Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Standing in the middle

I haven't written a Christmas/annual letter in years. To anyone. But this year I'm trying to write such a letter. At least to a few friends.

Anyway. I was thinking yesterday morning . . . uhhhh writing yesterday morning . . . about some of the struggles I've been having with my dad. (NOTE: Not that he has caused me trouble directly. Rather, I have been troubled by some of his behaviors. And so I have struggled, internally, to know how I ought to respond. . . .)

I wrote yesterday:

It bugs me (and others of my siblings) that he seems so . . . dishonest. One of my siblings called him a "chameleon." It's hard to know what he is really thinking because he seems to take on a different persona depending on who he is with. [That is most evident when it comes to religion. Depending on who he is with, he will come across as a devout Jew, or evangelical Christian, or secularist, or New Age follower. . . . But the same "go along to get along" attitude and behavior seems to permeate his life elsewhere as well.]
I had just written this and then it struck me: There are very positive aspects of this personality trait. Indeed, doesn't my whole desire to "stand in the middle" and "bring opposing viewpoints together" come from my dad? (I think so!)

And, in a way--in a way--doesn't St. Paul seem to speak positively of this trait when he says, "To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law . . . , so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law . . . , so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:20-22; NIV)? Again: I think so!

So the ability to shift personas, as it were, can have positive attributes. It can be used for good purposes. And I pray my use of this ability to "become as" may be for good purposes.

It is, I think, a unique ability or strength--a talent?--I have: always to be able to "go to the other side" in an argument to seek to understand the other viewpoint, indeed, to "take on" the other viewpoint to such a degree that people on "my" side think I am "enemy."


Something else along the same lines.

Now, this morning, I just realized I never posted what I thought I had posted a month ago. Something about a man whom--without, honestly, knowing that much about him--I believe is a kind of "hero" to me, a "kindred spirit" or some such: Philipp Melanchthon.

As I say, I know very little of Melanchthon, other than that, according to my understanding, he was always seeking to bring about peace between otherwise warring factions. And he was criticized for it. Some of the same kinds of criticisms (he was too diffident and lacking in decisive backbone) that my siblings and I have raised against our father. As the Wikipedia article about him notes:

[T]he Augsburg confession . . . was mainly the work of Melanchthon. . . . Luther did not conceal the fact that the irenical attitude of the confession was not what he had wished, but neither he nor Melanchthon was conscious of any difference in doctrine, and so the most important Protestant symbol is a monument of the harmony of the two Reformers on Gospel teachings. Some would say that at the diet Melanchthon did not show that dignified and firm attitude which faith in the truth and the justice of his cause could have inspired in him, perhaps because he had not sought the part of a political leader, as he may have lacked the necessary knowledge of human nature, as well as energy and decision. [Emphasis added--JAH]
Later, the article notes,

Melanchthon's importance for the Reformation lay essentially in the fact that he systematized Luther's ideas, defended them in public, and made them the basis of a religious education. . . . Melanchthon was impelled by Luther to work for the Reformation; his own inclinations would have kept him a student. Without Luther's influence Melanchthon would have been "a second Erasmus," although his heart was filled with a deep religious interest in the Reformation. While Luther scattered the sparks among the people, . . . Melanchthon's many sidedness and calmness, his temperance and love of peace, had a share in the success of the movement.
And then,

As a Reformer Melanchthon was characterized by moderation, conscientiousness, caution, and love of peace; but these qualities were sometimes said to only be lack of decision, consistence, and courage.
I would desire for myself to be a man of moderation and conscientiousness and known for my love of peace. I am not so sure I seek caution, however!

Still. There is something in what I have read about Melanchthon's character that resonates with me.

And then there is that other man of roughly the same period in history: Desiderius Erasmus.

I once told Sarita that I thought he was a kind of hero to me as well, a man whose character I believe I seek to emulate. (Not out of any conscious wish to be like him. I mean, simply, that I desire and naturally pursue the kind of character qualities and behaviors I sense Erasmus had.)

Sarita responded with horror at the thought.

But I have just read his summary biography at Wikipedia and I think I was not as wrong as she seems to believe. "[P]artisanship was foreign to his nature and his habits," says the article.

And yet, the article notes:

Erasmus was sympathetic with the main points in the Lutheran criticism of the Church. He had great respect for Martin Luther, and Luther . . .hoped for his cooperation in a work which seemed only the natural outcome of his own. . . . [But] Erasmus declined to commit himself, arguing that to do so would endanger his position as a leader in the movement for pure scholarship which he regarded as his purpose in life. Only as an independent scholar could he hope to influence the reform of religion. When Erasmus hesitated to support him, the straightforward Luther felt that Erasmus was avoiding the responsibility due either to cowardice or a lack of purpose. Erasmus, however, . . . believed that there was room within existing formulas for the kind of reform he valued most.

Ah, yes! Common themes! "Cowardice." "Lack of purpose." Or as one of the partisans of our day has said of me: too much "compromise"!

And then the traditional difficulty of the person in the middle: Erasmus was "too Catholic for the Protestants" and "too Protestant for the Catholics." Thus, as the Wikipedia article says of his Legacy:

The Catholic Counter-Reformation movement often condemned Erasmus as having "laid the egg that hatched the Reformation." Their critique of him was based principally on his not being strong enough in his criticism of Luther, not seeing the dangers of a vernacular Bible and dabbling in dangerous scriptural criticism that weakened the Church's arguments against Arianism and other doctrines. . . .

Reformation supporters see Erasmus's critiques of Luther and lifelong support for the universal Catholic Church as damning. His reception was particularly cold by the Reformed Protestant groups.

Just some meditations on a theme.

I realize I am nowhere near as irenic as perhaps I could be. When I am committed to an idea in the area of marketing, for example, I will wrestle it to the ground.

But in more philosophical or theological areas, for some reason, though I love to "work" in those areas, I am happier, I think, to "float" and not come down too strongly on one side or another.
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