This week I was reading about the Arian controversy. These nuts in the 4th century spent years and years trying to firmly ascertain whether Jesus, the sorta founder of their religion, was a human or a God or a Godlike thing.
The cutest part of the debate was the way the poor Holy Spirit was added as a total afterthought. The Holy Spirit is, in most churches, the junk drawer of our theology. Anything spiritually weird, we will throw in with the twist ties and the piece of something broken that I don’t know what it is, and the rubbery grabber thing that helps you open jars that I always forget I have.
I found the participants in this Arian argument rather annoying. I was sitting in the chemistry lab at school, on my break, shoveling chili toward my belly so I wouldn’t faint when my next class started in ten minutes, and I couldn’t believe old Athanasius (he who wanted Jesus chock full of God) was exiled like five times. These Christians could not get their act together. I was a very busy person, and I couldn’t believe they spent time on this hair splitting when there were essays to be graded. (I have a terrible suspicion that there were always essays to be graded, even in the 4th century.)
And then, after I had turned up my nose at the dysfunctional struggles of the theological cliques, I spent 7th and 8th periods arguing with my students about the seating chart. That sounds silly.
Some small things are petty. Ancient theological battles can seem petty. The seating chart seems petty. Were they? Is it?
Some people wanted to protect the humanity of Jesus, to keep him from turning into a cold statue, like the Roman emperors did. Other people wanted to protect the divinity of Jesus. They wanted to remember that Jesus was the kind of person who turned you inside out. Not just another ranty street preacher.
When we are fighting about the seating chart, we are fighting about control and authority. I am in charge of your physical location while you are in my class. I make decisions about how you can best learn. It could look petty.
And I can get my ego sucked into the debate. It can become more about the power struggle than the practicality of the thing. A seating chart merely keeps you far from people you like to chat with. You are not trying to drive me crazy when you sit in the wrong place. It just feels like it.
Probably Athanasius had the same problem. Keeping your ego out of an important fight is especially difficult, and especially important. It doesn’t mean there aren’t things worth fighting for. Some hairs need splitting. Some hairs are asking for it.