You don't know quite how it happens, but you're having a normal conversation until the CONTROVERSY arrives in full regalia. Sarcasm flies from side to side -- snark snickers -- the others try to one-up each other in jokingly belittling that ridiculous belief, that absurd like, that knucklehead practice.
You get quieter and quieter. That ridiculous belief is yours. That absurd like is yours. That knucklehead practice is yours.
And nobody knows except, maybe, the one friend who notices the half-smile on your face, the semi-giggle -- and if he's amazing, he cuts in with a gentle volte face in the conversation.
I hate that suffocation.
It ticks me off when people bash Calvinism or belittle a movie or song that touched me or sarcastically question my convictions, all without knowing a representative of said beliefs and likes is standing two inches away from them. But I take it. It makes me laugh later on, makes me feel like I have a powerful little secret that I can launch on the unsuspecting circle and watch them scramble for all the nice things they never would have said otherwise. (I'm horrible like that.) And I smile to myself and maybe raise my eyebrows at a fellow underground compatriot. No big deal. I count that as tolerance.
But when it's my friend who's a different denomination and someone says something offhandedly rude -- I say nothing. When people are gossiping about a certain person who's different, I swallow hard -- and say nothing. When people disagree with me without knowing it on something important and life-changing and I have the perfect chance to share the truth, I take a deep breath -- and say nothing.
It's tolerance, no? Not making mountains out of mole hills, not rippling the water? I don't want to judge. I don't want to Bible-bash heads. I don't want to come across as the obnoxious know-it-all I can be quite well.
Love. Grace. And pray for the Lord to work. Tolerance.
I came from a legalistic "faith" to the saving grace in Christ. I don't want to go back -- nitpicking and smugly judging and naively determining. And I don't want to heap condemnation on others' heads. I want to speak truth, speak love, speak grace, and not jump on issues of second importance.
Now I'm not saying anything at all.
It amazes me how outspoken others are about their beliefs and practices, their church and doctrines, their lifestyles and choices. They never seem to feel the least hesitation in sharing their controversial opinion in public. They never appear to hold qualms about whether their voice would offend -- it's a group of friends, after all. They spill their opinions to me as if I have no feelings, no beliefs: just two stiff open arms awkwardly gathering in all this baggage no one else will listen to. Sometimes they offend me with the insensitive way their raw words don't even try to take into consideration the fact I might feel differently. But frankly, it doesn't bother me too much.
So why can't I share my thoughts?
I feel so offensive. Yes, I can be a total bonehead about grammar or Wuthering Heights or anything related to nothing important. There I dig in and fire both barrels. But in the natural course of conversation when opinions come up and I'm invited to share mine, I freeze. I freeze.
Because I know what to say. I know it's true. I've rehearsed the argument. I've thought out my opinion. It's not that.
And it's not because I'm tolerant or big-hearted or gracious. Or maybe it is -- in a sneaky, selfish way.
It's because I don't want to look bad. It's because I want to be liked -- permanently, ridiculously liked. If I mention the holes in a friend's belief or interject my own controversial opinion or spill a little more of what I truly feel, she might not like me anymore. Oh, she might talk to me -- but I might scare her off. I might lose her confidence. I might become a little niggle of irritation in the back of her mind.
That is horrible to me -- being disliked. Going from a pleasant, amiable person to That One Who Disagrees With Me On Some Issue.
If life were a game of gaining good graces -- but it isn't. Out there in this big world, there are truths, beautiful truths, that must be shared, that must be defended -- graciously, lovingly and out loud. Tolerance works when discussing pizza or favorite colors or even, I suppose, grammar rules. It fails miserably when dealing with life and death, truth and falsehood -- when the soul of another hangs in the balance next to my well-liked ego. Keeping the water calm is a cruel protection of my image when another or another's belief is being attacked unfairly.
How to do the seemingly impossible -- speak truth in love -- I do not have figured out. What I do know now is that Tolerance and Love can both be selfish covers for a heart that does not wish to look bad.