Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Waking up: The shift from one point of view to the another

My Facebook set of friends is one of the more diverse bunch of people I've run across online. That's because suddenly my past and present have collided in conversation in ways that would never happen if we limited our relationships to in-person contact. So what's happened is that my high school friends, who knew me mostly as a short, a-political, theater student without much of a religious agenda, are interacting with my college friends who knew me as this zealot who shared the Four Spiritual Laws with anyone stuck in a bank line with me. My missionary and Vineyard friends are interacting with my liberal theological graduate school buddies. My homeschool momma friends are talking to my business networking friends here in Cincy. And of course, my Obama campaign colleagues are talking to my rightwing radio pals from bygone years.

And like me, many of my friends have gone through significant shifts (either a deepening of loyalty to their original commitments, or a radical reassessment which led to a new, changed point of view).

I respect all of you (even when we disagree). I wouldn't keep you around on my FB if I didn't! In fact, I have kicked a few off my list when they've crossed that invisible line called "Coerce Julie back to what is good for her and tell her she is going to hell if she doesn't listen."

So here's the thing. For years (over 20), I adopted a point of view both politically and theologically that was rooted in a set of assumptions (these assumptions were handed to me with care and conviction, and they were based on the core doctrines of evangelicalism at the time). I remember once saying to Don Carson (some of you will remember him), the head of our Campus Crusade chapter at UCLA, "Why are you telling me that predestination as a theological tenet has to be believed in order to be a Christian? I haven't even had time to think about it yet." I had the same reaction to inerrancy (Is this really necessary to be a Christian? Can I think about it a bit?), to the doctrines of heaven and hell. I still remember saying at my first Bible Study at Kappa Kappa Gamma that I didn't like the idea of hell, after all, that would mean all my Jewish friends from high school and step relatives were going there... and I couldn't quite *get* that. I mean, it was one thing to believe in heaven and hell when you grew up in La Canada or Pasadena, where everyone you knew was Protestant. But what happened when you had to include people you loved, A LOT, in that number?

I found myself suddenly in conflict: to belong meant to adopt (uncritically, really) the values and doctrines that enabled me to remain a part of the community (this new, great group of people who were so much fun to be with), or I could reject those tenets and not be in the group, not have the love, worship, prayer, moral values, and community Christianity offered. So adopt I did (and worked to learn the apologetics for these tenets) and from then on, made it my chief aim in life to save those I loved and those I hadn't yet met from hell.

But time has a way of tugging at the tangled threads. The intellectual conflicts, the theological discrepancies, the arguments online with people I genuinely grew to love about splitting hair differences... how did these show the compassion of Jesus or the relevance of spirituality in a globalized world of diverse expressions of reality? It hurt to think Christians couldn't even agree on very basic ideas and would be cruel and critical of each other arguing over what amount to technicalities, many times.

The rightwing vision of politics has also walked in lockstep with the evangelical vision. Since we grew up knowing we couldn't criticize theology (who could ask if Jesus really rose from the dead with a physical body or if the Bible has mistakes, and stay in an evangelical church?), we are also equally beholden to rightwing politics as naturally right, clear. If someone speaks with conviction, we tend to adopt that point of view as long as it leads us back to reinforcing those original tenets we were told to adopt (our membership in the community is at stake if we challenge those tenets - ask me how I know this).

To inhabit someone else's point of view, to give it weight, to care about its interior logic is not one of the values of evangelicalism. We are taught to convert people to our point of view and to understand theirs only enough to change their minds. We spend countless hours reinforcing our own beliefs in community contexts, privately, listening to sermons and tapes, reading books, listening to music. We adopt these views as our own, but from within the safe protected context of like-minded people (and we elevate those with more education as leaders as a way to tell us that we are thinking critically, to help us navigate the pesky incongruity or penetrating question of someone from the outside). We suppress our own questions. We avoid The Jesus Seminar or Richard Dawkins, because they are dangerous.

This is not to say that there aren't brilliant men and women on the right or in the conservative evangelical movement who have dug deep and have spent time drawing conclusions that they feel are both intellectually sound and honest. There are. I've read them, met some of them. What I reject today is that so many people have adopted their thinking second-hand. (To be fair: on both left and right, though I am less versed in how this happens on the left - what I have seen is much more arguing over nuances on the left - a chief value of theirs is dissent!)

If you haven't sat inside the point of view (letting it be "right" for awhile, looking for its logic, how it hangs together, how it creates a worldview that coheres and supports a vision of life and happiness for the one who holds it), you can't actually know if yours is true (or at least, "true enough" for your life). It's one reason I attend a black church. I was sick of secondhand reports about what black leaders are doing and saying or not doing and saying. I was sick of the myopia of white church that thinks reconciliation means having a sister church that is black, or getting more blacks to attend your white church. I wondered what the black community had to say about it. I wondered how they experienced America, and the church, and "truth" from their experiences.

I spent two years reading pro-choice literature, getting inside the mindset that saw being "pro-choice" as the higher morality (yes, they do feel that way!), as the obvious right belief system that is more compassionate and ethical than the alternative. I did this after we had been actively involved in Operation Rescue. I also wish pro-choice people would spend time understanding the radical commitment of those engaged in civil disobedience to stop abortion, too.

What's happened to me, then, is that I got tired of secondhand news, theology, sociological commentary. I stopped buying into the scripts I'd been handed and became unwilling to defend something just because it had always been "true" in the community I loved. If I had one piece of advice for those who can't quite grasp what it is that's happened to me, I'd say pick the thing you are most afraid of (the thing you most don't want to be true) and go read about it. Meet someone who holds that viewpoint and let that person influence you. Invite their ideas into your living room, care to understand the world from inside someone else's mind. If you do that for a little while, yes, you will change. But your compassion will also grow, and your insights will be yours, and your spirituality will deepen.

I'm also conscious of the fact that there is so much I can't possibly know well enough to make adequate judgments (how could I ever say if global warming is real or not? I'm not a scientist, have no training or tools to evaluate the arguments, can't come close to making a real case that isn't some watered down version of someone else's). So I hold my current "positions" with some guardedness, knowing that I'm a few arguments away from another shift. But I'm no longer afraid of getting it right or wrong. I love the process, and I feel privileged/relieved/blessed to have been able to leave behind the need to vilify "the other" in order to protect my point of view. (That doesn't mean I won't criticize the other, but I hope I do it knowing that I could again shift my point of view if the facts that I understand warrant it.)


Friday, October 02, 2009

My well-being is MY responsibility

In a follow up to a discussion about well-being on Facebook, I wrote what well-being means to me:
I think of my well-being as knowing what it takes to feel rightside up with the world, where my thoughts, feelings and beliefs are accessible to me and I can express them without anxiety. It means ensuring that the space I live in is one that supports that self-expression. It means living a life where I'm not lying or hiding for self-protection. It means not depending on someone else to create that space for me, nor spending my energy trying to ensure that space for someone else.
Wanted to put it up here to remind myself when I forget, or when it seems more reasonable to just set it aside for the sake of everyone else.

I contend that we aren't really giving of ourselves when we set aside our well-being for someone else. We're protecting ourselves from pain (the painful realization that we aren't needed or don't match someone else's expectations or can't bring happiness or to cover our own feelings of dislocation and not belonging). We aren't protecting ourselves from mistreatment or abuse, either, since love never covers that multitude of sins. Only good fences and a fierce loyalty to your well-being can stop the force of control and anger aimed at you.

Truth is, you can only give if there's something in the tank to give away. If you go into debt to yourself, some day your soul will come to collect. "You can't cheat the dark gods." The price can be high, depending how deep the debt. You wouldn't go into debt to give to a charity, and so you shouldn't go into soul debt in order to love others.

If we safeguard our well-being, gently protecting it like you would your grandmother's nicest china dessert dish, you'll be able to give to others because your spirit will be in good shape, ready and able to be the platter from which love is served. I didn't know this, for my whole life. So I'm way in debt. I'm paying it off slowly now, looking at overdue bills and figuring out how to settle accounts with myself.