Please note that this is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek piece which uses humour to get across the ideas I have. As you will see from my comments later in the article, I am not in any way trying to paint certain ‘Grey People’ as the ‘enemy’; they are not. In this context, they are simply people who are getting in the way of a conversation I’m trying to have with someone else 🙂
Most of my regular readers will be aware of my ongoing personal struggles in coping with certain ‘Grey People‘ who are far too serious and always want to argue and debate things theological, when their victims don’t actually want to do so. It’s especially bad when they want to argue others, as well as themselves, out of the Good News I share. I’ve had to work out methods of staying sane while still treating them with respect and all the while being conscious of the ‘Silent Listeners‘; those hundreds, if not thousands, of people who read articles, posts and comments without anyone knowing they are there. I also want to continue the conversation I was having with my friend, with whom I am discussing the things of Grace, before the Grey Person decided to muscle in uninvited on that conversation. And I am also aware that although the Grey Person is usually hostile, still they too are someone who needs to realise the full scope of God’s Grace in their lives.
So this present essay is about a strategy I have evolved over the last few months in order to cope with the Grey People, especially when they jump in on an already existing conversation in order to spoil things. But first, some background to set the scene. It’s a bit geeky, but I think the analogies I raise should make sense 😉
There is a board wargame called ‘Federation Commander‘, which is a simulation of tactical starship combat set in the Star Trek universe, and which I used to play often. I’m afraid I must admit to holding a dubious claim-to-fame in that I am the most-published British writer in terms of tactical articles for the game, in the various magazines and other items associated with the game system, for example, in the ‘Tactics Manual’, which you can look at here.
Well! Fame at last!*
One such article in the Tactics Manual was my piece on ‘Tractor Beams’. For those unfamiliar with the idea, a tractor beam is a system, fitted to most starships in the game, which is kind of a powerful magnetic force beam used, amongst other things, to grab hold of objects in space, including other starships. Think of them as a sort of space tow-rope, and you won’t go far wrong. My article in the Tactics Manual is generally regarded, amongst players of the game, as being the definitive treatise on their use.
Don’t worry. There is a reason for all this preamble! 😀
One of the tactics that you can use a tractor beam for is simply to grab, or ‘anchor’, an enemy ship. You would usually want to do this in order to restrict his mobility, say for example so that he can’t run away from incoming missiles or torpedoes. Or maybe you grab him so you can stop him in space while you send over boarding parties to attempt to capture his ship. This is very much like how crews in the Age of Sail used to throw grappling hooks across to another ship, so as to prevent them getting away.
I take it you’re getting the picture. Tractor beams. And this idea of the restriction of mobility is the main reason for me using tractors as my analogy today.
Right, so, to the analogy. This following description will no doubt be familiar to many of my readers! (Please bear in mind that I do not count these people as ‘enemy’; I am simply using the analogy of a space battle involving tractor beams).
When engaging in discussion with the Grey People, they are usually, if not always, of serious demeanour. Any attempts at levity, or engaging as a real person, is ignored. Everything is totally, and I mean totally, serious. No ‘lols’, no smiley faces, no emoticons. No consideration for your own learning, your personality, your interests, no consideration for the time you have walked with the Lord, and the assumption that you have never read any of the Bible is taken as axiomatic (as evidenced by their excessive use of proof-texts). Remember, they have seen you online trying to ‘lead people astray’; very often they have jumped into the conversation you’re having with your friend because they decided they needed to step in ‘in the Name of the Lord’, in order to correct your ‘error’.
No, it’s all very serious and heavy going. There is no lightness or freedom, and the whole thing has to be conducted according to their assumed rule-set, including Biblical infallibility. The terrain for the battle – and let’s face it: it is essentially a battle! – has already been chosen (by them, unilaterally of course) and that ground centres in that dance around the Bible, or at least their interpretation of it. So they try to restrict your freedom of movement in the discussion, and they want to grapple you and pull you back down into the mire that their shipwrecks are embedded in, which is exactly what you escaped from when you began your deconstruction journey. And you don’t want to go back there. And you don’t want the conversation to go into that rut, either.
Now, that sounds to me a lot like being caught in a Tractor Beam 😉 If the ‘conversation’ has got to that level, then you’re being held in a place where you can’t avoid the missiles and torpedoes, and you have been slowed to their speed so they can engage you effectively!
The answer to anything like this, where your antagonist is trying to dictate the terms of the engagement, is to exercise your ability to refuse those terms, and instead fight on your own terms.
So, here are the tactics I have being using for the last few months in that regard! Remember, in the vast majority of cases, these people have jumped into a conversation which is not theirs, but they have decided to make it theirs and to correct everyone’s point of view until they line up with their own – just like a Pharisee.
Firstly, you don’t need to accept every offer of battle that is issued. If you want to leave the thrown gauntlet on the ground, then yes, leave it right there and walk away. You’re never going to get within tractor range if you refuse the battle in the first place.
The vast majority of times, I simply ignore the Grey Pharisee and write as if he’s not there. I carry on talking to the person I was originally talking to. Usually, the Grey person gets fed up with being ignored and moves on. If they don’t, there’s always the ‘block’ button, which on Facebook has the added advantage that they won’t be able to see or recover anything they have posted in response to your thread that they jumped in on uninvited in the first place.
Should you decide for whatever reason to engage, though, read on for further tactical insight 😉
Secondly, remember that they are trying to tractor you so that you can’t move, so that you have to fight the battle on their terms, and in the place of their choosing. For example, and this is the most common occurrence, they may try to engage in a proof-text slinging match. “Ah, but, the Bible says…” In other words, they want to choose the ‘terrain’, the location for the battle that holds more advantages for them than it does for you, at least in their perception. They will have their proof-text torpedoes lined up and ready to go. But if we don’t let them tractor us, then the torpedoes will miss. This, of course, is because your view of the meaning of their carefully-arranged Bible texts will be completely different from theirs, and you can simply let their texts go over your head. So, in order to avoid being tractored like this, don’t get roped in to a Scripture battle. Don’t slow down to their speed, where they can tractor you and draw you in. Keep your speed up and stay out of range of their tractors by refusing to engage on their terms. He wants to drag you down into the nitty-gritty of microscopic interpretation of Bible texts, and that should be avoided; all he can do is to watch you fly past his entrenched position, fast and free!
Nothing is lost in refusing to argue with Grey People on their own terrain. They are not going to change their minds anyway; for myself, having once been entrenched in that same position, it took fifteen years away from Church and a major move of the Spirit in my life to boost me out of that mire. However, the benefit of refusing to engage at the level desired/required by the Grey People actually shows the invisible listeners that there is far more to life than heavy theology, especially in the day-to-day living of our lives. Sure, the depth and intensity of study is there for those who wish to indulge in it – many of my blog articles reflect the depths to which I myself study certain ideas on occasion – but for most people, including the Silent Listeners, the heavy theology is of no concern to them. They just want to get on with life, and quite right too.
Thirdly, You can also keep your speed up by not getting bogged down in deep discussion. In other words, keep it light and flippant.
As someone who is living in the joy and freedom of the Children of God (Rom 8:21), you will likely have a far more light-hearted view on life and death than your antagonist. To re-quote G. K. Chesterton, whom I quoted in a recent article,
“…pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One “settles down” into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness. A man “falls” into a brown study; he reaches up at a blue sky. Seriousness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one’s self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”
So, to use your flippancy and levity is not only your strength, but it is also a tool that the other guy cannot, and indeed dare not, use because he’s afraid he’ll be seen as not taking his ‘weighty matters’ seriously enough! Flippancy is always, and I do mean always, met with grey, dull admonitions that ‘one should not take the things of God lightly’ **. But when you are free, you can do nothing else but to take things lightly. I mean, sure, we still take life seriously. Our responsibilites for work, care for others and for ourselves, still exist. We still need to insure our cars and pay the bills. And if you see someone suffering, of course you go and help them.
But the way in which we take life seriously is completely different from the way in which Grey People take life seriously. According to the Grey People, life is all about ‘keeping short accounts with god’, making sure we don’t ‘stray from his ways’, and following the Law to the letter, on pain of (guess what) hell-fire. And you can understand why they take at least that latter seriously, lol 😀 But to the person who lives life constantly under Grace, life is simply there for living, walking with Jesus every day, and having a light and free unconcern with the ideas of ‘sin’ and ‘judgement’ and all that dull, serious stuff. The consciousness of ‘sin’ does not even enter in to the life of someone under Grace, or if it does, it holds very little weight. And so we walk free of the preoccupation with ‘sin’ that so many Christians walk under. It’s sad, because they have been set free from ‘sin’, but they neither live nor behave as if that’s true for them, probably because they don’t realise it.
As an aside, here’s an example of the kind of levity I use. This was in reply to someone who wanted to see all my research on a particular subject, just so he could criticise it***:
“Nope. Not going there, and you can think what you like about my motivations for that. I tried to answer your initial question at a level anyone can understand, graciously and simply – not realising your question was a trap to suck people in to an argument. I don’t have to attend every battle I am invited to, and I choose not to on this occasion. Find someone else to fight; I’m going for my breakfast”.
I’m happy to report that my disengagement was successful; no further hostile action was received from that contributor 😉
Fourthly, don’t let him close the range. Another reason to not let ourselves get tractored is because once that tractor is locked on, it means that the battle could well get very dirty, very quickly! Here at point-blank range – tractors can only be used at very short ranges, so don’t even get close enough – is where it can get mean. Skip over points raised by your opponent which are designed to hook you and pull you in – things like personal insults, inflammatory statements, things that push your buttons. If you react in the way they want you to, then that’s their tractor beam established. In practical terms, this can simply involve just counting to ten before typing a reply. Do I really want to answer that question? Will anything be gained by reacting to that taunt or barb? Refuse any invitation to close the range into a close and dirty knife fight (another tactical article I have had published in the game literature 😉 )
At the end of the day, I am perfectly secure in who I am, in what I am, and in Whom I believe. Nothing they can say can ever change that. They can quote Bible verses at me all they like; they can tell me I am damned and they can give me a whole list of Bible-based threats, but they cannot change what I know I know, and they cannot take away from me that I know He Who has given me that knowledge (2Tim 1:12). I am secure. My emphasis is therefore not to try to bolster my own position, but to encourage and help others to reach a similar position themselves in their faith walk. And dirty fighting does nothing to further that end.
Fifthly, Talk about Jesus and what He has been doing with you and saying to you. Against your personal testimony of your walk with Jesus, the only answer they can possibly reply with is that you are being ‘deceived’ by ‘some other spirit’; of course, this is passive-aggressive speak for ‘It’s the devil telling you this stuff’. That’s the only kind of two-dimensional, binary ‘thinking’ (although it’s not really thinking, it’s more like parroting) that Grey People can come up with.
Naturally, that retort implies that God is not allowed to speak to anyone outside of their own personal paradigm, whatever that is for them themselves – usually it relates to their particular interpretation of the Bible. But remember that the Bible is not what Christians are supposed to be gathering around; it’s actually Jesus that should form the centre of our discussions. And so, what you are doing here, by talking about Jesus, is to bring the focus back to the beauty and loveliness, gentleness, strength, wisdom and above all Love of your Best Friend and Saviour. Talk about Jesus and you won’t go far wrong.
I would put in a caveat at this point, though. When I say to talk about what He has been doing with you and saying to you, I think we need to take Jesus’s advice and be careful not to ‘throw your pearls before swine’; that we should not ‘give dogs what is sacred’ (Mt 7:6). What His point was here is that what is valuable to you – things Jesus has given you – will often not be valuable to others, especially those who are already in antagonistic frame of mind towards you. They trample underfoot that which is precious, simply because they do not realise the value of what has been given to them. In the same way that a pig in her sty would not appreciate being given pearls, because she doesn’t understand – how could she; she’s an animal! – how valuable they are (even though she can’t eat them!), in the same way you will find that your gems of light that Jesus has given you hold no value to these people, and so they will discard them as worthless because they simply don’t understand.
And so, don’t give these people the really precious stuff. Exercise your wisdom in keeping the ‘Secret of the Lord‘, because not everything that is good and precious is for general distribution. Remember also that sometimes their whole intention is not so much to correct your thinking, but more simply to judge you and your beliefs according to their framework. So your pearls really would be wasted on your antagonist – and their judgment may well feel like they are trying to tear you to pieces! (again, Mt 7:6). Therefore, choose from your store of wisdom carefully 🙂
Sixthly, and this is about the Grey People themselves, remember that it is best if we ‘no longer know anyone according to the flesh’ (2Cor 5:16), in other words, we need to appreciate not just the way things look on the surface but also that which is going on in the spiritual and emotional realm. While I have so far written about these Grey People as if they are all the same, although this is understandable because their responses are usually rubber-stamped replies based on bog-standard Evangelical doctrine, actually, they are not the same. God loves these people just as much as He loves you and I. Apart from certain doctrinal assumptions, we don’t really know where these guys are coming from. Now, I know that the prime focus of our endeavours is to bless the person we are really speaking to; the person we were discussing things with before we were so rudely interrupted 😉 And also the ‘Silent Listeners’, of course. But even with the Pharisees – the ancient equivalent of today’s Grey People – Jesus only had a go at them because He loved even them. He wanted to bring them into the blessings of His Kingdom – the freedom, grace and wholeness of knowing Him – and we need to remember that all the roastings He gave the Pharisees of His day were intended to help them ‘see the light’, as it were. He did it for me, after all. And so, while our focus is not really on our antagonists, we still need to remember that we don’t know their story, we don’t know where they have come from, and we don’t know what they are fighting in their personal lives. For that reason, we need to exercise Grace in our dealings with them. So, as in my second point above, don’t let him get his tractor lock on you, because that’s when things can get dirty!
By exercising this kind of wisdom, we can keep our conversations – at least as far as it lies with us – wholesome and full of Grace. For more on this, see this article.
Finally, remember that ‘winning’ is not what it’s about. While I have used the analogy of a battle, I want to restate that the Grey People are not the enemy. Most of the time, it’s just a matter of discussing the points you are talking about with your original conversation partner; the fact that the Greys are trying to interrupt and muscle in over your shoulder is not really relevant. A battle avoided is a battle won.
Peace and Grace to you!
Header picture depicts a Galaxy-class Starship from Star Trek – The Next Generation, holding a small spacecraft in its tractor beam.
*For virtually my whole life, I have been passionately interested in many subjects, down to a level of detail that generally only the Aspergic usually go to. From all these subjects, the relevant ones in this case are Star Trek, science fiction, military history and wargames. I have had a lifelong passion for these things, which is why they come easily to me as parts of the analogy used in this article.
**This is also usually closely related to the ‘warning’ that ‘God cannot be mocked’. What this really means is that they still can’t cope with your levity, and they have also suffered a catastrophic sense of humour failure. These are the people who say ‘ho. ho. ho. god has a sense of humour ahahaha’ but with total deadpan expressions on their faces. God in fact has the ability to laugh at himself. Remember that in any kind of totalitarian rule, whether that be political or religious, the sense of humour is always the first thing to go, replaced by ‘approved’ humour only, which is a contradiction in terms. For the record, God can indeed be mocked; it happened to Jesus during His earthly life (e.g. Luke 16:14; Luke 22:63, Mt 9:24, Mt 27:31) . But that’s not really what they are talking about here; they are more likely feeling mocked themselves, (even if you are not actually doing so) and they are projecting that onto their Big Brother god who is definitely going to get you after school. What they really mean is ‘Don’t mock me. Or I’ll get god onto you’. 😉
***Also failing to appreciate that for your everyday Joe, ‘research’ just means watching YouTube videos made by people who already agree with him. For me, though, research means to me far, far more than a simple Google search; one of my degrees is by research, which involved a whole lot of hard, hard work involving years of study, reading and practical laboratory work. A little research from me, in my fields of expertise, is worth a lifetime of ‘research’ for anyone armed just with Google