When Cheryl is kind she says I developed a "precocious conscience" as a child, or I have an over realized sense of right and wrong. When she is more inclined to depreciate my gifts she asserts that I am “fixated in the preadolescent stage of law and order.” In James Fowler’s schema of faith development she once assured me I was a solid stage two (of six stages), a “mythic-literal” thinker/believer, i.e., a school child. I have been described by her as “locked in a black and white world,” “unable to maintain a dialectic tension between truths,” and, her favorite, “stubborn.”
In one of our episodes of sincere disagreement she blurted out, “You’re just like your father.” Two thoughts crossed my mind. The first was to go ahead and commit suicide by telling her she was just like her mother. Being a stage two and having the stage-appropriate fear of a literal hell, I quickly resisted the temptation to self annihilation and focused on my second thought, which caused me to burst into laughter.
Cheryl was clearly not amused at my sudden good nature and snapped, “What are you laughing about?”
To which I responded, “Cheryl, you’re never going to win this argument with compliments.”
“Oh, yeh. I guess it was a compliment to compare you to your Dad,” and she began to laugh with me.
On a similar occasion when we were mutually pursuing truth through competition of ideas, Cheryl blurted out “Do you want to know what your problem is?”
To which I responded, “I think I know, but you go ahead and tell me.”
Not taking the bait, she answered, “You enjoy being right too much.”
This time I tried not to laugh but I couldn’t help myself.
“What are you laughing at?”
Struggling to articulate while laughing, I snickered out “You are right about that. I admit it; I have never taken pleasure in being wrong.”
She caught the humor, laughed and the disagreement ended.
I am a left-brained, analytic, law-and-order, black and white kind of guy. Somewhere in childhood I heard and believed the stories of God’s intervention in human history. I also believed His words about righteousness and judgment would be fulfilled. I have woven into my psyche a belief that God sees all and judges all, even our innermost thoughts. “Your sins will find you out.”
When I was growing up we worked a small farm. My Dad was always precise in his work orders even if he wasn’t always clear. One year Jimmy was using our little one-row Farmall tractor to plant the corn. Dad instructed him in how deep to set the front sweeper plows and how the lower the rear, drop-seed planter. He further gave directions on what was the proper speed. He then completed a couple of test rounds as we walked along beside him. When we got to the end of the first row he paused to show Jimmy how he was to finish out each row.
“Son, did you see what I did? I slowed down and drove the tractor straight to the fence and stopped just a foot away from it. Then I raised the plows and planter, backed up, and completed a tight turn to go the other direction. That’s the way I want you to do it. Don’t start turning before you get to the end of the row. Can you do that?”
Dad and I went off to work on some other project far out of sight. A couple of hours later I was dispatched to take Jimmy some ice-cold water. When I got to the field I noticed he was stopped on the other end. I thought he was resting in a shade, but when I got closer I saw him down on the ground picking up corn seed and putting it back in the hopper. He ordered me to come quickly and help before Dad showed up.
He had been ignoring Dad’s instructions and making quick turns at the far end of the field without stopping. Going too fast the planter flipped over and spilled its contents. Too frustrated to get the last few handfuls up out of the sand he side-kicked them to the edge of the fence and covered them with dirt so Dad couldn’t see them. All was well. No one would ever know.
Fast forward a few weeks and Dad is plowing the corn. When he gets to the right row on the far end of the field, there stands the most beautiful, densely packed hill of corn stalks right in the fence line. “Boys, how did this happen?”
Your sins will find you out. They will sprout and grow, no matter how private and hidden they seem at first.
April 14, 2010