Sunday, July 31, 2005

Toward a Praxis of Christian Disagreement:
A lesson from Puzo and Coppola

- the necessity of humility

We in Christ's church sometimes don't do a very good job at disagreeing. Unless I am the smartest person on the earth, it stands to reason that in many instances it is a gift when someone else disagrees with me. We always need to be sensitive to our occasional need to receive that gift. Humility is absolutely required.

but what if we're right?

At other times when confronted with a contrary opinion, despite genuine humility and a spirit of teachability, we may still be reasonably certain that our position is the correct one and that our opposite is largely in error.

- the degree of passion

In that moment of controversy when we are 1) humble, 2) teachable, and 3) correct on the issue, we need to be intentional about the manner in which we come across. Sometimes it's necessary to be dramatic to make a point. Sometimes, when the issue is important enough, it's necessary to be so dramatic and passionate in the expressing of our position that we do so with the full realization that we risk the very relationship itself. Surely our Lord risked his relationship with some of the religious leaders of his day when he called some Pharisees and Sadducees a "brood of vipers" (Matthew 3:6-8).

But this should not be our default position for a few reasons:

  • In some controversies, we may be on the wrong side of the position!
  • The issue about which we are disagreeing may not be important enough to take such a virulent stand. Passionately expressed stands need to be lovingly strategic and not a matter of course.
  • And we must always take care that our passion and virulence are not deriving from our egos and insecurities rather than from our commitment to the truth and our love for God and others. We must avoid a merely narcissitic desire to be right.

- an Olympic Calm

Many times - perhaps most of the time - in the midst of controversy we need to express what Clementine Churchill called Olympic Calm.

An cinematic example of this calm is seen in the character Tom Haden (Robert Duvall) when he speaks with a Producer named Woltz in the Godfather. (As Joe Fox (played by Tom Hanks) says in the movie You've Got Mail, "The Godfather answers all of life's questions." :) ).

The actor Johnny Fontaine had approached Don Corleone because he wanted a part in a movie being produced by Woltz. The Godfather promised him the role and sent his consigliere - Tom Haden - to Hollywood to handle the matter. Here is how the scene played out just after Tom makes his request:


Now listen to me, you smooth-talking son-of-a-bitch! Let me lay it on the line for you and

your boss, whoever he is. Johnny Fontane will never get that movie! I don't care how many -

- daigo guinea WOP greaseball gumbahs come out of the woodwork!


I'm German-Irish...


Well let me tell you something my Kraut Mick friend, I'm gonna make so much trouble for

you, you won't know what hit you!


Mr. Woltz, I'm a lawyer, I have not threatened you.


I know almost every big lawyer in New York, who the hell are you?


I have a special practice; I handle one client -- Now you have my number; I'll wait for your

call -- By the way, I admire your pictures very much.

from the transcribed Puzo and Coppola script by J Geoff Malta


Though the last sentence of this scene clearly communicates Hayden's demeanor, what you don't see in mere text is that the Don's attorney wasn't touched by Woltz' insults and raised voice. Hayden had grown up with the Corleone boys and was practically a son to the Don. He had absolutely nothing to fear from this powerful producer and knew it. He was so confident that at the end of this encounter, though he's just been insulted and rebuffed, he's calm and collected enough to compliment Woltz on his body of work.

When it comes to matters of the Kingdom, we also can speak with such Olympic Calm. We serve the Creator of the universe and within the church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. He has given us all that pertains to our life and we've no need to be anxious for anything.

There are surely critical times when love for God and others may demand that we raise our voice or endanger a relationship (and even here, there can be an inner calm born of our conviction and security). But many times, we are in a position to dispassionately stay above the controversy and be the voice of reason and perspective.

picture via MSNBC from Paramount


Anonymous said...

What was your motivation for this post?

Interesting you would post this...I was watching Larry King Live Sat night and saw a man wrongly accused of rape (Bloodsworth : The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA-Algonquin Books)

On July 25, 1984, 9-year-old Dawn Venice Hamilton was violated and killed in a wooded suburb of Baltimore, not long after two boys had seen a strange man accost her. Days later, young ex-Marine Kirk Bloodsworth abandoned his alcoholic wife and troubled life in Baltimore for his hometown of Cambridge, Md. He told several people he'd done something bad. That unfortunate choice of words helped convince detectives and prosecutors that their flawed homicide investigation was righteous -- and almost sent Bloodsworth to the gas chamber.

What took place on Larry King was your typical debate with three guests. One of the guests was a prosecutor who tried to defend why Mr Bloodsworth would have been charged with his crime according to the facts given.

This woman was COLD and her attitude was cruel towards the guest-a man who suffered great loss for his false accusation. As I watched, it was clear that the prosecutor who tried Mr Bloodsworth made a HUGE mistake and because of pride & insecurity could not admit wrong doing.

Even after being released from prison--death row--this prosecutor acted as through he was still guilty (in attitude) defending her profession. And that was the core issue I walked away with--the prosecutor was more concerned with winning than the truth, and winning meant a big notch on the career belt-buckle.

Man is SELFISH to the core! This really is an act of evil--to use another human being for self gain, even to the point of putting him to death.

Ironic that the prosecutor was trying a man accused of killing and they are as guilty--not in motive, but in attitude. Even after DNA proved without a doubt he was innocent, this prosecutor still walked in arrogance.

Bottom line: I walked away thinking how childhood relations on the school playground NEVER change in the corporate world.

The necessity of humility was needed as a child, and is still needed for change!

Jim Watters said...

Your comments are so on target. We desperately need to be more like Jesus and less like ourselves. Thanks so much for your writing. Blessings - Jim

dorsey said...

Regarding Olympic Calm,

What the producer failed to recognize, and what should have frightened the hell out of him, was that the attorney's placid demeanor wasn't neccesarily an accurate barometer of his inner determination. It was a poker-face.

The lawyer could be calm, because he knew the power at his disposal. I mean, it's easy for me to not get riled, so long as I know that I have the means and the guts to cut up this guy's prize thoroughbred and put it in bed with him.

In my dealings, I always try to under-promise, and over-deliver. It's another way of walking softly and carrying a big stick. In a way, it's Christ-like. I hope this doesn't sound sacreligious, but Jesus had some brass ones. That's the highest compliment I can think of. Jesus never got ruffled, because He understood the depth of His committment to obedience. And He understood the power at His disposal.

We need to do that. We need to understand the power behind us, and the depth of our determination.

Now I have to go get that movie.

dorsey said...

I did it. After that last comment, I went to Amazon and bought the whole Godfather Trilogy on DVD. I can't wait to watch that scene.

Stephen said...

Hi Dorsey, I'll have to get Paramount to give me a cut! :)


Stephen said...

hi anon,

to answer your question - it didn't occur to me earlier that ec folks might need to apply conflict resolution stuff to internal conversations but recent events indicate that might be helpful.

D. P. said...

Very interesting post! Thanks for helping me see this issue from a different angle.

Anonymous said...

I always use a variation of this line from the Godfather to end my "conversations" with evangelical Protestants who try to sell me on their version(s) of the gospel at the expense of Gospel (Godfather Fans will recognize this as Don Corleone's polite, steel-under-velvet refusal of Solazzo's offer to get into the narcotics business):

"...good luck to you -- as best as your interests don't conflict with my interests. Thank you."

Anonymous said...

emergesque, very, very lame...

Have you ever considered what might be behind Tom Haden's cool demeanor in the face of Woltz's insults and threats? What might have given him the "confidence of the Christian with 5 Aces?" Vile murderous intent backed with a bunch of wetwork goons. Now how are these things related to Christ, to Christian humility?

What's next? Your "exposition" on Revelation 3:20 ("Behold, I stand at the door and knock..") and the scene near the beginning of the film when your beloved Haden knocks on the door to summon Sonny and the door is knocking back?

No wonder Emergent is such a mess!

Stephen said...


i think you bring up an important cautionary! my using this scene as an illustration should not be understood as a statement that this is a film that primarily celebrates Christian virtue!