Twice. Just twice. That’s how many times I was yelled at by teachers during my school days. My first encounter with teacher rage was caused by my ability to tune everything out once I become engrossed in a book. Or anything else for that matter. I frequently have trouble focusing, but when my mind latches on to something it becomes like a fat kid with a box full of Twinkies; utterly enraptured.
Mrs. Acuff, my third-grade teacher, let us have free-time to read or draw once we finished classroom assignments. My artwork usually looked like that of a spastic monkey, so I opted to read. Things were going swimmingly on this particular day, until my teacher instructed the class that it was time to move on to something else. Being too engrossed in the life Superfudge, Sheila the Great, or another one of Judy Blume’s characters caused me not to recognize this. While the rest of the class gave their attention to Mrs. Acuff, my nose stayed buried in a book.
She called my name three or four times to no avail. You would think that the kids sitting near me would have tried to draw me out of my word-induced stupor. They didn’t, though, the little punks. Finally, Mrs. Acuff yelled–“MATTHEW!” This struck a chord in my brain. It caused me, as painfully shy and fearful of authority as I was, to lift my head and return fire by yelling, “WHAT!” The other kids gasped and I realized what I had done. Mrs. Acuff realized it, too, charging over to my desk to adinister a tongue-lashing. It was terrible. The second time I was yelled at by a teacher was worse.
I was a Junior in high school this time taking a Spanish class; Mrs. Lanigan, or Senora Lanigan, was my teacher. I liked her and the class, but I didn’t like what happened when a group of German students came one day to talk about Germany and answer questions. We were told the day before that this was going to happen so that we could think about what we would like to ask. We were told that no topic would be off-limits. This turned out to be false.
After the German students talked about their culture and some of what they liked about the U.S., they asked if we had any questions. I listened as they were asked questions about the drinking age in Germany, how fast you could drive on the roads in Germany, what fast food restaurants were like in Germany. Softball questions, questions that did not interest me in the least. I had a real question, a question that might be a little harder to answer. My hand was finally noticed. Here is what I said:
“In America, Hitler is depicted as a villain. How is he viewed by most people in Germany?”
All of the talk about no topic being off-limits vanished as my teacher instructed the German students to disregard my question and rushed over to me with a look of horror. I do not remember what she said to me or how loud she said it. I do remember that I felt sufficiently scolded and ashamed afterward. I didn’t mean any disrespect; my question was an honest one. I was simply curious and was chastised for it. I felt awful.
Feeling a sense of condemnation after asking a sincere question is bad. Having the same thing happen in the Church is worse. I know, I have witnessed it.
You’re sitting in a group of Christians and a doubt-filled question begins to burn deep in your chest. You believe that this is a safe place to expose your soul. The question comes out of your mouth and you are hopeful for kind and gracious answers. Instead your question is met with hostility. Your salvation is questioned along with your intelligence. You are told that if you pray about it, the answers will come.
You feel attacked and you learn never that the Church is not a safe place to ask questions.
Is this a real scenario? Unfortunately it is. How can this be changed? One interaction at a time. By thoughtful Christians caring more about the person asking the question than about their own agenda in answering it. By each of us loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, just like He instructed us to do. By each of us realizing that people who ask questions aren’t our enemies. By each of us recognizing that questions can lead to discussions which can lead to better relationships with believers and unbelievers alike.
I was yelled at for asking an honest question. May this never be so in the Church. Not on our watch.
(Have you ever felt attacked after asking a question? How can we better respond to those with doubts?)