Monday, February 05, 2007

Get a question—Get a life!

Today's UPI column is another of the postmodern virtues: questions over answers.

Enjoy.

16 comments:

Kansas Bob said...

Your column answered all the questions that I wasn't answering ... and I refuse to ruin my movie watching by wondering about things like character development or cinematography - I just care if I like it or don't and sometimes I don't want to care about why I don't :)

In truth life is really about the questions ... giving ourselves permission to ask them is often something that takes a bit of courage - especially someone with a legalistic-fundamentalist-type background.

Thanks for reminding me that it is not about the answers Julie ... not that I don't want some mind you.

Anonymous said...

Great article! I sent it to several of my questioner friends, as food for thought and encouragement to keep on asking those questions. :-)

It is so easy to look for the simple answer. To tie everything up with a bow, seems to be our first inclination and yet, it cuts off dialogue and understanding we we rush to conclusions. Thanks for the reminder to ask better questions.

Susan

Rick said...

Nice article - if we're going to look for good answers, we better make sure we're looking at the right questions. And then, those answers should lead to even better questions - methinks. Going to link here and your article, see what others think about your insight :)

carrie said...

There is no "one tree" that speaks beauty, shade, recyclable materials, fruits, flowers and lumber most adequately. Rather, there are trees, to be known and appreciated on their own terms in all their diversity

The way you state this is very intriguing. I can see how it is true for trees, and it is easy to let the analogy work for all kinds of things, maybe everything. You need many trees to understand the diversity and beauty of "tees," but in the end there is only one tree that is "the largest." There is only one Mt Everest even if all other mountains help you appreciate it more, or give you insight into it's beauty. You may scale Everest from different directions but there is only one summit, and in the end, you have to actually be on Mt Everest to climb Mt Everest, no matter what approach you take.

I certain see the value of questioning more and more in my life (and you are a big reason that is true), and I see the value of asking better questions and not simply looking for answers. But while questions can exist without finding the answers, it doesn't mean that the answers don't exist.
;-)
Carrie

julieunplugged said...

The idea that there are answers indicates a static understanding of life, though. I would say it this way:

Questions lead us to resting places that feel like answers... but answers that require tents, not marble mansions.

The Mt. Everest analogy is intriguing to me because you chose the largest mountain. It isn't more of a mountain than other mountains - just the biggest.

I guess the way I see answers to spiritual questions is more the way I see art - each of us interprets the light and composition we see through our viewfinders to generate meaning and that becomes the answer we live... which is our holy calling and personal work of art.

Ampersand said...

Better questions mean that instead of becoming interested in whether or not I approve of the answers, I find myself intrigued by the interlocking pieces of the worldview that created the ideas to begin with. Instead of seeking "right and wrong" answers, I want to know a person (the creator of the perspective) behind whatever it is I'm studying or viewing. That person has a story to tell: in film, in art, in theater, in poetry, in science and even if that story is narrated in textual criticism, systematic theology or ethics.

The converse is true for me too. While I'm happy to offer up my "answers" to others, the offering is with the hope of being known and of sharing my story, not with the hope or assertion of being right.

I am always thrilled when the exchange of "answers" and further questions leads to shared understanding between me and my fellow humans as to what makes meaning for each of us.

I love and adore that which is meaningful to others. After all, what else is there?

carrie said...

The idea that there are answers indicates a static understanding of life, though.

I'll have to think about this one. I'm not sure that box fits. ;-) While I certainly see that nailing down an answer in our own minds can stunt growth, I still contend that it doesn't mean there aren't answers. You may contend we can't know the answers, and I could see how that is a viable conclusion. And maybe that makes it a mute point for you. For me, at this point, asking questions still means I'm hoping to get closer to the answers..even if I don't ever reach it. Life is a journey and I want my journey to have a purpose, a goal. For me, wandering down rabbit trails is a fun diversion, and may help me understand the world I'm traveling through, but its not my goal in life.

The Mt. Everest analogy is intriguing to me because you chose the largest mountain. It isn't more of a mountain than other mountains - just the biggest.

I chose Mt Everest because it is a goal..an analogy to the "answer." People who mountain climb still see Mt Everest as the height of achievement, the "answer" to the question of "how good am I?" (I'm not meaning to compare spiritual search to "how good am I", btw.) It's the goal part I was looking at. If the question you want answered is Can I climb Mt Everest?, then eventually you have to actually climb that mountain. All the other ones don't answer the ultimate question.

If the origianl question is Is there a God? or Is Jesus God? then I contend there is an answer out there and eventually you have to face that question and find out that answer. Simply refining the question to what other people think or believe and how that impacts you, etc., etc., probably won't satisfy forever (or so it seems to me). ;-)

I'm thinking off the top of my head here, but enjoying it!
Carrie

Cheryl said...

This is probably my very favorite article of yours!! It says everything I've been thinking for the last several years, but you voiced it so much better than I ever could.

I've often said that people try to sum up Christianity as "having faith in Jesus as your personal savior." To some, that simplifies the issue; so okay, good for them.

For me, I'm thinking...when you say "Jesus," does this have to mean virgin-born, second person of the trinity, bodily resurrection, etc? What exactly is faith? Where does repentance come in, if at all? And on and on and on.

Someone recently said that I was a relativist in regards to spiritual truths, and they meant that in a negative way. I had to agree (without accepting the negative connotation), but then went on to define that term as applying to them as well.

I said, let's presume that God is the Absolute Truth. Period. First, that is an assumption no one can PROVE...we can only believe. But let's say, for purposes of this argument, it really is true. Even so, we cannot know God fully, and therefore, our lack of understanding of Him throws a variable into the equation. And that variable will always be the unknown, the mystery, the thing that means that we might be right or we might be wrong as to how we fill in the blanks on Him.

And so because of this, we are basing our spirituality on OUR perceptions and OUR understanding about the Absolute. Then we measure our beliefs against the Perception of the Absolute—not against the Absolute itself.

So in reality, while we like to think we're not relativists, we really are, simply because of the variable. And it's in that variable that all the questions and the mystery—and hopefully, the grace toward other beliefs—resides.

I like the way you think. :)

carrie said...

The converse is true for me too. While I'm happy to offer up my "answers" to others, the offering is with the hope of being known and of sharing my story, not with the hope or assertion of being right.

I am always thrilled when the exchange of "answers" and further questions leads to shared understanding between me and my fellow humans as to what makes meaning for each of us.


I love what you say here, ampersand. It definitely helps me understand what Julie is saying and see how that approach would work, and in fact has worked, in my lfie and relationships.

I especially want to say "Amen" and ditto to your second paragraph. And this is my goal. This is what I want to learn how to do more and better. I do think there are answers, but my goal is to be able to not feel threatened by people and ideas that don't agree with mine. I want to gain further understanding and be open to refining my life and beliefs as I go along. I'm not there yet, but I'm actively working at it right now.

Thanks for this helpful comment.
Carrie

julieunplugged said...

Carrie, I think I hear you better now. You are saying that even if our perspectives impact the answers, even if we can't know them absolutely, they exist (or may exist) and you find yourself seeking them anyway. Yes, I can see that. Hard to move forward without some beliefs that hold the universe together for each of us.

For me, I realized that my beliefs have become more fluid, in that I can hold in my head the concept of Jesus as born of a virgin, Jesus as human being, Jesus as miracle worker and Jesus as larger than life mythology all at once and derive varying amounts of insight from each one and not feel compelled to affirm any one of them singularly.

This looks like lack of commitment. What it is for me, rather, is an expansion of who Jesus has become for me. He doesn't have to *only* be a miracle-working son of a virgin. He can also be myth, human being, spirit, or God or character in a first century narrative. Each of these interpretations of Jesus offer me something.

Does that mean I should be committed to one over the other, to show or demonstrate loyalty to one view over another?

That's something I wonder about! I know, though, that by opening myself to a variety of answers about who Jesus is, I've come to appreciate the textures that many answers offer that speak to me at different moments and that inform my fluctuating doubts and beliefs.

To put it another way: since who I am is not static, there are varieties of interpretations of reality that suit different moments in time in my life. I am no longer forcing one solution to fit, but am willing to draw meaning from a variety of answers as they support and sustain me, but also as they offer support and sustenance to others.

In that way, I do "bear all things, beleive all things, hope all things, and endure all things" (I don't evaluate all things for their "truth" but listen to them with love... at least I hope it's love... sometimes it's mere toleration.)

Good convo.

Julie

julieunplugged said...

Cheryl, I like this comment so much:

And so because of this, we are basing our spirituality on OUR perceptions and OUR understanding about the Absolute. Then we measure our beliefs against the Perception of the Absolute—not against the Absolute itself.

I couldn't have said it better.

carrie said...

You are saying that even if our perspectives impact the answers, even if we can't know them absolutely, they exist (or may exist) and you find yourself seeking them anyway. Yes, I can see that. Hard to move forward without some beliefs that hold the universe together for each of us.

Yes, thank you! You can be my ghost writer anytime. You can just distill my paragraphs down to a few words. ;-)

I know, though, that by opening myself to a variety of answers about who Jesus is, I've come to appreciate the textures that many answers offer that speak to me at different moments and that inform my fluctuating doubts and beliefs.

This is still an elusive idea for me, but I am starting to get a glimpse of how it feels. I am just beginning to see how some aspect of Jesus can minister to me at different times. One thing that has helped me with this are the many "versions" of Mary the Catholic Church uses. I was so confused by this at first, but I am beginning to see that by having Mary be Italian, black, South American oriental or whatever, who she is and what she represents ministers to people right there. It's not inconsistent or synergistic, it's realistic. The many aspects of Jesus are similar, they minister at the moment in a real way, and perhaps we don't need to reconcile it continually..I mean we don't need ot mesh it all into some coherent whole out of fear of getting it somehow wrong.

Ack! I don't think I'm explaining myself well! I'll keep thinking about what you've said.

Bilbo said...

It sounds to me Julie like you have come to terms with learning to live with ambiguity, paradox, and the tension that exists because of our human limitations. Personally I find that a good place to be but theological and philosophical paradoxes are much easier for me to live with than the rest of my personal life where I feel like I often times need or at least think I need more concrete answers.

Steve said...

Julie:

Just today I got an email from a Christian friend that bugged me, as he made a derogatory remark about "emergents" as being non orthodox. The older I get, the more questions I ask, and yet the more confident I feel that my soul is at rest. Does that make any sense?

Peace!

julieunplugged said...

I was so confused by this at first, but I am beginning to see that by having Mary be Italian, black, South American oriental or whatever, who she is and what she represents ministers to people right there.

Carrie, this is such an interesting correllary to my point about Jesus. This is what happened to me in grad school. I kept debunking images of God because I couldn't get past the personal image of God I'd had as a conservative/fundamentalist. Finally, one day while reading about feminine images of God, it struck me that my reality has been shaped by ONE image, by one dominant (this is the *right* image) and that there were other ways to conceive of God that yielded other views of reality, of life... that were no less powerful... and just because they were not the one I'd been told was true didn't make the one I'd always heard the default, correct one against which to judge all others.

It all goes back to that interpretive grid Cheryl pointed out.

So I think for me, I am not always good at it, but I try to live from a place of more options intellectually than I used to. It gives me more room to move around and gather insight.

I'm so glad I didn't come across to you as a total crazy woman! :)

Anonymous said...

I appreciate that last paragraph!

"The danger of a column like this, of course, is sharing the answer: "Asking better questions" is the key to life. But of course, I must ask: Is it? Says who? Why? You get the idea."

Becky