Some random thoughts swirling in my head as I clean the kitchen (my regular Saturday/Mindless Task rundown)...
Does Evergreen claim to have "all the answers"?
These thoughts are stirred maybe in part by my recent posts on Video Venues and such- I probably need to point out every once in awhile that we don't feel we have stumbled on the One True Model™ for doing church.
But mainly I'm thinking through various conversations, some facebook posts, some comments... just some things I feel like I want to say at this point.
No- we don't have all the answers. And that means some things and it doesn't mean some other things.
What does it mean?
It means we have a sense of epistemological humility (epistemology: a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge. humility: the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc.). It means that even when we do make claims about truth, we are careful, humble and respectful as we do so, knowing that we are subjective humans who quite often misunderstand things. It means we do our best to make room for questions, for those who are doubting or unsure and to truly journey beside them as they ask. It means we show patience and love to those who aren't where we are at and do our best to continue to learn alongside them. It means we make room in every gathering for multiple voices to be heard alongside the one leading the discussion, for questions to be asked and even for people to disagree. I feel in that, we are somewhat rare...
What doesn't it mean?
It doesn't mean that we can't know, assert or have varying degrees of confidence in anything. It doesn't mean we never make declarative statements about anything. It means we wrestle with questions, take joy in the journey, but don't actively avoid answers when they are there.
And the fact is, NO ONE lives in a declarative, truth-free zone. No one. I think anyone who claims to have "only questions" and no answers is either willfully deceptive or naively deceived.
Just twice today I have had someone bring up to me the Unitarian Universalist Church, that stalwart institution of openness and "tolerance."
Is that really an answer-free zone where no one tells anyone else what to think or believe?
Of course not- there is no place like that. Just look at the name- what does "Unitarian" mean? It's a theological assertion that there is no Trinity- that while Jesus may have been in some sense "divine", He certainly wasn't "God"- at least no more or no less than anyone else. And "Universalist"? It's a positive assertion about what happens after we die. In other words, it's an answer. A truth claim.
And my question is: Why is the assertion that Jesus is not God any more "open", "tolerant" or anything else than the assertion that He is? How are the two qualitatively different? They are both answers.
I have a feeling that those who seek out those churches like this who fly that flag of relativism will eventually find that like with a blind date whom your friend swears is your perfect soulmate, the reality doesn't (and couldn't) match the build-up. I mean, if answers are off-limits, if everyone is right, then how in the world do we find any justification to tell the greedy materialist he "ought" to care for the poor? How is racial segregation wrong? Isn't it just another way of doing culture? And who are we to judge anyone's culture?
Of course, just try advocating a more traditional view of sexuality in your average UU congregation and see how "open" they are.
Relativism of this sort is ultimately self-defeating.
I had a friend who was recently patronized in the worst possible way by someone pushing the relativism line. My friend was trying to explain that he couldn't feel comfortable in worshipping alongside a Muslim.
The response? "That's so sad. I feel sorry for you."
Man- I think had I been standing there, I would have had a hard time managing my bulging neck veins and not opening up a major can of snark on the guy. I mean, really? Really? To attempt to advance your ideas of tolerance through shame and condescension? Really? (And yes, that would have been pretty condescending on my part too :)
I have another Christian friend who prays in private with some Muslim friends, but he does so carefully, and I doubt even he would feel comfortable attending a Muslim worship service as anything but a respectful observer. I also doubt any of his Muslim friends would feel comfortable participating in a Christian worship service, being asked to pray, to worship, to be taught...
And there's the rub.
What relativism really does, in the process of championing tolerance, is to promote the worst kind of intolerance- that says to the faithful Muslim, Christian and Jew (and "Misc."!) alike: You are all wrong. Only those who espouse the most liberal versions of your faith are right, and even they are on shaky ground. Best to be a "nothing" that's (allegedly) open to "everything"...
I actually believe you HAVE TO abandon relativism of this sort if you are to be truly tolerant. The only people who are truly tolerant are those who 1. allow others to make truth claims, even exclusive ones (as ALL religions do) and 2. appreciate the open and robust comparison of and dialogue between those truth claims. The pseudo-tolerance of denying that anyone can or should make exclusive truth claims (a logical contradiction since that is in itself an exclusive truth claim), which is really what we're saying when we say "everyone is right" or "all religions teach the same thing," is about the most un-tolerant thing you can do, and leads to the kind of hyper-condescending, arrogant behavior my friend was subjected to. Being tolerant and open to questions also means allowing people to suggest possibilities, express doubt, and even find answers they feel comfortable and secure in without saying ridiculous things like "That's so sad. I feel sorry for you." Sheesh.
We all live in both the questions and the answers we find. This should be true especially of followers of Jesus. To attempt to live in only answers (even the very dogmatic answers of pseudo-tolerance/relativism) dooms us to rigid fundamentalism of the worst kind. To attempt to live in only questions though dooms us to a bloodless pseudo-religion where with every statement we make, we saw off a bit more of the very branch on which we sit.
When we talk about being "saved" (which isn't vocabulary we actually use very often) do we mean to say that we are saved from wondering? From doubting? From thinking? Again- no- not by a long shot.
In fact, I think we are "saved" into a way of following Jesus that is FILLED with wonder, with doubt and with thoughtful contemplation from many angles. Following Jesus isn't the end of a quest for truth, it's just the beginning. And we do that in community with a whole group of people who are themselves at varying places on the journey.
Our confidence is NOT that we have "all the answers." But rather, it is that we have thrown ourselves on the mercy of and rest in the love of the One who is Himself the answer, Jesus.