It was conversation that was like sea foam – light, inconsequential, momentary – the type you have because you’re walking along side of someone or you’ve bumped into them at work. There’s no agenda other than pleasantries. So it came as a shock when I was accused of ‘putting down’ the person. All of a sudden the last 5 minutes were not what I thought they were! I was surprised to say the least and couldn’t see how she could have misunderstood me. (Didn’t she know who I was?!) There was no malice in what I was saying as I replayed the conversation quickly in my mind. Yet it came across as negative, a put down. Where did it go wrong? The previous comment? The one before that? Did I mishear something? When did we part company while talking to each other? Was it because we’re different nationalities? Did we start ‘wrong’? You can’t delete the conversation and trying to explain or defend oneself didn’t suit the situation. So we parted company with me labelling the event ‘misunderstanding’ and I imagine she thinking ‘jerk’.
I’ve thought about the conversation from time to time, trying to understand it. Of course I won’t specifically be able to do that but I can now see how my conversation might be understood; how the same words meant one way produce a different response. It’s easy to play the blame game – you misunderstood me – whereas it should also be just as easy to say ‘I misunderstood you’. ‘Cept it’s not that easy because we usu-ally feel that you are wrong. Our starting point is ourselves, our perceptions, our judgements and anything that doesn’t agree with us is … not as correct as it should be!
Martin Luther and the Augustinian tradition describes this aspect of being human as ‘incurvatus in se’ (‘curved in on self’). In his lectures on Romans (5:4) Luther said “Due to original sin, our nature is so curved in upon itself at its deepest levels that it not only bends the best gifts of God toward itself in order to enjoy them (as the moralists [works-righteous] and hypocrites make evident), nay, rather ‘uses’ God in order to obtain them, but it does not even know that, in this wicked, twisted, crooked way, it seeks everything, including God, only for itself”. We don’t lose this nature as Christians but now we’re no longer blind to it, even as it keeps tripping us up, setting us up for falls, as we default into still trying to make the world revolve around us.
The difficulty now is that not only do we prefer the world to march to our beat but we find ourselves wanting (expecting) that of God too. We don’t want God but his gifts; what he can do for us. Much spiritual crises revolve around God not playing the part we think he should play in our lives. We don’t understand his words at times. We think he’s not hearing ours. And while the world might say ‘Jerk’ about him, Christians might only think it or just get the ‘j’ on their lips when things don’t go as we want. I suppose that’s why God deals with us in ways we don’t expect (the cross), confronts us with stuff we’d never go near (repentance, humility, suffering); so that when ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ is pointed out to us and we desire that gift, we discover instead that meeting, knowing, and following him (the real meaning of J – Jesus) is what life is all about. Knowing him and being known by him – completely.
Then we can go into each day with Jesus and try to live from the perspective of others more and more. — GS