:11-12
Does that apply to parliamentary debate, or even everyday conversation? I’d say it does: if we can rely on the Holy Spirit to give us the words we need when our faith is on trial and our lives are on the line — as Jesus says it would be, in front of the synagogues, magistrates and authorities — how much more can we rely on Him to give us the right words in everyday conversation?
We need to do more of that. The Holy Spirit is about responding to a situation, not reacting to it. Humankind has been all about reacting since The Garden, and look at the state we’re in now. Time and time again, God calls us to suppress our animal instinct
The case of “What if …?” is this. What if that MP had taken the time to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in making his point about prostitution? What if the MPs who shouted, in a knee-jerk reaction, “Shame!” across the floor had prayed for understanding as to what he was getting at?
What if … when we share our views on any subject, whether it’s known to be controversial or no, we stop, drop and pray, asking the Holy Spirit to give us the guidance we need? And then listen, as He tells us what to, how to and even (dare I say it?) whether to speak.
What if … we were to do the same when someone comes at us with a view we don’t agree with?
Eldridge Cleaver once said, “Too much agreement kills a chat.” We’ll probably have a lot better chats, and get a lot more done, if we learn to engage the Holy Spirit before we put the mouth in motion.
*In olden days, violin strings were made of cat-gut. Do not despair, fellow cat lovers: “cat”-gut was actually taken from sheep. Why it was called cat-gut probably has a very good reason, but I don’t feel like looking it up.