Grace Notes

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Everyone wants to be right

By Nancy Kennedy

As the story goes, at a synagogue in Eastern Europe when the Shema (the prayer that starts out, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is one…”) was recited each week, half the congregation stood with hands raised and the other half remained seated.
Although it might not have been a problem for this congregation, it was because each half insisted that their way was the synagogue’s tradition and, therefore, the right way.
So, each week the standers stood and yelled at the sitters to stand up and the sitters sat and yelled at the standers to sit down.
When the rabbi couldn’t take it any longer, he took one of the standers and one of the sitters with him to visit the synagogue founder, a 98-year-old man who lived in another village, to find out once and for all what the real tradition was.
After the rabbi explained the situation, the old man said, “Standing is not our tradition.”
However, just as the sitter was about to do the ha-ha gloating dance, the old man said, “Sitting is not our tradition either.”
In great frustration the rabbi said, “We’ve got to solve this! Every week everyone’s yelling at each other.”
The old man cried out, “That’s it! Yelling -- that’s our tradition!”
Likewise, yelling has become the tradition in our culture, too, along with pigheadedness, finger pointing, name calling and all sorts of viciousness. Twitter rants and Facebook shouting matches, bullying and shaming.
Everybody’s yelling and nobody’s listening. Conflicts go unresolved as people dig in their heels and shout over one another, not even taking turns.
You would think the church would be immune to it, but sadly, it’s the “tradition” among the body of Christ as well.
If you want to hear angry words, just put a Calvinist and a fundamentalist Baptist together in a room and ask them to discuss any number of things -- Bible translations, mode of baptism, free will versus predestination.
Even more sad: It’s also the tradition among families. Everyone wants to win.
Everyone wants to be right.
But as Dr. Phil points out, “Do you want to be right or do you want a relationship?”
If I’m honest, I tend toward the “being right” camp, although, as I’ve found out, that camp is a lonely place to be.
One memory is seared into my psyche. I was 15 or so and my dad and I were making homemade pizza together when I decided that my dad was doing it wrong.
I don’t remember if I thought the meat should go on the pizza before the cheese or the other way around, only that my dad’s way was wrong.
I do, however, remember vividly our argument and how it escalated into a one-way yelling match, with me doing all the yelling while my dad continued making pizza.
I give him credit for his self-control, because I was absolutely out of control, furiously asserting that I. Was. Right.
I was right!
I don’t remember if my dad sent me to my room or if I stormed off on my own, but I do remember that I missed out on eating pizza because I refused to come back downstairs the rest of the night.
Pathetic, right?
What’s even more pathetic, even in the midst of my tantrum I had a gut feeling that I was wrong, but my pride wouldn’t let me admit it.
Do you want to be right or do you want a relationship?
I love how The Message paraphrases what the apostle Paul says: “Love does not strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always ‘me first,’ does not fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others...puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back but keeps going to the end” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Love doesn’t yell or demand. Love doesn’t insist on its own way. Love is not about winning, but it’s about humility and kindness, it’s about thinking more of others and less about myself.
It’s about apologies and forgiveness and soft answers turning away wrath.
It’s not about sitting or standing or about how the pizza is made, but about worshiping together and eating the pizza with the people you love.
How awesome life would be if that was our tradition -- and dear God, may it start with me.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927  or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.