Thursday, May 05, 2011

[Practical Unity in a Wonderfully Diversified Faith]

If you didn't know it already, Christianity is kind of weird. No, wait! Don't get all up in arms yet. Remember, I'm a Christian, too, and it's not as mean if you're making fun of yourself, right?

No, don't answer that. Anyway...

Here we are, though, a massive religion chock full of denominations, nationalities, personalities, and philosophies.  We're a pretty diverse group. Yet many of us have this crazy habit of thinking that we've got the monopoly on Christianity, and that anyone else who interprets the Bible differently isn't really a Christian but someone "posing" under the name. Forget the fact that Paul more or less says that it's not about the doctrine but rather Christ on the cross and rising from the grave, and the rest is merely semantics. Somehow, many of us nod at that part one moment, then hop into an online theological discussion that turns into a great deal of finger-pointing and heretic-calling.

And what is it that Jesus prayed the night he was arrested, according to John? John 17:20-23: "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me,that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me--so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

Hmm.. interesting... the one thing He's recorded as praying for on behalf of all future believers is the one thing at which we fail most spectacularly. Yikes. And yes, I fully include myself in this accusation.

This is something we need to work on urgently. As with anything, of course, change starts with ourselves first, not with changing those around us. So, I present a list of online and in-person discussion "tips" (many of which have probably been said by many other people) that I'm keeping in mind for myself and would encourage my fellow believers who are also taking part in the Rally for Unity (officially or not):

1. Turn the emotional fire down a few notches when engaging in an online debate or discussion. Most of the time, we're debating with one another--in other words, people who already profess Christ on the cross. The future of the world and its souls therein probably does not hinge on the outcome of that conversation, except perhaps when those on the outside see us squabbling amongst ourselves and decide they want no part of a belief that pits its followers against one another.

2. Eschew the labels altogether. People are not the philosophies or lifestyles they follow--they are individuals who probably have just as much cause to believe they're right as you do. So whether you or those you speak to/about are liberal, progressive, conservative, hipster, gays, lesbian, transsexual, blond, obese, anorexic, bulimic, overweight, athletic, lazy, antsy, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Irish, Jewish, emo, skater-punk, teenage, men, women, Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Arminian OR Armenian, pro-life, pro-choice, atheist, wiccan, pro-Rob Bell, pro-Mark Driscoll, feminist, short, tall, quiet, outspoken, even-tempered, calm, nerds, innately cool, artistic, analytic, and on into eternity, they are not "them." Do not use labels as four-letter words, or applying what Jesus spoke in terms of judging others, you'll find yourself labeled in the same measure, and you'll find being on the receiving end that doing so has robbed you of your humanity. After all, when we consider someone by their label, we take away his or her person and replace it with a stereotype.

3. Dialog with humility. So we're human. We're going to debate/discuss some potentially heated topics, and chances are, we'll be going in believing that we're right, and the other party is wrong. However, keep in mind that the Pharisees believed the same about themselves and found out (eventually) that they were wrong. They'd kept the letter of the law but lost the spirit. As such, always have the grace to realize, not just verbally, but consciously in your mind and heart that, no matter how much scripture you may have to back your claim, you may very well be wrong. I think you'll find it a lot harder to take on an "us versus them" mindset as a result, and that's a very good thing.

4. Wait. Before you speak, before you write, before you react publicly in any way, wait.  If you must vent, if you must get it off your chest, invest in a private journal. Have it out on paper, sleep on it, and wait a little longer (if it's of good quality, it will keep; don't worry). Then, if you believe it still must be said, say it using the philosophy of number three. Unfettered sarcasm and snark, while eliciting a few laughs from those with whom you agree, has a tendency to hurt and wound others without necessity. Hey, I'm all about a good punchline, don't get me wrong; but keep in mind that you can take it way too far.

5. Respect diversity. America and/or the western world do not have a monopoly on Jesus. Take the time to recognize your personal and cultural context, and remember that it is unique to you. No one approaches the Bible from the same context, and therefore everyone is going to read it a little differently. Jewish faith (remember, the root of Christianity? It helps to read through that lens.) has a tradition of rabbinical exposition over a great number of years, called the Midrash, where writers and thinkers have worked to fill in scriptural gaps and explain features of the Torah that may not make sense. It's, effectively, an ongoing discussion, with many diverse voices coming together to add to the narrative (not necessarily to decide which interpretation is number one). In other words, our faith was born out of a culture of discussion and speculation and therefore diversity.

6. Read it before you judge it, and even then consider the possibility that it may be the truth. If we learned anything from the Love Wins spectacle, it's that culturally we have a habit of judging a work that says something untraditional before having even read the work. Oftentimes, a close reading reveals that the author is simply putting what many others before have said into his or her own words and experience. They've thought, they've studied, they've questioned, and their perspective is there for a reason. We don't have to agree with what each other says, but we really should consider its possibility. I have a feeling many of us will be surprised someday upon discovering what we believed that was true and that was actually quite contrary to what Christ really intended.

And finally:

7. Think for yourself, then act in love. Whatever you hear or read, make your own decision and respect the right of others to do the same. It is, after all, the Holy Spirit's role to convict individual hearts; it's not our job. Ours is simply to follow what Christ said are the two most important commandments: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Focus on love and let the Lord take care of the details.

*Written in response to the Rally to Restore Unity... go check it out!

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