Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Frank Turk and a lesson in respect

I write about the important subject of respect.

It is something that God says should matter to every child who has a parent, to every wife who has a husband, to every man who has a superior. It turns up in the Bible all over the place. Every one of us is supposed to learn it from Mom's breast and onward (Exod. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-3; etc. ad inf.).

Yet I observe that few of us do understand it, and I observe that it isn't really preached on or written about as it should be.

So I offer a couple of bite-sized thoughts, and I do it in this spirit: I am a guy watching a raging fire with a glass of water in his hands. That's all I've got. It isn't much, and I'm even less. I'm not expert on either theory or — God knows! — practice. But there's this raging fire, and I've got something, I think, and I see a lot of other people just watching the fire (at best) or toasting marshmallows on it (at worst), so I'm going to throw my glassful on the blaze.

And I'm going to use Frank Turk to do it! Whee! What's not to love?

So I heard a bit back that Frank planned his last Open Letter of the year to be an open letter to Jesus. When I heard that, I had a visceral reaction. I did not like it. In fact, I really kinda hated the idea.

It wasn't in the least because I hated Frank's Open Letters. I've thought they were an absolute stroke of genius, and were brilliantly executed. When prissy souls fluttered their hands and cried "Oh, la!" and "Please, pleeease make it stop!" I thought these were bad signs of what was inside of the objectors, not the letters; and, sadly and to my disappointment, subsequent history reinforced that fear.

No, I just didn't like the idea of an open letter to Jesus. It just seemed.... ew. How could that go well? How could it not be pretentious, or silly, or artificial, or treacly, or just... ugh?

Well, the answer is simple: because Frank was going to write it.

Now, follow this next bit carefully, please, because this is my point. Do I mean that Frank is perfect? No; he's perfecter than I, but I know he's not perfect. Do I mean that Frank never makes mistakes? No; he makes fewer than I, but he does make them. Do I mean that I always "get" everything Frank does? No, not always, though when I don't it's probably me being slow-witted, dull, ill-informed, or all three. Do I mean that Frank never sins? Again, he probably sins less than I, but I know he does.

So what do I mean? Well, I mean that I respect Frank. I know Frank loves Jesus very much. I know Frank would never do anything to dishonor Him or, if he did, he'd make it right. I know that Frank's heart — his priorities, his guiding principles, his convictions — is in the right place.

Thus, I had my initial visceral response ("Agh! No no no, bad idea!"), and then I took that response and held it up against the deeper principle ("But it's Frank, and I respect him"), and I reasoned from that principle (" he has a plan I'm not privy to, and I can give him the benefit of the doubt in trusting that it's a sound plan").

And now, having read the post, I note without an atom of surprise, that (to my mind) I was right.

Let's take this apart a little. In my case, unlike the case of a child towards parents, and so forth, I am not under a command to respect Frank beyond 1 Pet. 2:17 and the loving 1 Cor. 13 principle of hoping for the best. In my case, Frank has earned my respect. When I first "met" him, as Frank correctly observed, I didn't know what to make of him. In fact, the degree of my not-understanding of Frank made for frequent merriment at Casa Phillips. ("I do not get this guy.") At that point, Frank was running off of my respect for Phil, that Phil must have had some reason for choosing this wild, charging, bull-in-a-china-shop of a man to write on his blog.

But it wasn't long at all before I began to see how right Phil was, and what a cornucopia of pleasant surprises Frank was. He earned, and has, my respect.

So here's where respect does and does not come to play.

Respect does not work when you already know, understand, and approve of everything someone is doing. That's just a tricky form of self-respect and self-love. It's, "Ah, good, you're doing what I want you to do. I approve!"

Respect works when one of those elements is missing. It comes to play when I don't know what someone is about to do, or I don't understand everything about it, or I don't initially approve.

Now, understand: I would have been free to write Frank and say, "Oh, wait, dude, are you sure about this?" In fact, Frank would have welcomed my doing so, which feeds my respect of him. In fact, he'll probably be peeved with me for not voicing my initial brr-r-r-r. But in this case, for me, just remembering who it was who was about to do this thing that rubbed me the wrong way was sufficient.

Suppose I'd ended up hating the post? First, I'd've had myself to blame for not saying something beforehand. I wouldn't have been a very good friend, if even remembering my respect for Frank, I'd still had serious misgivings. And second, I would have been free to talk to him — but not as to a clueless jerk who'd just gone and done it again as I knew he would, but as a basically really good guy who at worst had made a misstep — and then, unless it was a Biblically-defined sin, only in my opinion.

Which brings me to just about my last point. Giving another respect requires humility. Do you see that? Once again, I write as a theoretician and piker, not as an expert. But saying in effect "I relinquish the demand for prior inspection, assessment, and approval, because I don't know everything and my approval is not essential" takes a degree of humility. By contrast, it is the height of arrogance to assume that X dare not act without my sign-off.

And that's where we fall short. If the Bible said "Respect yourself!" our culture would be right there. It would be a Bible-believing culture! If the Bible said "Love yourself first above all," we'd be right in the groove. But the Bible doesn't say any of those things, and the fact that the world isn't dancing to God's tune shouldn't surprise us. What is surprising, and shocking, and shameful, is that professed Christians continue to dance to the world's tune and feel just fine about it.

If you're not consciously seeking God's grace to cultivate humility, then forget respect. You can't do it. You can't get there from here, if we define "here" as unmortified pride.

Having said that, I'm pretty much done. I'm not going to try to get preachy, or preachier. If you read all that and don't see applications for your relationship(s), I'm probably not going to be able to help you. So let me close with a few pointed thoughts for application. Think of those whom God calls you to respect.
  1. Do they have to do everything your way in order for you to respect them? Good luck with that. That isn't respect.
  2. Do you have to approve of everything they do, have done, or are going to do, in order for you to respect them? Good luck with that. That isn't respect.
  3. Do they have to do everything the way you think you'd do it if you were they, in order for you to respect them? Good luck with that. That isn't respect.
  4. Do they have to do accept and obey your criticisms, in order for you to respect them? Good luck with that. That isn't respect.
Postscript: I really don't want the meta to be given to a debate over what Frank did in this or any open letter. Do you dislike it? Go tell him, under his post. He'll listen, though he may not agree. This is about respect, honor, what must happen in the heart for that to be happening. Talk about that.

Post-postscript: I developed this at length in a marital context here.


Pierre Saikaley said...

By way of application of wives to husbands: A lot of the disrespect shown to their men might dissipate if their respect didn't hinge on all the criteria listed in the last paragraph.

I don't see the command to respect husbands as waiting until the respect is earned or deserved (just as the love command is not conditional for husbands to wives) as per Ephesians 5:33.

Robert said...

The world would be a lot better place if people really understood this. I am sure that most people don't show respect for others, but instead feign their respect and support for other people.

Scot said...

I knew I liked Frank Turk; he uses a Dell.

I was shooting for a 0% on the quiz but I think it was at least a 50%. But I hope to apply some of the wisdom here with a boss whom I don't see eye to eye very much.

Aaron said...

There are some good lessons here. I find it easier to respect people whom I've never met (e.g., paper pastors) and I suspect it has a lot to do with the criteria you listed.

It is funny that you and I shared the same reaction to Frank's planned open letter to Jesus. ALthough in my case, I trusted Frank to make it turn out alright, even though I haven't been a big fan of the open letter series (and not for the reasons you state, either).

DJP said...

Yeah, "dainty" isn't a word I'd associate with you.


jmb said...

While reading your post, it occurred to me how much respect and trust are intertwined. I don't think one can trust someone one doesn't respect, and vice versa.

It took me a while to "get" Frank also.

Kerry James Allen said...

"If we would always recollect that we live among men who are imperfect, we should not be in such a fever when we find out our friend's failings." CHS

Tom Chantry said...

Excellent thoughts on respect, and a reminder of how we are to interact with those we are commanded to respect.

In fact, the degree of my not-understanding of Frank made for frequent merriment at Casa Phillips.

You too, eh?

DJP said...

Yeah, JMB, but the effort pays off big, doesn't it?


Rachael Starke said...

When I read that open letter, all the others made even more sense than before. The haters missed out, or maybe if they read that one first, they'd go back and read the others with wiser eyes.

If my memory serves me rightly, the Phil J connection is what made me read Pyro the first time, it was Frank who made me a fan. If you're the modern day Spurgeon at Pyro, he's the modern day Luther, or maybe Savonarola.

And those are good words on a day when I have been....audibly displeased....with my dear husband, to his mother, no less. Ouch.

Andrea said...

Wow. I appreciate this take on respect, and wish to explore it further. I know that having this kind of respect for my husband, pastor, parents, elected officials, etc. is a constant challenge for me, and I observe in my children the same difficulties.

If the issue is recognizing that one's own opinions and preferences are not the ultimate judge of a person's character or actions (that would be God, not any human being) then we will have to reserve judgment rather than critizing or complaining when someone else crosses our wishes.

Even if we have good scriptural cause to call a particular act or belief sinful or potentially harmful, how we present ourselves in following the biblical guidelines to address these issues reveals so much about the state of our own hearts. Do we believe that we are wiser, more spiritual, less sinful than the party in question? That attitude will show in our words and actions.

Do we recognize ourselves as fellow servants, debtors to grace on an immeasurable scale, and placed by God in the relationship to do good to the other? With the help of the Spirit, that too can be observed in our conduct.

Certainly the most valuable tool I have found in teaching humility and respect to my children is being transparent about the challenge that it is to me.

Is this all in line with what you were saying, Mr. Phillips?

mike said...

i found Frank online somehow doing a "debate the Calvinist" thing that made me stop drop-jawed at anyone who willingly asked for that much spewage.
i was impressed at his willingness and ability to ignore much useless name calling and reply to whatever point may have been offered.
i followed him backwards to team pyro, and wanting even more kicks in my shin, to this site. i find that Phil makes me feel dumb and sinful, Frank makes my head hurt, and you have made me want to get saved all over again several times.
all things considered, you guys all have my respect and gratitude for the effort that you put out for all who will read and consider.

FX Turk said...

I can respect that

DJP said...

(Someone's catching up on his reading.)

Michael Coughlin said...

Good points. Puts a new (or deeper) perspective on the concept of respect than I had before reading. Thank Webster Parts Man for sending me over.

Anonymous said...

Re-posted via Twitter today...must be one you consider an 'oldie-but-goodie.'

You said:

"Respect does not work when you already know, understand, and approve of everything someone is doing. That's just a tricky form of self-respect and self-love. It's, "Ah, good, you're doing what I want you to do. I approve!"

The same thing works for obedience. Doing what your authority tells you to do because you have evaluated it and in your opinion it is is a good idea and the right thing to do is neither obedience nor respect.