Intellectual Hospitality and Justice Scalia Making space for others, even those with whom we disagree

Recently a judge named Antonin Scalia on the United States’ Supreme Court died and, despite how he is sometimes portrayed, Justice Scalia was apparently a man who exhibited intellectual hospitality, even to those who did not agree with many if any of his positions.

Justice Scalia’s reputation is pretty clear to most people.  He’s called “combative,” “tough,” and “fiery.”  And its his public perception that causes many to be surprised when it is revealed that he was not only willing to have Justices of other positions on the Court but that he welcomed it and even jockeyed for it.

After Justice Scalia’s passing, David Axelrod wrote an opinion piece on CNN.com that showed just that, namely that Justice Scalia tried to influence President Obama through a back channel to have a friend, now-Justice Elena Kagan, nominated despite the fact that she is more-or-less diametrically in opposition to all of his ideological positions.

Why would he want to do this?  Axelrod thinks that “if Scalia could not have a philosophical ally in the next court appointee, he had hoped, at least, for one with the heft to give him a good, honest fight.”

To put it more succinctly: Justice Scalia was a person who valued and demonstrated intellectual hospitality.

Intellectual Hospitality

What is intellectual hospitality?

My friend, colleague, and mentor Dr. Greg Waybright says this about intellectual honesty: it is show when we “speak to one another with 1) the grace to receive and consider differing positions and 2) the courage to challenge other positions with respect-filled questions.”  I love the twofold description, one in-coming (receiving other positions with grace) and one out-going (asking respectful questions).

And it appears that Justice Scalia had this kind of intellectual hospitality.  He was “best buddies” with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, with whom he had major disagreements, and his friendship with Justice Kagan, with whom he also disagreed, grew to such an extent that they became hunting buddies.

I can’t imagine the conversations between these legal giants never ventured into ideological territory.  And when it did, they all must have demonstrated great intellectual hospitality in order to begin, foster, and deepen meaningful relationships.

This type of deference for “the other” is badly missing in the world.  (Full disclosure: I almost ended that last line with the word “today” but then I remembered that humans have been around this world for quite some time and, thus, there’s always been a great deal of need for others-focused ethics!)

Jesus and Intellectual Hospitality

Much more can be said about this topic than I’m going to say here.  But I want to make a similar point about Jesus that I made about Justice Scalia — namely, that Jesus was willing and able to interact meaningfully with people very different from him.

Think about the people that surrounded Jesus on the regular: Matthew (who was the mob-muscle kind of tax collector), Simon the Zealot (who may well have been part of a political terror group), and Judas Iscariot (who would betray Jesus, which Jesus knew from the beginning).

Then think about some of the people that Jesus went out of his way to spend time with: The Samaritan Woman (their conversation in John 4 is a great example of intellectual hospitality in action!), Nicodemus (who was a religious leader that may have been too ashamed and/or fearful to meet with Jesus in the light of day), Zacchaeus (who was the mob-boss kind of tax collector), and even the thief of the cross (who, unlike Jesus, earned his way to his capital punishment).

Jesus has no equals among any of us human beings and yet he chose to relate closely to all sorts of us when was incarnated here on earth.

And if we are to follow Jesus, then we too should exercise a bit more intellectual hospitality too.

Intellectual Hospitality: A Few Starting Points

So, how are we to manifest more intellectual hospitality in our lives?

Here are a few starting points:

  1. Interact with people who are different.  We are all deeply impacted by tribalism — we want to spend time with people just like us.  That’s simply not what Jesus did.  And beside the usual Jesus-did-it-this-way-and-so-should-we argument, being friends with an array of different sorts of people makes life much more meaningful and fulfilling.
  2. Show respect before acting on anger. If we interact with people different than us, then we are sure to come up against ideas that make us angry from time to time.  In those moments we have a choice to make — we can 1) lash out at the person espousing the offending idea(s) or 2) respectfully engage in conversation despite our anger.  Remember, we hold positions that make others angry too!  We don’t have a monopoly on indignation!
  3. Grow. There’s little that’s more narcissistic and ego-maniacal than refusing to grow.  Think about it, not wanting to grow communicates to the world that we don’t need to grow.  And we all know for a fact that we haven’t arrived — we all have miles and miles to go.  Therefore, in all our relationships we need to admit that we could learn something important and make space in order to do so.  And the best kind of space for growth is respectful conversation.
  4. Give others the same benefit of the doubt that we want given to us.  This is the golden rule of intellectual hospitality.  Would we want someone to belittle us for our ideas?  Would we want to be ostracized because of our beliefs?  Would we want someone to refuse to see the logic in our position?  Would we want our personal narratives to be disregarded without a second thought?
  5. Pray.  Intellectual hospitality can be difficult, whether we are just beginning to practice it or if we’ve been at it for decades.  And, if we’re honest, none of us can do this on our own.  We need the power of the Spirit within us to help us.  We need him, the Spirit of God, to develop in us his fruit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  And each aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is necessary for us to exhibit intellectual honesty.  So let’s pray for the Spirit to grow his fruit in us!

 

What do you think about intellectual hospitality?  Was Justice Scalia a good example of it?  What do we learn about it from Jesus?  How can we demonstrate it in our lives?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

**If you’re really into this idea of intellectual honesty, then check out this post.  In it Bob Trube makes a really strong case for having intellectual hospitality with those who differ from us greatly.  It’s a short but meaningful read!

 

5 Ways to Hurt Relationships

This blog post is going to be revealing.  I’m going to try my best to be vulnerable and authentic.  My plan is to share 5 ways that relationships can be hurt.

And how can I be sure that these 5 ways to hurt relationships are actually for real?  Well, because I’ve been guilty of them all at one time or another!

Here we go…

relationships

Doh! We’re so good at hurting people in relationships!
By: Andrew McCluskey

5 Ways to Hurt Relationships

  1. Make Assumptions — Assumptions hurt relationships just about more than anything else.  Part of the reason why is because they are so simple to make.  They take almost no effort whatsoever.  It may just be me (but, dang, I hope not!), but it’s almost as if the human default mode is set to “assume everyone is out to get you.”  When we behave this way within relationships, whether in marriages and friendships or at work and within families, we are guaranteed to hurt people we care about and with whom we need continued contact.  Why?  Because the assumptions we make tend to be really harmful, such as the assumption that someone is lying, trying to hurt us on purpose, ignorant, or stupid.
  2. Jump to Conclusions — A high school football coach of mine once said that the most athletic thing that local sports reporters d0 is to jump to conclusions.  Well, if that’s true, then I should be the Olympic representative for the USA in the category of jumping to conclusions!  The way that it usually works for me (and for others too, I’m hoping) is that I make an assumption. Then I follow the logic of the assumption to the end and get angry about the resulting imaginary conclusion.  Here’s an example: If someone is late to a meeting that we both agreed to attend, I often jump to the conclusion that they are intentionally being disrespectful.  I don’t allow for the fact that I live in LA County, an area know for traffic problems.  And even though I hurt relationships by jumping to conclusions, I certainly don’t like it when people do it to me!
  3. Fail to Apologize — Relationships that were once close but that are now broken for whatever reason, are like a cut powerline.  No longer can the powerline serve its function of delivering electricity where it’s needed and now both of the ends that were once together are dangerous.  Our relationships are not just about the specific people in them.  They are also about all the people connected to the parties within the relationships.  And when we are failing to apologize to one another we are depriving the rest of our relationships our best selves.  Furthermore, when we fail to apologize our emotions are raw and we’re often a danger for other people in our lives too.  It’s time we started apologizing when we’ve wronged someone, owning up to our part in the drama and taking responsibility to move forward in healthy ways.
  4. Fail to Forgive –Not only is apologizing important, but forgiving whomever hurt us is important too.  Relationships in which one person is trying to make things right while the other is trying to stand on the moral high ground by withholding forgiveness are set up for lots and lots of trouble.  In relationships that have lasted for a while, there is no moral high ground.  Since everyone within relationships is a person, then everyone has made mistakes.  No one is perfect, meaning that there’s no room to set on the high throne of judgment.  That a position that is reserved for God alone.  Our job within relationships is to accept apologies and offer forgiveness.  Not only is withholding forgiveness bad for the relationship, it’s bad for us too!  It can create bitterness and bitterness can ruin our lives little by little over time.
  5. Argue While Angry — All human relationships are going to including arguments.  We’re all people and we all have opinions and those opinions do not always line up just so.  And all relationships will also have to cope with anger from time to time.  Anger is a typical human emotion.  We don’t always seem to have control over when it comes or even why it comes.  But anger in and of itself is not bad or inherently sinful.  It’s what we do when we’re angry that matters.  Here’s how the Bible puts it in Ephesians 4.26: “In your anger do not sin.”  And I would probably add to this that arguing while angry is almost never a good idea.  Trust me.  You’ll say and do things that you will regret; things that can’t be forgotten or taken back.  It would be better to attempt to calm down before having a discussion regarding a disagreement.

Now on this blog I tend to write about missional stuff.  So how is any of this missional?  Well, since seeking the mission of God in our world is best undertaken with others and not alone, then we’re going to have to figure out how to hurt one another less.  And since the only real way to share Jesus with others is through relationships, we’re going to have to figure out paths toward healthy connections with other people.

Avoiding these five things is a good start.

 

What else should be on this list?  Let me know in the comments below!

How to Make a Friend

Making a friend can be hard.  Well, for some of us it can.

In fact, I recently heard a friend say that at the school he went to there was a required non-credit course about how to have a conversation.  This made me laugh because I thought it was ridiculous.

And then, and then, and then…

And then I realized how poor many of us are at having conversations.  And then I realized how many of us really stink at making friends.  And then I realized how poor many of us who claim to follow Jesus are at creating a real friendship with someone who doesn’t follow Jesus.

Stuff got real, real fast.

How good of a friend are we?

Tonight I was reading Growing Local Missionaries: Equipping Churches to Sow Shalom in Their Own Cultural Backyard and in it Dan Steigerwald makes an amazing point.  Here it is:

I am convinced that a big part of the Church’s missional formation across America must now involve getting back to the most basic level of motivating and equipping Christians to have natural relationships with normal people!  That is a pretty startling reality. (61)

Did you catch that?  He is saying that we followers of Jesus really don’t know how to make friends in this world where we live.

So, what do we do in response to this?

Step-by-Step Guide to Making a New Friend

Welp, here’s some helpful advice from missional thinker Mark van Steenwyk (from his article called “Incarnational Practices” in Next-Wave from October 2005; found in Growing Local Missionaries by Steigerwald [65]).  Oh, and by the way, this framework could probably have been from my friend’s class on how to have a conversation.  It goes like this:

  1. If you see someone at your favorite place a few times, you have permission to give them the “nod” of recognition (or subtle waive).
  2. If you’ve recognized their presence a couple times, it is socially ok to say “hello.”
  3. Once you’ve said hello to someone once or twice, it is ok to make comments like “hey, it sure is nice today” or “is that book you’re reading interesting?”
  4. After you’ve broken the ice, you can introduce yourself.
  5. Once you’re on a first-name basis, you have social permission to have normal conversations with them, and things develop from there.

Got it?

 

Is it just me, or is it sad that we have to have a guide like this in order to know how to make a friend with someone different than us?  What do you think?