It’s not unusual for readers to email me questions about spiritual, social or personal matters.
When time permits, and if I think I have an insight, I try to answer.
It occurred to me recently I might help more people if I occasionally addressed these questions in my columns. Or I might at least give people something else to debate in their Sunday school classes.
Here are a couple of questions I’ve received in the past few days. I’ve omitted the correspondents’ names. I’ve also paraphrased their questions, leaving out identifying details, to further ensure anonymity.
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Keep in mind that I’m not a marriage therapist, a trained pastoral counselor, a theologian or a social worker. These are simply my opinions. Feel free to ignore anything I say.
Question: What should I do when my friends make fun of minorities? This seems to be happening more and more.
In these situations, there’s always a danger we’ll go to one of two extremes.
On the one hand, we don’t want to condone bigotry with our silence.
On the other hand, we don’t want to become a perpetually offended blowhard who feeds his own self-righteousness by emasculating everybody who misspeaks.
I think the best approach is to handle such situations case by case. There’s no single solution.
When I’m bothered by a friend’s apparent bigotry, I try to remember a couple of things.
First, it’s not my job to be everybody else’s conscience. That’s God’s job, a job I can’t do for him.
Second, people are complex. A person can have blind spots, even troubling ones, and still be in large measure a decent human being worth knowing.
Instead of climbing on my soapbox, then, I strive to take a loving approach. I bear in mind my own blind spots. I try to be large of spirit.
If an acquaintance tells an offensive story about some category of people — a racial minority, another religious group, women, conservatives, liberals — I may say nothing, especially if I don’t know the speaker well or do know him well but feel the story is an embarrassing, tone-deaf blunder that doesn’t reflect his larger character.
In other situations, I may casually offer up a story of my own about a person in that same category who did something brilliant or brave. Or, I may mention a few of the white people (Christians, straight people, whatever) I know who tend to be stupid or crooked or lazy, too. As in, “Boy, that sounds like my Uncle Roscoe. Why, he used to …”
In other cases still, I may hold my peace at the moment, but arrange to talk with the offender later over lunch. I’ll say, “I hope you know how much I like you. But it bugs me when you do this.” This offers us both — and our friendship — a chance to grow.
In yet other cases, the situation becomes too onerous to bear. The person is a habitual knucklehead. The joke is so intentionally ugly I can’t excuse it. That’s when I may both say something cranky and start searching for a new friend.
I wish I had a more definitive answer. I haven’t found it.
Q: How can I become a better husband? For instance, I tend to be a problem solver, but I’ve noticed my wife responds better when I listen to her rather than trying to fix whatever’s bothering her.
You’ve already cleared a major husband hurdle. Congratulations.
When my first wife and I were young, she came home complaining about a problem with a coworker. The problem happened to be similar to one I’d faced.
“OK,” I said. “Here’s what you need to do.”
A few days later, she returned complaining about the same issue with the same woman.
Thinking she hadn’t heard me the first time, I told her again: “Honey, here’s what you need to do.”
When she came home fussing the third time, I got irritated.
“Look, I’ve already told you twice how to fix this,” I said.
“I don’t need you to fix the problem,” she said. “I can fix it. I just want you to listen to me.”
Boom. Big-time revelation: Advise less, listen more.
Unfortunately, I can’t offer much of this generic marital wisdom. Every woman is different. Every man is different. Consequently, each marriage is unique. What works for my spouse and me won’t necessarily work for your spouse and you.
I do have one additional general observation.
The biggest danger to almost all marriages is ego.
To be a great husband (or a great wife), you must quit waiting for all your emotional, physical or spiritual needs to be gratified by your spouse.
Instead, you must willingly sacrifice your needs on the marital altar, while doing your imperfect best to meet your partner’s needs. You must put her before you.
I frequently fail at this. I’m too self-centered. But that doesn’t make what I’m saying less true.
I’m not suggesting anyone should put up with actual abuse. Violence, for instance, is a deal breaker.
I’m saying that in the push and pull of a reasonably normal marriage, you’ll succeed to about the extent you’re willing to lay aside your ego and become a servant.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.