How You Say It

10 February 2002

Last Sunday, Mark and I went to a church that got crossed off our list. Some of you have already heard the gory details. Suffice it to say that the pastor compared other pastors who disagree with him on a certain set of social issues to Nazi collaborators. And the pastors who agreed with him -- he made this comparison explicitly -- were the equivalent of the confessing movement, the religious folks who opposed the Nazis. We were so angry that the only reason we didn't walk out is that we were each in "good spouse" mode waiting for the other person to be "bad spouse" and stand up first. (We have to get our signals straight next time.) And we figured that if we didn't write the guy a letter, he'd never know why we weren't going to his church -- he'd just figure we were twentysomethings who didn't want to settle down and go to church often, or something like that. So we wrote him a letter in which we stated -- without taking a position on the social issues, although we could have -- that we had made our decision not to attend based on his divisive and irresponsible rhetoric.

He wrote us back. He totally didn't get it. He assumed that in disagreeing with the way he said things, we were disagreeing with his social position. We didn't even open that can of worms. Didn't figure it'd do any good. But the guy was totally unrepentant -- held firm to his "Nazi collaborator" stance and claimed, in the same letter, that he hoped we didn't think he believed in condemning people who disagreed with him, and that of course he didn't believe there were "good Christians" and "bad Christians." (Mark: "I believe there are bad Christians." Me: "The ones who go around calling other people Nazis for disagreeing with them?" Mark: "That's a subset, yes.")

I don't understand why this is a hard concept to get across: how you say things matters. Earlier this week, I expressed my eagerness to talk to my grands and get plans for their visit worked out. I said that it would be really nice to know when they were coming. I could have instead written, "Grandma and Grandpa suck!" and hoped that you understood that I didn't really mean they sucked, because obviously I don't think that, just that they were hard to get a hold of. But I didn't write that, because I don't think it's a reasonable thing for you to infer from the sentence.

It matters. If Harlan Ellison, lo these many moons ago, had started his lawsuit but had not peppered his open letter with name-calling and flat-out nastiness, I could have disagreed with him without getting angry with him. But I'm not sure he would recognize the difference between saying, "I hold this entity responsible for enforcing my copyrights" and calling people "zero-ethic tots." A lot of other people don't seem to see that difference, either.

But you know what, folks? That's why we have different words: because they mean different things. Because it is not reasonable to say that other folks are the equivalent of Nazi collaborators while you are the equivalent of part of the resistance, and then expect that they won't feel that you've condemned them. They'll feel that you've condemned them because you have. On the other hand, if you can say, "Frances and I both want the same things, but here's how we disagree on getting to them," Frances shouldn't feel that you've condemned her, when all you've done is state a disagreement. She can argue with your statement of it, but that's another issue entirely.

Some people say, "But don't you want to take the best possible interpretation of a statement?" Sure, that's a nice idea. Please tell me what the best possible interpretation of "people who disagree with me are like Nazis" is. They walk kind of funny and wear a lot of khaki or black? Sometimes the best reasonable interpretation is still really bad.

It's not just in religion, not just in business, or politics, or personal relationships. It shows up everywhere. And I don't really know what to do about it, except maybe rant in my journal, and I'm not sure how that'll help.

Ah well. Yesterday's hike in the Garin Regional Park was nice -- Mark and I talked about set theory and looked at all of the green, green, green. I can't believe how green it was. I keep telling people we must have taken a left turn into late April somewhere, because February just doesn't look that green. Amazing. I'll bring my camera next time.

Pause for a shower and a nice morning walk with Timprov. We talked shop the whole way and managed to get the bugs in one of our collab short stories worked out. Also, I managed to synthesize last night's dream with a story idea I've had hanging around since I lived in Oregon for the summer, so I should be getting that done soon. And we agreed that we have no idea which book I'll write after the Not The Moose, which is not in itself a bad thing.

Watched the Olympics a bit more last night, alternating with "Goldfinger" and reading Possession. (If A.S. Byatt was in my writing group, I'd put her on simile patrol. But it doesn't ruin the book for me.) I don't mind that they keep mentioning the tragedy at the Munich Olympics so much -- or I wouldn't if they treated it like it had happened to real people. Instead, they keep mentioning it, and they don't tell you what the Israeli athletes' names were. I finally found them here. I have a thing about the names of the dead. It makes them specific. It makes it real. In the deaths from 9/11, there are too many of them for us to be able to remember them all or list them in a short broadcast. But Challenger, for example, is a short enough list of people that we can damn well try to remember someone besides Christa McAuliffe. This is another such case -- even if Bob Costas doesn't have these people memorized, he could read their names from the teleprompter just once. Sigh.

Karina informs me that there is no such thing as Bob Costas on Canadian TV. What's the line after "my home and native land" again? I can remember all the rest of it except for that.

I loved watching Kari Traa win the freestyle moguls. It was just nifty-looking, and she blew the competition away. But she was so Norwegian: when wossname went to interview her, Traa said that the second part of her run had not really been all that great. This is not false modesty, people. False modesty would have been, "Oh, really, it was nothing" or even "I had a lot of help." This was sincere self-criticism, and I really like it that she could do that, that she could win an Olympic gold medal and still want to do better. That whether she had done her best or not still mattered to her. Really, really cool.

Writing group meeting this evening, a different church this morning (and hopefully one in which nobody calls anybody else Nazis except, if necessary, the Nazis -- but I would prefer an entirely Nazi-free church service, myself). In between, I don't know what's on the agenda. Probably I'll talk to the folks, read, cook something. The beer cheese sauce yesterday was good, a taste of home. Quintessentially Upper Midwestern food. It was one of the few things I could stand from the Gustavus cafeteria -- which meant that I ate it whenever they served it and only crave it once every three or four years now. But when I do crave it, I can really enjoy it. Yum. I also crave their wild rice and mushroom soup, so if you have a recipe for that, send it along. I may hard-boil a bunch of eggs to do David's egg curry recipe. I may not. Free as the breeze, or something like that. Free as the breeze that blows between the hours of 2:00 and 5:15.

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