While running last night, I saw an old acquaintance and we stopped to catch up. Turns out they were helping to revive the young adults program in their local parish. I mentioned there were a good number of young adult groups meeting in the Portland area and that there was probably a lot of great resources they could take advantage of.One of the events they wanted to get started was a theology on tap program. I mentioned that Portland has a very successful and large Theology on Tap discussion group/series each year. At this point, the person asked if the speakers were conservative or liberal – and that they’d much rather hear a person of affiliation X than Y.
Now, I know this particular person has a strong leaning towards one side of that affiliation, but I’m not going to say which – because it’s not important.
I think I’ve told many people that I no longer use the words conservative or liberal to describe politicians, religious philosophies, etc – because I think those words are now usually MEANT to distract from the point or idea the person wishes to share, intentionally polarizes and prejudices opinion before you even hear what the person has to say, and defuses any ability to start a dialog – and ultimately, hinders the real point and ability for both parties to lovingly grow from each other: a respectful relationship. These labels often have the primary effect of tipping the deck to rhetoric – not ideas, discussions, and mutual respect. (Yes, it is possible to have a mutually respectful relationship with someone whom you disagree with!)
Now, if you read this correctly, you’ll realize this works both ways – for so called ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ whatever. In this particular case when confronted with the question if the person is conservative/liberal, I simply would say, “Ah, is that the most important thing that matters to you when deciding what a person is saying?” Because if it is, you’re at best being prejudice – you a pre-judging what someone is going to say before they say it and are no longer in dialog, no longer really THINKING about the ideas, or being challenged, and don’t seem very genuinely interested in respecting the person.
It’s much easier to listen to what we want to hear – and a problem of religion (and politics) today is that we like to pick and choose what truths we’d like to hear. Unfortunately, Truth with a capital T is the reflection of how things really work. Shocking – but there is a way that things do work in the world irrespective of how we’d like to believe it works. For a religious person, this is how God intended and created them to work – and that these truths about horseshoes and blue skies and mother-in-laws are all linked as one big, beautiful mural. But by picking and choosing the things you wish to believe, you can easily start causing contradictions and conflicting messages that do not reflect the faith you profess – nor the reality that God has spun into motion. It’s much like refusing to buy into the idea of gravity because you don’t like that one. Well, it will still give you a painful reality check when you jump off a building whether you believe it or not. That is way God’s kind of truth about relationship and loving works too.
I have had to learn this difficult lesson over time: I need to not only hear the things that I would normally agree with, but I must even more constantly challenge myself to go and listen to religious folks I normally wouldn’t agree with. And you know what – God has something to say through them. It’s always very challenging, and sometimes gets me worked up. It requires a lot of internal maturity to sit, listen carefully, and then think through the ideas without just going with my first gut reaction. And again, you know what – I have grown far, far richer because of it. In all human lives and philosophies, we are always a mix of truth and the still-trying-to-get there. It is a great mistake to forget that for anyone who is truly and actively seeking God, there is always a lived experience of their faith that is on track and God is working through – and that is something to be learned from and shared. There is also a part that is not on track or still needs a lot of refining and sifting. You must listen and sift carefully with reflection and prayer – and verifying your facts with scripture and a knowledge of Church teaching.
I have come to realize that Jesus was really teaching us that we are one large family – and God has given it many parts for a reason. It’s given us scholarly folks who sit in Rome, it’s given semi-revolutionary missionaries in 3rd world countries, it’s given us the ordinary family in Kansas, it’s given us millionaires. When we start selectively listening to any one part – we are no longer challenged to grow and appreciate the need for the other parts of the family we were given – and indeed – NEED. We need all those parts – both sides – all sides – to be whole. Paul tells us the body of Christ is given many parts – and they all need to work together. If the ‘conservative’ side refuses to listen to the ‘liberal’ or vice-versa, then it is the foot ignoring the hand. We really do need all those voices together to get harmony – if not, we have a whole bunch of people singing to themselves.
Beautiful music comes from different voices – a band with 5 lead guitars isn’t as great to listen to as 5 different instruments. We might be a virtuoso at our instrument, but as any musician will tell you (me included) you actually learn how to play your own instrument differently, and arguably much better, when you start playing with other instruments. We are still a guitarist, but if we don’t learn how to play with the strengths/weaknesses of the drums and keyboardist, we won’t make even more beautiful music. So it goes in the body of Christ. Probably one of the most painful struggles in our current society is that we lack real relationality – or even the desire for it. We are now more opt to force/legislate responsibility to one another (witness rise of lawsuits for matters that normally should be resolvable by two mature adults) – but not offer real relationship in which we both give and take freely with the other’s and mutual good in mind. But I digress…
So, if we aren’t challenging ourselves to get to know and incorporate relationship with each part of the body now, if we don’t realize we really do need all the parts – the brains, the hands, and the feet of the Body of Christ, if we aren’t challenging ourselves to grow in playing our instrument (strengths/weaknesses) in concert with each others strengths/weaknesses – we will certainly continue to struggle in this life, live less rich lives ourselves, and be confronted with that need before we get to enter the kingdom.