Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Paradoxy

Once again, I find myself working in an entirely evangelical Christian setting. I am not evangelical and have, in fact, spent the last several years of my life finding myself in situations where evangelicalism has been the foil to my spiritual development. The biggest difference between myself and most evangelicals is the way we view religion. I see religion as a lens that I use to view the world. When religion is right for a person, the world comes into focus. It makes sense. Because I view religion as a lens, I can believe that someone who believes differently than I do can still be right. Just like prescription optics, different people need different lenses because of genetics or life experiences. My interactions with evangelical people lead me to believe that they think Christianity is a universal lens; that is, everyone else thinks they are seeing clearly but are simply deluding themselves and once they find Jesus, they will see clearly. I believe evangelical people come to this belief as legitimately as I come to mine. Every one that I know has an experience in their life where their experience of God came in the form of Jesus and was a clarifying epiphany for them.

I've spent the last several years healing from the wounds that these folks have caused (generally well-meaning ones) and through the help of my church community and the emergent movement I have found my theological place in this world from which to engage evangelicals in safety.

But I keep being sort of gob-smacked by them.

At work last week, one of my colleagues that I had just met was talking to his intern about a potential family who were willing to take a child into their home while the parents dealt with a crisis. "They're Jewish but they're actually a really nice family."

So, that's a start. But then he kept going in a tone of incredulity, "They're so warm and generous, you would think they would be Christian but they're not."

I said nothing. What would be the point? He would bluster and apologize and then keep his bigotry under wraps in the future.

However, I did start filling out my application to become a certified home and clearly wrote our Jewish affiliations on the forms. Since he does all the certification, I knew he would read it eventually.

Sure enough, he apologized on Monday morning. I acted like I didn't know what he was talking about because we still don't know each other very well so talking about it wouldn't do much good.

I told this story to friends on Tuesday night and one asked if I really believed that if I waited until we knew each other better it would make a difference. I told him a story from college.

I went to a small liberal arts college in central Illinois. Almost everyone there grew up in rural or suburban Midwest settings and, in 1995, had very little known interaction with homosexual people. This meant that most folks were just a little (a sometimes a lot) bigoted in that area.

It seemed like a third of the campus had been recruited by one admissions counselor who was revered and admired by those kids and by their friends once they got to campus and saw how cool he was. He was beautiful, athletic, came from the same background we did, had been in one of the fraternities on campus when he was a student and had been known to have a drink or two with students as if that were normal.

Then, he came out of the closet.

The entire campus had to examine how they felt like homosexuality. They had to say to themselves, "I feel this way about gays. I feel this totally opposite way about Jerry." Then, they shrugged and decided that they still liked him and if he was gay, then probably other homosexuals were OK, too. I probably lived on one the most gay-friendly campuses of the mid-90s. One year, Norm McDonald was hired to come and do stand-up for us and opened with a gay joke. No one laughed. He was visibly thrown and tried again with another. Again, we just didn't think it was funny. After that, he never really captured us as an audience and I actually got up in the middle because it was so boring.

So, I do believe that being liked by someone before you confront them with their bigotry makes a difference.

My office won't even know what hit them by the time I'm through lovingly demonstrating that even someone unequally yoked can be earnestly following the teachings of Jesus and even have a undeniable personal relationship with the man.

I just finished reading The Ladies Auxiliary and although the actual writing is only average, I found myself swept up in the consternation of a tightly-knit Orthodox community having their sense of what defined a member of the community challenged. The characters were perfectly round. No one was entirely evil or entirely righteous. I could sympathize with all of them, even the matriarch of the community who insisted that you could make your children into what you wanted them to be. If you couldn't, then her whole life of meticulous religious practice that connected her with generations past was a waste.

Still, the community had to come to terms with the fact that although their children still chose Judaism and even Orthodox Judaism, many of them were choosing to do so in different parts of the country. Judaism's gain was the mothers' loss.

I am so thankful that my parents love me first and love their desire to replicate themselves eighteenth or nineteenth in the grand scheme of things. If they had been evangelical in their theology, I don't know that we would be as close as we are.

On Sunday, Jacob and I spent the day at their house, quietly and in front of a warm fire. They have an old farmhouse so the wood-burning fireplace actually warms the room. I was able to leave him there without awkwardness while I went to an event for work. They all read and napped on their separate couches while I was gone.

A few weeks ago, we stopped by a friend's house to drop off a quiche and coo at their 2-day-old baby. It was a little chaotic as her father-in-law, husband, and newly 3-year-old son were heading out to Chucky Cheese to celebrate the toddler's birthday, leaving her and her mother-in-law alone for the afternoon. After we left, I talked with Jacob about how we have a long way to go until I would be comfortable in that scenario. Exhausted from childbirth, overwhelmed with my status as mother-of-two and also needing to be gracious by making space for my mother-in-law's insecurity - which usually leads to an intense desire to be helpful - that often results in the opposite result. He agreed that being left alone with her in that state would be difficult for me but we also discussed our hope that over time, as we love her, she might grow less insecure and it will get better.

It seems to be one of my callings in life is to get into relationships with objectionable people while having hopes of softening their well-meaning, self-defensive stone hearts a little. I'm humbled by the task because it is so difficult to do it well and not be caught in the trap of believing that my way is better. Paradoxy. Holding two truths in tension and acting on both. I'm up for the challenge.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are my hero. I want to live a Godly life like you when I grow up.
Love, the dad

Neal said...

“I've spent the last several years healing from the wounds that these folks have caused (generally well-meaning ones)”

...and you know what they say about the road to hell...;-)

I love the “paradoxy” expression; did you coin that?

Jake and Jess said...

if you need to feel affirmed - feel affirmed. jake and i have often had this same conversation in our home time and time again (building relationships before any type of confrontation, etc.). i couldn't agree more & love you for that.

cory said...

You are my Hero! Several people in Columbus have started to read Wild Rumpus and the 50 percenters because you experience a lot of the same things we do, but you have graceful ways so seeing hope and healing. I am really blessed to know you!


P.S. Norm McDonnel just isn't funny. At all. Ever.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that I can relate to this post. I know how damaging evangelicals can be as well, though I know they usually have the best intentions. I unfortunately do not have parents like yours. My parents are very strongly evangelical Christian, and that is sadly one of the main reasons I do not have a strong relationship with them. They actually don't know much about who I really am and what I believe because they drive me away. I decided on my own that I don't believe what they do, and yet they contineu to push me away. I also wanted to add that I too am a firm believer in forging relationships first, and I admire you for doing so.

PrincessMax said...

I am so sorry that it is hard to have a relationship with your folks. That must be heartbreaking.

One of the things I love best about the Emergent way of thinking is that it takes the emphasis off of "what people believe" and puts it onto "how is God transforming us?" Some folks just need to be surrounded by people who believe the same things they do in order to feel safe. I'm so sorry that they don't see that this desire for security is pushing you away. Keep trying to show them that your beliefs are not an attack on their own choices. I have no guarantee that it will work but I think it's the only thing you can do if you don't want to give up.

Thanks for letting me know that you are out there. I always appreciate that my experiences resonate with other people.