lenten journal: right


One of the items on my bucket list is to attend a TED (Technology Education Design) Conference. By now, I imagine most of you are acquainted with TED talks and the variety of subjects they cover. I find them inspirational and challenging. TED 2016 begins today. I wish I were there.

In the days we were with my mother in hospice, my brother and I had a lot of time to talk and which TED talks were our favorites was one of the on going discussions. Miller mentioned one I had not seen by a woman named Kathryn Schulz titled “On Being Wrong.” Early in the talk she asked people what it felt like to be wrong. When they answered they felt embarrassed or humiliated, she reminded them they were describing what it felt like to find out your wrong. For the most part, we don’t think we’re wrong and when we encounter those who disagree with us—whom we think are wrong—we explain their stance in one of three ways:

The Ignorance Assumption—they just don’t know
The Idiocy Assumption—they have all the information, but they can’t figure it out.
The Evil Assumption—they are deliberately distorting the truth for their malevolent purposes.

Schulz continues:

This misses the whole point of being human. We want everyone else to see life our way. The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is, but that you can see the world as it isn’t. We can imagine what it’s like to be some other person in some other place.

Her statements connected with a book my brother and I are reading together called The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions by Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright. If you are familiar with current theology, you will recognize the two names as learning progressive and conservative theologians, respectively. (Borg died about a year ago, but his scholarship lives on.) Contrary to the consistent pattern of our culture of listening mostly to those who agree with us, the two men struck up a friendship and wrote alongside each other, rather than against. In their introduction, they say they hoped to speak to three categories of “interested readers”:

First, we hope that those who would not call themselves Christians will find the conversation interesting and refreshing . . . .
Second, we hope to shift the log jammed debates into more fruitful possibilities . . . .
Third, we hope to open up more specifically the perennially important question of how different visions of Jesus relate to different visions of the Christian life.

Then they said,

It might be that one of us is closer to the truth in some areas, and the other in others; and that by our dialogue we may see more clearly things that the other has grasped more accurately. We are both prepared for that eventuality. (ix, x)

The third strand to this braid of thought came from reading Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s tribute to her fellow Supreme Court Justice and friend, Antonin Scalia. They were poles apart philosophically and yet, as she put it, “best buddies.”

Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: ‘We are different, we are one,’ different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his ‘energetic fervor,’ ‘astringent intellect,’ ‘peppery prose,’ ‘acumen,’ and ‘affability,’ all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp.

Justice Scalia once described as the peak of his days on the bench an evening at the Opera Ball when he joined two Washington National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs. He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.

At the end of her talk, Schulz said to rediscover wonder in our lives we need to step outside of “that tiny terrified space of rightness” and look around and look out. What I see as I look at Borg and Wright, as well as Ginsberg and Scalia, is honest relationships—real friendships—dispel fear. Ginsberg saw her friend’s powerful dissents as refiner’s fire; neither Wright nor Borg feel the need to defend their position at the expense of the other. We learn to live with being both right and wrong in the context of relationships because that is where we best come to the realization that being right is not the primary value. Nothing changes when we spend most of our energy screaming, “You’re wrong” at someone else. All you have to do is watch anything having to do with Congress to see that. No one appears to be listening. No one thinks he or she is wrong. They appear to be scared to death not only that they might not get their way but also that the other side might have a point. As a result, we have a broken and ineffective government.

My point is not to make a political commentary as much as to say I am reminded in these days—again—that the world will be changed by not by those who force their rightness on others but by those who know how to listen to one another. As I have said before, never trust a zealot with a clear conscience. As I have quoted Ginger before, let us be ones who choose relationships over doctrine. Being right is not the most important thing.

Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly . . . .



  1. Thank you for bringing us along on this Lenten journey. I look forward to waking up each day and finding your perspective in my e-mailbox. Each post allows me to think outside “my box”, and for that, I’m grateful. This particular post is very powerful to me. I’m going to be reading this one for a very long time. Thank you for sharing your spirit, and your mind.

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