Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fading to gray...

In my teens, faith in God seemed obvious. Maybe a combination of youth and fundamental, literal Bible teachings at church made it seem that way. “God’s will” was something that could be fairly easily found, a black and white issue that you either followed or you didn’t.

A few years of college later, the lines started to gray. I met many other Christians who went to churches that met very differently from my own. And yet they were seeking God and seeking to serve Him too.

Yet a few more years have passed now, and the black and white of youth is no longer there. Is it just a matter of having grown up, having believed the wrong blacks and whites, or something else?

I read what Jesus says, and the words both about love and conflict seem beyond understanding. “Love your neighbor as yourself”, being the most important thing after loving God. Do I see Christians known for that? And then today, “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth. I came not to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father… If you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine.” (Mat. 10:34-37)

I go to a fairly “contemporary” church. The Bible is God’s truth, and yet there is some room for it to be taken as more than literal – leading to a dynamic church where women have some leadership roles, we work on the environment, we sing songs other than 1800’s-era hymns.

Then there is a good friend of mine, one who lives like Jesus would, I think. She shares her time, her art, her money all the time with the people in her neighborhood, her city, her world, yet she’s taking a break from organized church for a while. Seeking God outside of church? Others seek God in the “emergent church” – maybe the most contemporary type of church out there. Still others are drawn back to churches that are much more “orthodox”.

Finding different (if not quite opposing) well-informed perspectives on education, the environment, politics, history seems relatively easy. Finding those same perspectives on faith in God is really challenging me. Black and white perspectives are easy in a sense - they allow me to know if I'm right or wrong. On faith issues - my values, my purpose, my after-life - it is almost as if our lives depend on being "right". As I read about faith issues, the perspectives seem to be especially biased, charged, and so sometimes confusing. There is so much that I don’t know, don’t understand – but that I want to!

Where, in between the black, gray and white, would Jesus be walking, and taking me with him?

"Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse."—African proverb


Danielle said...

maybe it's the realization of the gray that leads to understanding different walks of life. that understanding, in turn, dissipates the fear that perpetuates judgement and condemnation of others unlike ourselves. more than just within christianity, so many "issues" in our culture are taught in a black and white dichotomy which creates a measuring stick or standard by which to judge others as "right" or "wrong". until we interact with and befriend those that choose a life that is completely unlike our own, can we truly understand belief systems on a holistic, convoluted GRAY spectrum. it's a challenge; but positive change never comes without a little striving or conviction.

Don said...

Perhaps you're moving from black and white to color, like the boy in Lois Lowry's "The Giver." Have you read that?

joanna said...

Yes, the people I meet _really_ tweak my perspectives. Good point Danielle. I read The Giver a while back, I'll have to revisit it. Hmmm, color, never thought of that!


color...that's a nice thought--since I'm an artist! :)

totally empathize with you Joanna regarding being confused. And I agree--it seems being "right" has always been a goal...but not nessasarily "right"!!!! Great thoughts Danielle--that we will never really understand a holistic view of beliefs systems until we interact and befriend those with different beliefs!

Jimmy said...

do we really have to "interact and be-friend those that choose a life that is completely unlike our truly understand belief systems.." ??? Just because you become friends with a black person, or study abroad in a foreign country, do you really understand anything? By doing this, you're really just reducing them to their differences rather than seeing them as a person. I think about lots of kids that study abroad and thinks they're really "experiencing" the culture when they're really projecting an arrogant attitude on the culture by saying "oh, I've spent three months in that country, I totally understand this culture." Maybe if you just keep an open mind and realize that everyone has different experiences in their lives we'll understand enough. I think a good interpretation of "loving your neighbor as yourself" is seeing the humanity in every individual rather than pointing out that they're different by "seeking to understand" them.

joanna said...

We do reduce each other more to differences than similarities sometimes, I think. Which, as you point out, has the potential to be more destructive than helpful.

But on the flip side, whether you are looking for similarities or differences, it's hard to see a people group (ethnicity, gender, career, whatever type) as individual persons if you've never met a single one! To say that we totally understand them after just meeting, or even becoming friends or spending 3 months in their country - that is arrogant. But to go far enough out of your way to meet them, talk to them, visit their country, maybe that speaks to loving them as your neighbors...?

Thanks for the thoughts, James :).

Jimmy said...

But when you're trying to get to know someone b/c they're "different" from you, it's a form of saying, "hey, you're different from me." Why not just treat everyone the same, rather they're different or not?

jan said...

Some of us were raised to see everyone as "different" from us. I grew up with the "Dutch" measuring stick, and GA had it's own measuring stick.
It took me a while to realize it was actually okay to identify with someone else's humanity and to be able to empathize with them and to realize we had more in common than not.
It's a learning process for some of us.

Hope you don't mind my interjection here. Carry on... These are really interesting discussions and thoughts. :-)

joanna said...

Jan - Apparently, you and Steve Martin have more in common than you realize! He says almost your exact same idea in Parade magazine today... It's an interesting insight from both of you, I think.

"I wouldn't make the same jokes about horrible things today that I would 30 years ago. When I was younger, I hadn't seen so much of other people's pain. Now I think twice. It's not political correctness. I don't care about that. I call it empathy."