Thursday, May 22, 2014

Disagreeing with Your Teacher

I finished up reading The Weight of Glory last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It wasn't the thickest of books, but it was--as is all C.S. Lewis--rich and warm and spiritually nourishing.  I am the better for reading it, as I always am when I engage with his warm and gracious spirit.

What struck me, in the reading of his essays, was that I do not always agree with him.  Take, for instance, his essay entitled "Why I am Not A Pacifist."  I'm not either, not fundamentally so.  But I see this as a weakness in my nature, a flaw in my commitment to the radically healing and transformative message of Jesus of Nazareth.

Clive Staples, in his essay, elegantly and articulately argued against pacifism as a response to evil.  He brought the big guns of his Oxbridge brilliance to the table, reason and history, ancient story and the deep traditions of the church and her teachings.

But I could not help but notice that when it came time to deal with what Jesus had to say, he was a little more coy.  He danced around it, contextualized it, and did not linger there, because it was not a place he could linger.  To stay in the presence of the Christ requires us to set down our swords.  Period.  Tolstoy, who Lewis often quoted and deeply admired, he understood that.  Tolstoy was uncompromising in his advocacy of nonviolence.  But Lewis?  Well, he was living in a different context.

Pacifism is the way of Christ, but with National Socialism burning like a demonic fire in Europe, I can completely understand why C.S. Lewis would have discouraged passive nonresistance.  That does not mean I agree with tone of his essay, which did not touch on the depth of Christ's challenge to our desire to take up our father's sword.  But I can understand it.

Later, in another essay in the collection, Lewis waxes poetic about the natural state of things, which he views as fundamentally patriarchal.  Men are made to be in charge, he says, and egalitarian thinking exists only as a necessary counterbalance to our sinful nature.  He never quite gets around to explaining how this works with Galatians, don't think he quite wanted to go there.

I just can't see it, nor can I embrace his thinking.

So here I am, with the great teacher of my childhood and youth, and I have found places where I don't just nod along as he talks.

It would be easy, and in keeping with the spirit of this dissonant age, to slap labels on him.  He's dated and inadequately progressive, I might say, turning up my nose.  He's just another example of patriarchal hegemony, with its use of violence to oppress and subjugate, I might say.

But then I would be deluding myself.  If I focused primarily on the places of disagreement, I would miss the profound and transforming grace of his writings.  If I chose to attack and deconstruct, rather than finding the places of agreement, then I would get nowhere.

If we only choose to learn from and relate to those with whom we completely agree, we will never learn, and never grow.

And so instead, I shake my head at those few places where a wise old colleague and I disagree, and choose to dwell in the many, many places where he sings new and graceful truths to my soul.

It's always better to seek the gifts and graces.