the uncomfortable freedom of Grace

I just finished a job at work, and not only did it take longer than I thought (I had to return to the job site to fix things), I didn’t do as good a job at it as I would have liked to.  The clients are satisfied and will pay the invoice, but the workmanship was not my best.  My errors involved trying to same time and effort: a.k.a. rushing and being lazy.

I was doing another follow-up job last week and I noticed a mistake that had been made by another team member.  It seemed that he had also tried to save time and effort.

It is so much easier to focus on the mistakes that others make than my own.  My tendency is to maximize and catastrophize the seriousness of others’ mistakes (“Wow, that’s pretty bad…“) and minimize and normalize the seriousness of my own (“Ahh, it’s good enough…” or “It’s not as bad as…“).

Grace is good news.  We are loved as we are in spite of our mistakes.  Grace covers our sin and shame.

But that’s not all Grace does.

Grace-powered love casts out and frees us from our fear, saying with the authority and voice of Christ, “Fear not.” (Me phõbos)  One type of fear we can let go of, thanks to Grace, is the fear of not being perfect.  When we don’t have to be perfect, we can admit our mistakes (or sins), even the serious ones; and we can be a bit gentler on the mistakes (or sins) of others.

This may be one example of the less “comfortable” work of Grace.  After all, Grace “teaches” (paideuousa) us (Titus 2:12).  This word for teaching is diverse enough to include usages concerning discipline and punishment or training.

I can’t speak for others, but I am grateful for the ‘uncomfortable’ help of Grace in assisting me to admit my mistakes and accept the failings of others.

uncomfortable majority

Democracy’s main weakness is that it makes it possible for popular error to hold sway.  Conservative Christians, like me, would say that about this or that popular cultural value that doesn’t align with theirs, and a minority voice within a Christian denomination often says that about the majority denominational view which which they disagree.

There is a conversation happening in my denomination in which I am part of the majority, and it makes me uncomfortable.  I am uncomfortable primarily because I want the minority voice, the very voice I disagree with, to be heard, and heard in its best form.  And too often it is not heard.  And far too often it is not heard in its best form.  Along with all the multitude of biblical passages that I base my majority view upon, there are other passages that make me uncomfortable in the majority camp.

The Gospels (Matthew 18 and Luke 15) have Jesus giving us a principle of leaving the majority of the sheep (99) to seek out the minority (1).  In context this is a picture of God’s reach to those who are socially and spiritually ‘outside’, ‘lost’ and marginalised; but I can’t help but feel the principle also applies to interpretive disputes as well.

Acts 15 recounts the church dealing with a very difficult issue, and they neither appealed to the anointed authoritative leader (my Catholic brothers and sisters may disagree), nor did they ‘vote’ on it as my Baptist tradition would.  Instead they had ‘no small amount of discussion’ before some leaders drew things together into a consensus.  And what is beautiful is that the view that ended up being wrong (the view that Christians must be circumcised) was included in Luke’s account (though it was arguably not kindly represented in the council’s letter!).

Then there’s Philippians 2:3, within a letter which later instructs Euodia and Syntyche to ‘agree with one another’.  This verse is within a context about imitating the humility of Christ, who was divine but became not just a human, but a slave.  The instruction is to not be conceited, but to humbly ‘consider others better than yourself’.  I know this verse is not about aiming for heresy rather than orthodoxy in the name of humility, but could it maybe help the majority hold their majority with a bit less arrogance, over-certainty and impatience (which admittedly can be needed for the minority at times!)?

And 1 Corinthians 13:9 strikes a death blow to any perfected, complete, omniscient majority view.  In the same letter that uses language about having ‘the mind of Christ’ (in a context still about humility! chapter 2), we have Paul saying that ‘we know in part’.  This epistemological qualifier should give us plenty of hermeneutical humility.

And that is why I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable in the majority.

rooted reaching

When it comes to discussing certain topics, we all know (and some of us have been?) ‘that guy’ ((yes, I do think the stereotype holds true; argumentatives tend to be fellas more often than ladies??)) whose style of engagement seems to harm rather than help the conversation.

I think (and know from my own experience) that loud, impatient dismissals are almost always say more about the loud, impatient dismisser than they do about what is being dismissed.  One gets the double sensation of the person both a) having their mind so made up that discussion with this person is pointless, and at the same time sensing that b) this person has a need to prove their rightness not only to you but themselves as well.

My Dad has a saying (perhaps he got it somewhere himself); the more upset a person gets in a discussion, the weaker their view probably is.  I’d just qualify it a tad to say “…the less confident they are of their view”, because just as it is possible to be confident of a false view, so also is it possible to have a false bravado for a a true view.

Having said that, I think it’s naive to think that we can detach our own emotions from our beliefs, and enjoy a ‘robust’ and ‘frank’ discussion.  I also think one can firmly believe (not ‘know’ in the strict epistemological sense) they are correct and still engage fruitfully with someone they fully disagree with.

The relevant point that follows from this is that the more you really believe view ‘x’, the less energy you’ll need to defend ‘x’ and the more energy you can spend on understanding and critiquing ‘anti-x’, and of course’x’ as well.

This is true in all relationships as well. The more you know who you are, the less you’ll need another person to appear inferior to you (to asset yourself over them) or superior to them (to ride upon their coattails). The more secure your self definition is, the less you’ll need others and their opinions to define you. You’ll be less worried about self and more available emotionally and intellectually to the other. The more rooted you are, the more you can reach out.

arrogance, agnosticism & holding a view

It is not arrogant to think that you are right and that someone else is wrong; in other words, to hold a view.  Arrogance comes not from holding a view (neither from holding it strongly!), but from holding it with a posture of self-importance and (to coin a term) ‘from-on-high-ness’.

I think I’m right about this, too!

After all, we all think we’re right, don’t we?  I mean, who holds a view that they know to be wrong!?  If you knew you were wrong, you’d either change your mind, or refrain from holding any particular view.

And (without delving too far [for me at least] into epistemology!) it is not ‘agnostic’ to merely refrain from holding a view.  Indeed, it could be precisely because of some knowledge ‘x’, which you take as pretty trustworthy, that you refrain from holding view ‘y’.

  • There is the  lower-case ‘agnosticism’ (that all humans necessarily have about at least some things) which says “I don’t know…”
  • …and there is the upper-case ‘Agnosticism’ (which few, if any in my view [!!], can sustain without stumbling upon something they think they know) which says “Nobody can know…”

So when it comes to conversations about various topical topics, if someone has a view and the other is ‘agnostic’, they are not automatically humble, patient and peaceful and the other arrogant, impatient and divisive.  One can be a very arrogant, impatient and divisive brand of agnostic.  I know some.  And one can hold a view with great conviction while still being humble, patient and peaceful.  I try (and fail often) to do this with any strong views I hold.

eavesdroppers

I used to work in sales at a lumber yard, where we sold all kinds of (mostly residential) building materials from lumber, to paint, to plumbing, electrical supplies, hardware, doors/windows, roofing, power tools, etc.  I grew up working with quite a few of these things, as my Dad was a residential framer.  Nonetheless, there were various things I knew very little about, having never used them.

Given a few years, however, listening to the advice given by co-workers, and listening to problems encountered (and solved) by customers, I ‘learned’ how to answer common questions.  I had never put in a p-drain myself, but I learned how to answer most questions a customer would ask!  Even more humorous, I had a co-worker who had almost no hand-on experience with anything we sold – yet nonetheless, she too learned to answer the common questions (often word-for-word what her co-workers had said the day before!).

I think this kind of learning is fine for what it is, but in various discussions I have, I often feel that others are (and I’m guilty of) operating with ‘knowledge’ they’ve gained from eavesdropping in this or that conversation or forum.  “Ohh, Aristotle was such and such…”, and “yeah, science has shown that…” or “Democracy was designed so that…”

This is the Wikipedia/Google-based knowledge that informs so many pool-of-ignorance building conversations.  People that know just a weeee little bit about a whole lot of things, pretending to be experts at it all.  “I remember seeing somewhere that…”

We… (cough) I… need to learn to just say, “I have no idea about that, to be honest.  Let’s both read up on it and get back to one another in [not 2 minutes, but…] a few weeks.”  Now that would just require far too much patience.

we might be surprised…

how much…
destruction is at work in the ‘best’ of people…
and how much…
grace is at work in the ‘worst’ of people.

in other words…

you’re never so good that you’re beyond the influence of evil
and…
you’re never so bad that you’re beyond the reach of God.

A.N. Wilson – slowly believing again

So – author and historian A.N. Wilson, who in the 80’s declared himself an atheist (formerly Catholic and Church of England), and who wrote a biography of Jesus has recently announced his slow, patient and critical return to Christian faith.

((Having not quite yet read the article, I blame N.T. Wright – given his kind, patient, thorough and generous response to Wilson (and others, including Barbara Thiering) in his book ‘Who was Jesus?’))

sentience and consciousness

Consciousness is at least sentience, but not less.

We can imagine a spectrum of least sentient to most sentient.  The nearest animals to humans, in this case, would (obviously!) have the closest kind of sentience to humans.  But (however this ’emerged’ or came to be) humans are ultra-sentient.  We have more than sensation (sentience); we also have a perceiving, yearning kind of consciousness.  We are self aware of our own self awareness. Continue reading “sentience and consciousness”

wisdom for a divisive issue

Obama’s recent statements on the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, remind us all (like it or not) of the immensely divisive issue of abortion.  The article says… Continue reading “wisdom for a divisive issue”

sophie scholl

Diane and I enjoyed (again) ‘Sophie Scholl: The Final Days’ the other night.

She was a courageous woman.  Very inspiring.

I also particularly appreciated her prayers.  I don’t know as of yet if they are hers exactly or reconstructions of the writers, but here they are as in the film: Continue reading “sophie scholl”