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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Splintered People

This post is part of the April 2014 Synchroblog: Healing the Divides. 

I think it's probably bad form to reference a writing prompt within the body of an essay, but I just want to say when I read this month's Synchroblog topic and its description- "Healing the Divides" (writing a balm to the hearts of Christians who are divided against one another)- I just felt this emotion rise in my chest. Because YES: I'm passionate about the unity of Christians. That might be a surprise to people who know me because so often (mostly always), I've been the one digging in my heels, making jabs at the religious beliefs of others, fighting tooth and nail for my beliefs, moreso out of my own need to feel security in my "rightness" than from a true unction from the Lord to "speak truth in love" (oh boy, people love to use that as an excuse to insult you, but wait- I guess that counts as a jab, too- a reverse jab.)

Still, though, I try to bring friends together from various faith traditions to spend time together and learn from each other. Starting discussion groups has been one of my main time-and-energy investments since college. One of my favorite meetings was when our philosophy club did a Catholicism and Protestantism night. I learned a lot that night from my Catholic friends. It's so, so good, y'all, to actually listen to people and to try to understand why they believe what they do. And it's so important. It's the key to love and empathy. Sometimes my ecumenical efforts fail, but sometimes they produce at least a tiny bit of good fruit. Those same friends and I actually managed to have a fun and civil night of discussing politics. (It probably helped that we focused our attention mainly on the public funding of libraries, not exactly a hot-button issue.)

But that's the happy side of hopefully-civil discourse. I used to have an arguing buddy, another theology guy, with whom I spent a lot of time wrestling through various philosophical propositions. And sometimes it got downright ugly. We both look back and think those days were fun- in fact, we talked about it earlier this week. (Maybe the people who were with us didn't always have fun. Oops.) But the day after a debate usually found one of us texting the other: "Hey, listen, I'm really sorry I said such-and-such...that was hurtful...it went too far, etc." Honestly, I think we are both kind-hearted people, but certain topics could bring out the claws. At one point, we just laid out a blanket apology: "We apologize to each other once and for all for all the ways we will continue to insult and offend each other in conversations to come." The end.

This friend participated in a couple of my discussion groups- philosophy club and C.S. Lewis book club (which he was embarrassed to be a part of, but whatever). I always remember that he and I both have a heart for ecumenicism (deep down), and we like to unify people. One of his favorite phrases was: "We agree." He loved it when we would all finally agree on something, even if the agreement was pretty flimsy and superficial. My husband would argue with him on politics; I would mostly fight with him about epistemology. But the bottom line was that we genuinely wanted the best for each other. And so we loved this friend.

Lovingkindness was the balm for many a hurt feeling.

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Christianity is so fractured and splintered: it overwhelms me and sometimes threatens to undo me. In fact, I was just writing my new pastor about it today. I get so anxious because even religion seems to be another commodity thrown into the marketplace to be picked over. Hardly anyone I know agrees on everything about religion- who God is, how to live in the light of that, how He works in the world. If you ask five Christians what it means to be "saved," expect five different answers. I'm amazed at how much confidence people exude in the super-specific "truth" they've found. Listen, even the Apostle Paul tells us we only know "in part." I kind of think God only wants us to know in part because being a "know-it-all" isn't very helpful in the sanctification process. The ego has got to die for the Holy Spirit to rule.

Something that bothers me in the current Christian milieu (and I've noticed this big-time in the blogging world) is the tendency to form tribes. To align with people and against others. I've even read people who frame that positively: "I've found my tribe." And it can be positive- to know other people have the same thoughts and feelings as you- that's comforting. But it can also be alienating, and it can get a little too comfortable. I love this quote from Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel“If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don't find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don't cozy up to people who mouth our jargon."

Again, I'll say: lovingkindness is the balm. It's intimidating, you know, to even broach conversations that could bring up tension. It's natural to want to talk about the weather. It's especially hard if the issue has been a tricky one before. But how can we learn if we don't ask? And how can we understand if we don't listen to the answer? And how can we love without seeking to understand and empathize? Ask a lot of questions. Do a lot of listening. And don't ever feel that you've "arrived"- that's when you stop growing. When you feel like you know less than you ever have, guess what? You're in a good place. Keep seeking and learning. It's such a big adventure! And remember when you feel your defensiveness rising, when you feel the need to be right and defend your rightness- remember kindness. Remember forgiveness. Remember to send the text the next day that says "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings. I'll try to be kind in the future." Just don't give up on the mission that God gives all of us, which is to love each other well.

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Here's a list of the other posts contributed for this month's Synchroblog theme: "Healing the Divides." I hope you enjoy these!

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