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DISAGREEING GRACIOUSLY

Darren Wright

When I was at university, I hung out with a number of religious friends. Being a bit weird, we jokingly called ourselves The Heretics Society and created daily rules to follow. One of our rules was that every day needed to include a disagreement that ended with a door slamming.

Our disagreements ranged from the way we tied our shoes to the way we cut sandwiches, from how we pronounced the word dance to what flavor soda was our favorite. Occasionally, we’d have a silly religious disagreement about the color of Jesus’ hair, who would win a wrestling match between John the Baptist and Jonah, or what band would have been Mary Magdalene’s favorite. Every day some humorous disagreement would conclude with one of us yelling, “It’s like I don’t know you anymore!”—and slamming the door as we walked out. Often, upon hearing the loud bang, a chaplain would step out into the hallway, realize what was going on, laugh and shake his head, and return to whatever he had been doing.

Today I wonder if much of the world has adopted a more serious version of this “rule.” We live in a time when disagreements seem to escalate quickly into major arguments. I’ve seen best friends end their relationship because of a disagreement that became a nasty argument. After a recent mass shooting, I watched a reporter’s heartfelt reaction and call for unity be countered with political arguments and a threat to sue the reporter. Seeing how quickly feuds between people or communities can escalate into threats of violence or worse, I fear we’ve forgotten that healthy disagreement can be beneficial.

 

In a podcast from The Bible for Normal People, Brian McLaren suggests that we all could benefit by learning how to “differ graciously.” This practice involves our expressing a difference of opinion without having to persuade the other person that we are right. McLaren suggests that we can offer the words “I see that differently” without assuming that either opinion has to be wrong.

When people disagree, we have an opportunity to listen to one another, to learn from one another, to practice being a neighbor to another. None of us knows everything. As we listen to differing opinions, we might be open to understand one another better. We might even find our own opinions changing or begin to see the world from a different perspective.

What would our families, our schools, the world be like if we were to practice the art of differing graciously?

 

DIG DEEPER

Begin a disagreement journal. Each day for a couple weeks, jot down your answers to these questions:

  • What disagreements did I have today?
  • With whom did I disagree?
  • How did I manage these disagreements?
  • In what ways could I have managed the situation better?
  • Was damage done by these disagreements?
  • If so, how might I repair the damage?

For the next month, practice disagreeing with grace. Consider how you feel in these new interactions as you find loving ways to disagree. Reflect in your journal about how this practice begins to change the way you enter into disagreements.

Darren Wright is a pastor in the Uniting Church in Australia and ministers at Gungahlin in the ACT. He loves reading, listening to music, building train sets with his son, and baking bread.

—from devozine (July/August 2019). Copyright © 2019 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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