My dad and I were eating ice cream at Baskin Robbins. Chances are I had the chocolate and chocolate chip mint double-scoop and he was trying to keep me from wearing more than I was eating. Then in an instant the atmosphere shifted from laughter to gritty tension as we heard the sound of a grown man hitting a child.
A guy on the other side of the room was angry at his kid. Maybe the boy dropped his ice cream. Maybe he said something the dad didn't like. No one knew. We were all in our own worlds until the dad got mad and hit him in the face.
In a flash my father was across the room slamming the guy against the wall and growling, "Don't you ever hit that boy again. Ever!" The glare in dad’s eye signaled imminent threat and it was no bluff. The father who had hit his kid quietly sat down with his family and they left minutes later.
That story makes for good TV and gives us an emotional high, but that might be because we didn’t ride home with the family when they left Baskin Robbins. What we don’t know is what happened next.
It’s possible my dad’s noble hearted actions were exactly what the offensive father needed. Maybe the father would stop hitting his kid for a while. Maybe he realized he’d finally crossed the line and he got help.
But, if God was not the author of that situation, if my dad simply did that out of intellect or emotion, there’s a chance that though it emotionally felt like a victory at the time, it caused more harm than good. Did the offensive dad and his family drive home where the dad beat that boy all over again in a fit of rage, ratcheting up the cruelty factor to make the kid pay for the public humiliation that the dad endured in the store? Or was it something worse?
That's the danger of acting without God's insight. That’s the danger of acting with a dab of God's wisdom and a dab of human “wisdom” or emotion. When we do that we often get it almost right, but just wrong enough to make things more crooked and damaging than they were before we stepped in.
There’s also a danger that we can do this not just on a family level, but on a national level. I wonder if that’s what the USA is going through right now as many people lambast nearly everything our president says and does. While he is proving to be the most trustworthy president in my lifetime as far as following through with campaign promises, and showing he’s there to make a difference by pursuing change instead of pandering to the polls, the media, or politicians, it’s also true he says some awful things and the implications of them can be heartbreaking and terrifying. But when I look at his personality, it makes me think the Baskin Robbins approach has little chance of success. God knows, but we don’t.
Now I'm not saying that we do nothing when our friends, co-workers, institutions, or our leaders begin to falter. As followers of Jesus, we are bound to take up our crosses and act on a daily basis. But typically Jesus acted in ways that confused everyone because his actions were atypical in the face of cultural, intellectual, and emotional norms. So before we act we have to seek God’s heart and get on the same page as he is in each situation. That may not look anything like our life experiences lead us to assume. And it may make no sense to those around us, just as Jesus’ actions often made no sense to those around him.
For instance, when my dad saw that offensive father hit his boy in Baskin Robbins, just imagine for a moment that my dad held his anger in check and walked out of the store. Then imagine my dad walked in a couple of minutes later and said, "Anyone know how to jump a car battery?" and looked at the offensive dad. What if he got the offensive dad outside the store and then expressed warmth and concern. What if, in a submissive manner that the offensive dad could tolerate, my dad told the offensive dad a story of my father’s own cruel father and the way his violence cascaded down at least two generations? What if the offensive dad was stirred by my dad’s warmth and the brokenness of his story? And then what if the offensive dad went out and got the help he needed to become the man God made him to be?
If that had happened, to all the people in Baskin Robbins, the ones who never saw the conversation outside, my dad would have looked like he didn't care about the kid getting hit. He would have looked like he just wanted his battery jumped so he decided to be cool with the offensive dad. Yet the reality could have been my dad's humility in that situation could have saved the abused boy's future, not just put off a bloody beating until he got home.
Considering this again on a national level, right now there is an entire segment of our country that wants to run up to the man they consider the “offensive dad” running our country and slam him against the wall in front of everyone at Baskin Robbins on live TV, glare at him, and demand he stop his behavior immediately. It's possible that needs to happen. However, it’s also possible that will help facilitate the exact opposite result they are dreaming of.
Regardless of who is right in this situation, I end up coming back to the hard truth that even when we are right about critical issues, the way we convey our thoughts and the warmth or coldness in our actions can be the difference-maker. It can be more important than being right. It can be what burns the bridge down or what fortifies it and prepares it for a daily flow of traffic. Maybe we need to be more humble, trust our cognitive and emotional instincts less, and take an approach that will be less cathartic for us but more life-giving and productive. Sometimes we need to have a warm and submissive heart to heart talk outside Baskin Robbins with an offensive dad.
Maple Grove Worship Director