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It started with chocolate chip cookies. After a lunch meeting with a wide array of cookie options, one person mentioned he loved cookies, but not chocolate chips.
What transpired was this conversation: What is something you have strong feelings about that is not a hot topic, but a cold one. Or, what is something you are passionate about that doesn’t deserve to be controversial?
Strong opinions quickly emerged about the organization of silverware drawers, whether pickles pollute plates when they are served along sandwiches, and the appropriateness of wearing Crocs with socks. One person who characterized herself as a germaphobe admitted her discomfort with potlucks, another talked about the frustration with people who don’t put their carts away properly at the grocery store. Someone else defended her love of winter in Michigan: “If you don’t like snow, move somewhere else.”
I offered my strong taco feelings—they are to be served in corn tortillas, Mexican style (onions and cilantro), and ordered from a taqueria with a menu with the meat choices in Spanish: carne asada, carnitas, pollo, al pastor, and chorizo. I’m not a fan of the Midwest Dutch taco: I’ll pass on ground beef with Ortego seasoning, cheddar cheese, and iceberg lettuce.
It was a fun conversation. It was intended to be a fun conversation, but I found something happening to myself the more we talked. With room to air my opinion, I found my passion turning from cold to hot. My voice raised the more I talked; my heart beat a little faster. Given the chance, I had more to say about my strong taco feelings than I first anticipated. And I walked away from the table worried that I might have offended someone else who admitted her favorite, go-to recipe includes ground beef and taco seasoning.
In our team meeting in which the “what are you hot about that’s really a cold issue?” discussion came up, we have established norms. One of them is the concept of being willing to put ideas on the table without climbing on the table with those ideas. It’s an easy thing to do: we offer an idea or a belief, and before listening, we find ourselves instead armoring up, getting ready to defend our idea.
Offering an idea and then listening—listening to truly hear, not just listening to respond—is hard. And it involves setting aside our egos, setting aside our preconceived notions, and setting aside our own experiences to hear someone else. If conversations can become heated when talking about shoe trends, pickle placement, and taco preferences, it’s especially hard when the issues are more crucial.
I was an eavesdropper as a kid, often preferring to listen to adult conversations than play with the other kids. One of my memories is being surprised by the strong opinions of adults around church. I heard strong opinions about carrying coffee into services, stained-glass windows, projection screens, and the pastor who dared to run a lawn sprinkler on a Sunday.
Looking back, all these were cold topics that I heard expressed as hot. My memory—and my perceptions as a child—may not be correct, but I wonder what cold topics my kids overhear today’s church wasting its energy on.
Another memory from my childhood: my grandma collected thimbles and had a cabinet of them displayed in her dining room. One of our favorite games to play at her house was “Hide the Thimble.” The seekers would close their eyes while a thimble was hidden, and then when released to search the house, the hider would follow us around and coach—“Cold, colder, warm, warmer, hot, blazing”—until we’d discover the hidden thimble.
Maybe we should appoint a “Hide the Thimble” coach during church board meetings and coffee hour conversations. Someone to differentiate and call out: “Cold, colder, freezing cold!” From “warm, warmer, hot!” What really matters in the end? What conversations are ones that Jesus would entertain and which ones might he, like in Matthew 22 shake his head, knowing we’re up to no good, and say, “Why are you playing these games? Why are you trying to trap me?”
But this kind of misdirected passion isn’t only reserved for formal meetings. There are a million small moments during our days when we might find ourselves overly opinionated and taken off the trail of what really matters. We grumble about the person who cuts us off in traffic, jump to the conclusion that a text message carries a negative tone, or overreact about the grumpy kid who doesn’t want to hear what we have to say.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom,” said Viktor E. Frankl. I agree with Frankl, but I might add that in our response lies not just our growth and freedom, but our influence. If we wish to mirror Jesus, to reflect love and grace, we might want to be careful that cold issues don’t distract us from what’s actually hot.