Please note: this post contains a considerable amount of sarcasm. Also, descriptions and extended metaphors may occasionally run away with themselves. Please understand that offense is not the intent of what is written here; I’m just chronicling my journey.
This summer has been quite a time of contemplation and growth for me. I’m figuring out the whole “life as an autonomous adult” thing, with plenty of ups and downs. To quote one of my favorite artists, Sleeping at Last, “The smartest thing I’ve ever learned is that I don’t have all the answers, just a little light to call my own.” As many of you know, I love to know everything; I just delight in knowledge. However, the corresponding weakness is my control-freak, skeptical, distrustful rationalism, from which I am slowly recovering. It’s funny–the more I realize how dependent and inadequate I am alone, the more I’m at peace with life, the more I exist in joy. Go figure. What a gift that we grow up slowly. Encountering all of life’s conflicts and questions at once would be more than a soul could bear. Truth is depth, layers of eternity, beyond us yet within reach. So many paradoxes tease my dazzled, perplexed mind, daring it to make sense of the world. Just one step at a time, one puzzle after another, I learn to live.
I remember one of the first times that I encountered one of those tangled knots in wisdom. I was 13, and my family was staying at a cousin’s house. Morning coffee (absolutely vital for Juntunens) was being made, and someone mentioned that it was Armenian coffee (meaning from the country Armenia). Then someone cracked a joke concerning whether there was Calvinist coffee available (you know, the whole Calvinist vs. Arminian theological debate). When I asked for an explanation, my dad outlined the basic “does God choose man, or does man choose God?” issue, and my first reaction was, “isn’t it both?” After years of wrestling with that question and many others, maybe I was right the first time. Maybe the simplicity and clarity of a child helps pierce through our cynical, sophisticated righteousness. When I uttered those words, paradoxes didn’t need to be fully understood. But we go to universities and all we have to show is rigor mortis of the brain.
When you’re young, the world is black and white. You wouldn’t be able to handle the multifaceted complexities of life. Each day is the revealing of a mystery, which we call “growing up.” Psychologists identify certain concepts that young children must grasp. The existence of something outside of one’s sight or awareness. The fact that a tall, thin container might hold only the same volume as a short, wide one. The reality that different people see different views from variant angles. Maturity is, in part, the overcoming of obstacles in perception, learning to think complexly and from many angles. Why does the church (who ought to better understand the complexity that God created) often treat a refusal to mature in thinking as a twisted sort of righteousness, keeping a vise-like grip on ornate blinders?
We make a big, hairy deal about “defending our faith,” as if truth needs our paltry efforts to support it. Yes, we should be ready to give an answer, but for what? For our hope, and to those who ask. So if no one is asking, maybe you’re not really living in hope. Oh, and don’t forget the “gentleness and respect” part. Do what you will, but I see no reason to follow a God who would require my help to stand. In the end, it comes down to pride. We are not defending truth. We are defending our pet notions, lashing out in irrational fear that we might be wrong. What if we find a flaw in the foundation? Our house will prove to be built in vain. But look how ornate and fashionable it is! And look how many others have ones like it. See the interior decorating that I spent so much time on? It’s the subject of much controversy with others, those evil ones who decorate with different colors than I do, for my eye is the most mature and discerning. No, if the presuppositions prove false, then the house must be demolished, with all its finery. The foundation must be reinforced, amended, perfected, before a more beautiful and true structure rises in resurrection from the death of the old.
What if you are wrong? Have you ever slowed your rush from here to there, to buy and sell, and make more money to buy more, to impress the others, so that you can make more money, just to consider your life? What would you do? Contemplate this. For we will all, without fail, realize our own error at some point, in some area. Should this be cause for crisis? Or is it merely the nature of an existence of resurrection and vitality? Oh, perhaps these thoughts creep stealthily to your side when you are alone, wrap their cold fingers around your neck, threatening all you thought you believed. So fight back. Surely they try to murder you. Exact revenge. Drown them…in drunken nights, in mindless entertainment, in the hurried affirmation from those who walk your smooth path and wear your fashionable shoes. Silence those questions. Don’t you trust God? We may be hypocrites, but at least we’re not heretics!…or are we?
What is your foundation? What is the basis of all you believe? What, if disproven, would cause a crisis in your core being? Don’t ask. You might just find sand beneath your walls. The walls that you erect to shut out the world. To keep them from seeing your weakness. To shield yourself from their haunted, hurting eyes. You cannot afford to see them as human.
To be in truth, of course you must see black and white. We are not relativists. You don’t want to water down what God said, do you? DO YOU?! Good. Now be quiet and well-behaved. But as the world shines in through the widening cracks in the walls of your worldview, you begin to cave. Reality is out there, stronger than you. You must accept the exceptions, the complexity of life. No more foolishness of childhood, which you were told was righteousness. Now, cynical and disillusioned, you see the world in gray. No hope, no life. We’re all this way. Thrust into the real world without a hand to hold or teacher to guide us. We were thrust from the shelter, where we could judge the passers-by from our white-washed tower, placing them into neat categories for our convenience, compiling long, self-righteous lists of the way that they were wrong (i.e., how we thought they differed from us). Empty eyes stare from the mask that offers a little protection, a little semblance of love. We are realistic. We don’t expect much. Drab and weary, time trudges on, dragging us all, its unwilling captives. Our death march. We have grown up; time has conquered us. Neverland is no more. We sneer with the pride of the defeated at the ones who hold to black and white. Just wait, we say. And we do; what else is there to do? We force their eyes open, one by one, till a few more innocent souls are initiated, raped of life.
But now I will say no. I will step from the ranks, despite the warnings that I will find danger, death in the unknown. I do not know. Perhaps they are right. But anything will be better than this living death. While shades-of-grey and black-and-white squabble, war, and name-call, I will dance away. Quietly. They don’t notice my absence, and why should I care? I choose color. A world in color, vibrant, deep, complex. From ignorance into hopelessness, I die. Let me live again, to see a landscape of mysteries to be lived, adventures to be shared. Slowly but surely, one by one, others follow. We forge new paths together, rejoicing in the freedom and love of God. All creation sings and dances with us, our formerly ashen eyes burning with the colors of the autumn leaves, our blistered feet soothed by the brook, our hungry bellies satisfied by strange and beautiful fruits, our weary hearts made merry with wine. We glance back to see a the chain gang as it half-heartedly battles itself, oblivious to the world around it. They deny that anything exists beyond their achromatic bubble, calling crazy any who would dare abandon it. One day, the violence shall grow too great, and their reality shall self-destruct, the bubble bursting. What will remain then, but all the beauty and joy and color in the world?…but our community, singing and dancing and feasting? They shall see in color at last, and we shall rejoice at their arrival to the journey of truth and grace.
What if I’m wrong? I never dared to ask. See, once upon a time, Truth=My Interpretation of Scripture. If you don’t follow it to a T, you’re living in sin. I ostracize you, filthy sinner! How could you so blatantly spit in the face of Jesus, by refusing to conform to this VERY OBVIOUS truth that I have exalted above the gospel and the Kingdom of God? But now I’m not so sure, much to the chagrin of my precious arrogance and the comfort of model christianity.
We’re so concerned with making ourselves seem superior. So caught up in setting things at opposition. We obsess over who is “going to heaven” and “going to hell.” Sheesh, stop freaking out; put down your guns. I’m not advocating universalism–just listen for once. Are we really so insecure that we must point out everyone who we think is hated by God, damning them with glee? Show me the last time that an overly-exclusive ideology attracted the searching, or did anything but ostracize those who would dissent? Whereas being overly inclusive may actually attract and redeem those who just needed to see the love of Jesus. Now, listen: I am not advocating erring to either side. We often try to justify a refusal to grapple with the tough questions by saying, “this is the safe side.” Look, God is not safe, and living is not safe. Whatever we believe, we risk, putting ourselves on the line. Can you really afford to just go along with the acceptable opinion in your group? There is no neutral. The good news, however, is that being correct is not all there is to life. God is not waiting with a hammer to squash you for believing the wrong doctrine. So search, struggle, pray, and find truth. Well, what you think is truth right now. Then live, walk in that belief. Risk yourself by testing it. What if it doesn’t work? Don’t just stop or give up. Change, grow, and keep walking.
Is doubt wrong? We must be humble. As mere humans, can we presume to possess absolute, flawless truth? Infallible discernment? I don’t know much, but I’m finally learning to understand how little I do understand. We’ve forgotten the person of God, and in idolizing ourselves, we make “being right” the ultimate goal, the highest virtue. When correctness trumps love, disagreement causes hatred. In such a scenario, you can’t think that someone is wrong without animosity, without pride, without severed fellowship. We see every contrast or juxtaposition as a battle, a conflict. To achieve “peace” (i.e. lack of conflict), uniformity must reign. So we smother identities, dreams, gifts, lives, for the sake of the comfort of the willfully blind. Tooth and nail, we fight to preserve our fragile, panicked, blissful ignorance.
What if we learned to live in vital, breathing, acting community? With many different types of people, living in unity, exercising their gifts and strengths? Embracing the beauty and mystery of the paradoxes that comprise truth?
When we spend more time worrying about a girl’s hemline than the homeless starving on the streets, what the hell is wrong with us? As long as we refuse to see the exceptions, instead vitriolically asserting stereotypes, we profane the image of God. We demean sacred human beings, turning them into fuel for our political fires, bits of evidence to pluck up and toss into our next petty debate, to be torn to pieces by the opposition and replaced by other dehumanized pawns.
It’s also interesting how we are so insecure in our humanity. We bristle at the mention of any resemblance that we bear to other animals. Look, creation is good and beautiful. To hold God’s creatures, human or not, in derision is dishonoring to the Creator. Are we human only because we are “not animal,” “not plant,” “sentient,” or “intelligent”? Our track record with the use of such distinctions is appalling. Are we so arrogant in our distinct status that we would abuse that which is our sacred stewardship? We must learn our place with humility; in creation is found the nature of the Creator. We would do well to be the students of nature, not merely its caretakers, and sure as hell not its rapist. God’s nature is one of communion, and Creation, as an expression of the Divine, is a community. A community of which we are an inseparable and integral part. To live in the great community requires humility, an understanding of our own inadequacy and ignorance, our absolute dependence, our need to learn. Creation is our teacher, for in every detail, from the delicate to the majestic, it reveals the Creator to us.
Below is the link to a video by a remarkable person, whose thoughts inspired this post, in part.