Questions Like Blankets; or, How to Disagree

It's 6:27. I've already had a cup of coffee, had a shower, coughed up this morning's remnant of the weekend's bout with the Black Death, and have decided that I am going to have something posted here before I leave for work at 8:30 (it's a late day). 

I don't know what it's going to say. That's okay.
I don't know what it's going to be about. That's okay, too. 

The honest truth is that I've neglected this site, and I feel slightly awful about it. It bears my name and I've let it sit, unbathed, on my bookmarks bar without even checking to see if it needs something to drink. I've blamed a million things, but no amount of skirting justifies neglect. Perhaps I'll just accept my place as a bad steward of the words. 

Since we've last spoken, I've been busy, and I've blamed that busyness. Since then, I've edited a total of (I tallied it just now) 312.4 manuscript pages of text and blamed that.
I've played music to almost ten thousand people at shows, festivals, one-offs, and camps, and I've blamed that.
I've run myself ragged keeping up with bills and a mortgage and planning a honeymoon and securing future jobs and making sure that, when I'm married in two months, I'll be able to occasionally eat food with my wife; I've blamed that. 

But it's blame. The one who blames and the one who is blameless are rarely the same. 

This Means I Need A Topic, Yes?

Yes. Thank you, rhetorically questioning inner-editor, keeping me pointed straight even when I resemble a caffeinated, hypoallergenic shih-tzoodle with loads of new smells around. I do. And I've just now settled on one and typed the second part of my title in the editor window. Such progress I'm making over here. It's a good day already.

First, let me (re)introduce myself.

Hello, my name is Hamilton. My ego is gigantic. I am stubborn as a shady dog in July. I am a spiritual wanderer, a textbook narcissist constantly in recovery from a crippling addiction to self, a doubter lost in fog and cave, and a cynic battling the consistent compulsion to exert my rightness. I'm bitter like black coffee and not nearly as good. 

Pleased to meet you. 

I was sitting at a local coffeeshop last night for a meeting of the local lecture "club" called Theology on Tap, listening to a thoroughly lovely talk about a hagiological argument for God's existence (to oversimplify: proving God's existence by the lives of extraordinary religious figures), and my favorite part of any lecture came up: the Q&A. 

Now, if you've never been to a scholarly lecture or a paper presentation or a religious-themed talk with a Q&A afterwards, you might imagine it is something quite different than it actually is. Here's the format:

-Emcee introduces the speaker with witty quips and high brow humor disguised as low-brow nudges.
-Speaker stands and presents his paper or his thesis or his talk over the course of the next hour or so. Often, the speaker will address in his thesis major problems or concerns that could arise from his position.
-Emcee stands amid applause and thanks the speaker for his time, allows a few minutes to refill drinks, to let the speaker wander among the audience, and to let everybody simmer over the information they just received.
-Emcee reconvenes everybody and opens the floor for questions. 
-Audience asks questions, speaker talks about them, and everyone leaves smelling of espresso and knowledge.

At the point of the question portion, everybody is leagues more relaxed than before, during the unavoidably stiff lecture time. The lectern, after all, is a sacred desk, one that focuses like a burning glass all of the attention in the room on the one standing behind it. For the questions, however, he's perhaps sitting. Or standing in front of it. Or on the floor with the commoners. Suddenly, he's a human being simply fielding questions like grounders in baseball practice on a field he himself mowed. 

This is also remarkable: everybody in the room respects that field. Our topic was a Hagiological Argument for God and whether that was a viable evidence for His existence; therefore, nobody asked him about the validity of a Deontological approach to morality. Paraphrased - the discussion was calm, reasoned, and focused. If a dissenting opinion arose, it was handled with grace and given room to be cultivated. 

Perhaps you skipped that last bit, so I'll write it again with different words: 
If someone disagrees with something the speaker said, they ask a question to bring their thought into play, and the speaker may concede part of his rightness for the greater cause of arriving at Truth. (Note: I have written many words about Truth, and will continue to do so probably until I die. My most recent one can be found here. I'm just saying this because I'll probably bring it up later. Can't say for sure, though. Truth is important, still. Anyway.)

So Why'd You Just Write The Same Sentence In Two Equally Annoying Ways?

Geez, editor. Calm down. 

Allow me to elaborate with a story. 

This month, the Christian part of the internet blew up. Exploded. Michael Gungor wrote this blog post (about his stance on a literal-or-not Genesis, in case you weren't already incensed by my bringing him up) and Christians lost their ever-loving minds. People became outspoken against the heretic Gungor; they publicly announced that they were smashing his CDs, promoters forfeited the downpayment that accompanies a signed contract for certain upcoming concert events, and myriad individuals climbed right up on their broadband high horse and said that they were praying for his poor, misled, "gonna-burn-unless-he-turns" soul. The writing room of every reality TV show in production couldn't have supplied better drama.

Now. Could Gungor have gone about doing this a different way? He absolutely could have. The easiest way to ensure you're going to not just reach the people you're talking to, but proceed to slap them in their peasant-y faces, is to belittle them (particularly in the Santa Claus references - I concede that he may not have intended to belittle anyone, as I see the point he was trying to make; but there is, at worst, an issue of tone that should have been addressed). But this is not the issue at hand. What bothers me the most about the whole situation is the response that flew at him, and I believe that it speaks to a deeper problem.

You Keep Pointing To Things, But You Never Make A Point. Get On With It.

^This guy, amiright?

I've told you the two different stories to highlight two different kinds of disagreement, both of them on philosophical grounds (though perhaps only the first truly understood them). One of them is healthy and the other one is, frankly, frustrating. 

The first one is the product of:
1) a well-developed and thoroughly-reasoned argument,
2) proper time to allow the information to simmer and the questions to form, and
3) an atmosphere conducive not to catering to the whims of those in contention, but to the acquisition, the focusing on, and the wrangling of truth. 

The second is a bit more dangerous, and bespeaks a slightly bigger problem (number three - which I'm afraid this generation is going to be famous for). Let's see what the second example of disagreement is a product of:
1) A probably well-intentioned, but ill-prepared, misplaced, and poorly-toned article,
2) A throng of people emotionally motivated to respond (many times, based on the comments I spent entirely too long reading, having clearly skipped major portions of the article in contention), and
3) The inability or unwillingness to entertain an idea or examine a truth claim that goes against something you've been taught or which you otherwise hold dear. 

My, this third one bothers me. 

Why Don't You Just Get Down To It And Explain Why It Bothers You. That'd Be Better Than Whatever You're Going To Do Otherwise.

Fine.

In order to deal with something as weighty as what Gungor was talking about, it requires concentrated thought and willingness to wrestle through something heavy. This is the polar, 180-degree opposite of everything about 21st century America.
-It's the reason that every single news outlet is biased: Because it all must be reduced to tweetable or easily digested bites, and paraphrasing almost always injects personal opinion. 
-It's the reason that things like Instagram and Vine are thriving: They provide you with almost endless entertainment at 6-second intervals. 
-It's the reason I see 20-somethings and 6-year-olds alike in public places (even among family and friends) with an iPhone illuminating their faces: We're not cultivating the ability anymore to entertain our minds or enjoy the company of those around us, and we're instead drawn like bugs into the blue light
-It's the reason that faith is on the decline among this generation: We want things that are increasingly easy to digest... but faith is something to be worked out with fear and trembling and blood and bitterness and doubt and questions and searching and acknowledgment of problems and issues and counterarguments and evidence and excellence.

Faith not fought for is not faith at all. 

 

Since I've committed to conceiving this, writing it, and publishing it in less than two hours, I'm required to wrap it up right now. If I could offer one piece of advice to my generation and the one behind me (and, perhaps, the one in front of me as well), it would be this: Be not afraid. 

Of silence. Of doubt. Of taking time to figure things out. Of fear, itself. Of putting the phone down for a minute and enjoying something beautiful for the sake of experiencing something beautiful, not to get #tagsforlikes #lol #sunset #nofilter. 

Do not fear big questions, for they're not far different from big blankets - there's room enough to roll around, to find your favorite corners, to keep you warm when it's particularly cold. And there's an Answer waiting for you to find Him. 

I think I just found the first part of my title. 

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.