I was at my bowling league the other night, bowling against one of the new teams that had joined the league this season. I noticed that one of the ladies on the other team brought her teenage daughter. So, between games, wanting to make the daughter feel comfortable and acknowledged, I asked her if her mom bought her a chocolate bar between games as a reward for coming with her. She told me she doesn’t eat sugar because she is not allowed. She even told me that she had been grounded once when she was younger because she told her mom she had eaten a chocolate bar.
I asked the mom if this was true and she assured me that it was.
“I’m a dental hygienist, and that kind of sugar is bad for you.” I went on to talk to her (and yes tease a bit) but I could tell that she was thoroughly convinced and committed to a sugar-free way of life. I found myself quite shocked. Not at the lack of sugar and her stance, but by the rare trait of having a strong conviction that she demonstrated.
In an age where hardly anyone swims against the stream, where people seem to simply ride the cultural current of what others think and what the media pushes, it was startlingly refreshing to meet someone thinking their own thoughts unbothered to bow to what everyone else thought and did. It kind of reminded me of the story of the Rekabite family in Jeremiah 35.
But, some may ask, isn’t it strong, contrarian convictions that make up those we label as radical fundamentalist? I don’t think so. A fundamentalist insists that everyone must agree with them and their point of view, a person with strong convictions insists that everyone may agree with them. A fundamentalist seeks to coerce, a person with strong conviction seeks to convince. A fundamentalist is threatened when challenged and responds defensively, a person of strong conviction is thrilled when challenged and responds persuasively. A fundamentalist wants people to conform to their ideas, a person of strong conviction wants people to consider their ideas. A fundamentalist attacks the person, a person of conviction attacks the argument.
A person of strong conviction is a gift in a culture of conformity and when you meet one it is a shocking and delightful experience.