Earlier this summer, in hopes of prying my children’s eyeballs away from all electronic screens, I entertained the idea of buying a trampoline. I did a little research online before requesting recommendations from my Facebook friends.
Within minutes, my Facebook feed lit up with opinions. All those who had trampolines said it was the best money they’d ever invested. Those who do not shrieked in outrage about dangerous risks and broken bones. I found the entire conversation to be a fascinating lesson in the psychology of persuasion. It makes sense, doesn’t it? We use our experiences and our opinions to convince someone else to make the same decisions so that we can, in our own minds, justify the validity and truth of what we’ve already decided. If someone else imitates us, then our decisions and our ideas are the right ones.
My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been bursting with opinions on a wide variety of topics lately. I have friends on all ends of the ideological spectrum—for which I am thankful—and they all have something to say. I also subscribe to several interesting pages and blogs, like Relevant, Deeper Story, Huff Post Religion, (in)courage, Rachel Held Evans, Anne Lamott, Patheos, Rage Against the Minivan, Momastery, Beth Moore, Brian McLaren, and Rick Warren. I get whiplash from swinging my brain left to right.
I once heard this explanation of ideologies: a conservative strives to conserve the good things from the past, while a liberal wants to liberate us from what has hindered us. I think the truth lies somewhere in between—although I’m cynical enough to believe we have a lot of liberating to do.
Ironically, many issues we once fought to conserve, we eventually liberated. Did you know Galileo was excommunicated from the church for boldly stating the earth revolved around the sun? Or that many well-respected church leaders used Scripture to defend slavery? And a hundred years later, many well-meaning followers of Jesus argued the Biblical case for segregation? In each case, God’s beloved hand-picked a few verses to make their case. Obviously, we know now that they were wrong. We know better. Our understanding of God and the world has evolved, thanks to a few courageous souls willing to stand up and challenge the party line.
I can believe the Bible is inerrant, but interpretations are not. My faith is both foundational and fluid. Which, in light of current issues and recent changes to a boys’ organization and Supreme Court rulings and outraged believers, begs the question:
What if we’re wrong?
What if we’re clinging so tightly to our interpretations that we have fingernail indentations on our palms? What if our closed hands and minds prevent us from seeing the greater work of God? What if He wants to do something new, and we refuse to listen?
It’s just a thought.
The Pharisees get a bad rap. We condemn them for rejecting Jesus, for not releasing the Old Testament Law and receiving the new covenant. They loved the law. They studied the law. They did everything they could to fulfill the law, to check off the boxes, to do what God had commanded them to do. They lived out what they were raised to believe. And they missed the point.
Today, those of us who love Jesus and want to conserve what we believe to be true are well-meaning. We love the Bible. We study the Bible. We do everything we can to check off the boxes, to do what God has commanded us to do. But, dare I say, we have missed the point. Mercy, not sacrifice.
Our interpretations may differ. We might interpret cultural and historical context differently, and we may disagree on what we think God’s heart is saying. That’s okay. It’s been that way for a long, long time.
But closing our ears to someone’s story, turning away from entering into their pain, condemning those who think differently from us? Perpetuating the us vs. them mentality, supporting battlefield language and making enemies of those we are commanded to love? That is never okay. Ever.
Here’s what I think: If we loosened our grip on our ideologies just enough to let in a little perspective and compassion, I think those we have deemed as our enemies, the ones who seemingly threaten what we think is secure and right and true, could actually become our friends. In hearing their stories and how they have been rejected and made to feel small, how they have been told God could never love them, in listening without an agenda, without a formulaic plan to change their minds, we can release our need to be right and then become righteous. As in merciful, gracious, compassionate. Christ-like.
We may disagree on interpretation and meaning, but unless we drop our stones and kneel down to embrace the outcast, we will not see Thy Kingdom Come. Thy Kingdom is going to go somewhere else where the red letters come to life and Jesus’ calling is fulfilled. Thy Kingdom will slam the door so we will not witness the glory and mercy and grace of God.
Michael and I have put off the trampoline decision, not because we are still debating but simply because we are busy and it’s hot outside. But in receiving input from our friends, I wanted one person to say, “Yes, we got a trampoline, and we wished we hadn’t.” Or, “We were dead set against it, but we changed our minds, and it was the right decision.” I wanted someone to humbly admit they were wrong, or at least admit they don’t have all the answers. I can respect certainty. In some cases, absolutism is admirable. But I am drawn to authentic, honest, humble admissions of a changed mind. I feel safe with those who admit they don’t know, or that they made a mistake, or that they could possibly not be so certain. In that sacred, safe space, I can feel free to express my own questions, my own doubts, my own uncertainties. In that space, we can agree to lean into the gray areas and rest there, to open ourselves to thoughts that are scary and new and different. We can agree to love deeply, to be brave enough to enter into someone’s story and learn from them.
We might even find the courage to admit we were wrong.
PS: Highly recommended reading for those who, like me, are exploring the gray—or if you need a starting place for moving toward compassion, perspective, and understanding:
Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee. (Intelligent, heart-breaking, very well written. Game-changer.)
Evolving in Monkeytown: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions by Rachel Held Evans (Hilarious, relatable, authentic, thought-provoking. One of my favorite reads this year.)