Last night’s lecture by Pete Rollins was wonderful, and the party afterward was even better. He said a lot of stuff I’ve heard him say before, and a couple of things that were fresh and quite penetrating (or perhaps I just missed him saying them before). I’m sure I’ll have more to say about his content later.
But on a meta-level, what struck me from start to finish was the weird sense of formality there was among the people sharing the stage with Pete. It existed among the rank-and-file folks in the hallways and aisles and basement fellowship hall, too: an almost uniform statement of dissent from Pete’s ideas. Whether in the introduction before his talk, or the formal response after it, or in the Q & A, or even in the conversations elsewhere, everyone seemed compelled to talk about their disagreement with Pete.
“…now I don’t agree with everything he said…”
“…I’m not sure about…”
“…on page 73…”
“…I was with him up until…”
Which seemed very strange to me. I mean, does anyone completely agree with anyone else, ever? It is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said, yet people are so concerned about being right– or about giving the appearance that they are smart or more well-informed– that everyone says it. And it’s especially noticeable around a guy like Pete who deconstructs both himself and the discourse before each of his talks by saying, “I don’t agree with everything I’m about to say. It’s my job to provoke you, and it’s your job to resist me.” So why does everyone go to such lengths to formally state and restate their disagreement?
Now I certainly understand the politics at play here. The educational institution that kindly sponsored the event has donors and constituents, professors and students and administrators. It is important for them to keep all of these people happy, lest they die. And I’m certainly not complaining, since I walked in free of charge, checked my kid into the nursery, and ate two cookies afterward. But why all the chafing, the joking, the preening, the throat-clearing, the jockeying for theological and doctrinal position?
This assumption that we all agree is a kind of myth, methinks. No one actually expects that we will ever completely agree with anyone else. The myth is not true. But by bowing to the myth, we make it true. Worst of all, we lose the sense of friendship that might otherwise rule the day– we can be friends with one another first, apart from our opinions and beliefs. And by doing so, we can learn from one another. Maybe even be transformed by one another. But if we only ever see through the distorted lens of our own preconceptions, we’ll never see what the other person is offering us. If we can’t accept the other on their own terms, then we’ll be stranded on an island of our own rightness.