Letting Go of Being Right

July 27, 2006

One of the things that I’ve really understood better as I’ve moved to Austin is how important it is to just keep things really low-key.

Texas is a lot different than California, and I can’t assume in any conversation that there is as much political or theological common ground with the other person as there is in California.  But the wonderful thing about Austin itself is that it is such a laid back town that it doesn’t really matter.  Even if we don’t agree on something, it’s more likely that we’d go have a Shiner Bock at the local bar and talk it over while laughing about it than becoming beligerant, going to our respective corners, and starting an advocacy group to make sure the other side doesn’t “win.”

I think that is important.  In the current culture wars, everybody is so worried about being right– about “winning”– that we forget that we’re supposed to love everybody.  We start strategizing and manipulating and twisting arguments around to get them into our favor so that we can start talking and turning the conversation into our favor.

The alternative is to listen quietly and see what we can learn from the conversation.  Something I heard at a seminar from author and spiritual director Norveen Vest was something along the lines of this:

It is important for me to acknowledge that my enemy has a piece of the truth, no matter how small, that I do not have.  I also have a piece of the truth that s/he does not have.  Our journey is to discover that truth in the other.

It feels to me like this idea is forgotten in our debate.  With all our plotting and scheming and strategizing, we don’t feel like the other has anything to contribute.

And actually, that’s even making it more formal than I’d like it to be.

I just wanna be able to go down to the corner and have a beer with the ‘other’ and talk about the weather.  Sometimes I think its more important anyway.

j

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16 Responses to “Letting Go of Being Right”

  1. Athena Says:

    Jeff, have you considered the meaning of the many passages in the Gospel in which Jesus very directly and explicitly talks about a final division effected by God between the “sheep and the goats” and well as the “wheat and the tares.”

    God shows us abundant mercy and forgiveness and longs for us to turn to Him, however, Jesus warns us that we do not know the hour of our death, we do not know when our soul will be required of us and that it behooves us to give first priority to God because humanity will be divided into two distinct groups.

    It seems that an underlying thrust of your meditations is a rejection of the concept that at some point in time, according to God’s wisdom and plan, a division, as described by Jesus will be made.

    I am not a theologian or a Bible scholar but the references to a final clear distinctions in the New Testament are numerous.

    Additionally, there are many instances in which a “partial truth” is no different than a lie: morally, intellectually and factually. The traditional legal oath is to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Therefore acknowledging that your “enemy” has a part of the truth is not really very helpful.

    Lastly, and I know I am touching on many topics here, I would agree with you that it is important to retain a personal sense of intellectual and spiritual humility when dealing with God and with others. But the point of theology is not just two people chatting about various topics. Theology is about God and what He has revealed about Himself to us and about what God expects from us. A God who could not clearly and consistently communicate with his creatures would not be a very impressive entity. Mere humans will never fully understand the mind of God, they cannot fully comprehend his awesome nature, BUT, that does not mean that God is not capable of communicating clearly what his Holy requirements of us are.

    As another poster noted, a child can understand the Ten Commandments, it is the living out of them that is important.

    While there is no harm in talking about the weather with a friend, certainly such social activity is not as important as determing what God requires of us.

  2. Jeff Says:

    I agree that God is very capable of clearly communicating what he desires of us.

    The point is that we’re too dense to hear it most times.

    I don’t think we interpret the Bible right if the message you take is that the “end times” result in division. My take is that God works towards healing. Are there scriptures that can be used to refute this premise? Sure. Are there scriptures that can be used to back it up? Absolutely. See my post on Progressive and Traditional Scripture for more on how we might read scripture differently.

    One of the biggest choices I think God gives us is the choice to see and find love in the world, or see and find judgement. That is why I believe there to be so many layers in Scripture; so many interpretations. We definitely have choices in life. What do you choose when you read? In my prayer life- in my meditation and walks with God– I just don’t experience God as an entity which wishes us the kind of ill-will in the way you describe. If he doesn’t wish us ill-will and he is omnipotent, then I don’t believe ill-will follows.

    As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, Jesus was not lifted up for some…. Jesus was lifted up for all. ALL. Black, white. Smart, not so smart. Gifted, not so gifted. Conservative, progressive. And so on. All.

    j

  3. Athena Says:

    I think that you have fairly well encapsulated at least two different points of view that exist in theological circles today.

    You state: ” I don’t think that you interpret the Bible right [sic] if the message you take is that the “end times” result in division.

    Actually I wasn’t addressing “end times” which I understand to mean the end of ordinary life in this world. I was addressing the many passages in the New Testament in which Christ Jesus clearly warns his listeners that a division will occur and that it behooves them to be prepared to account for their souls.
    This division will be effected by God and it will be based on whether the person heard and obeyed the word of God.

    The divisions that Jesus refers to in the New Testament and which my post addresses are based on conduct and obedience to the word of God. They are not based on
    skin color or intellectual ability. To suggest that my argument even began to touch on those categories, or categories like them is absurd.

    If God will effect a division among souls and Jesus states repeatedly that this division will occur at some point, then God must have clearly communicated to his creature what he requires of him.

    Therefore, although, as a human being, my proper attitude is that one of humility, this is not involve my efforts as a human being. The question is whether God will judge us as some point and whether God clearly communicated what the criterion of His judgment will be.
    He has clearly communicated that and His judgment is coming.

    This is something you don’t want to hear. Your interpretaion effectively denies that God will distinguish between people on any basis. This interpretaion requires the wholesale abandonement of literally hundreds of passages in the New Testament.

    Frankly, as a practical matter, I think you look for those aspects of the New Testament which you believe support your pre-existing theological view and then disregard the rest.

    The intellectual question of how to properly interpret the Bible and Scripture is a deep and serious on. I am not a theologian but I tend to endorse the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox approach. Although I was raised in the United Methodist Church, I think that Protestantism is a self-evident theological failure, although there are many fine individuals who are still active in Protestants churchs, I don’t mean to judge individuals, just sets of ideas.

    Basically, I think your goal is to acquire for homosexual conduct the status of morally acceptable conduct and social respectability. Your cart is definitely before your horse. I don’t see you seeking what God requires of you with a goal of following His direction. I think your prime motivation, whether you acknowledge it or not, is the legitimization of homosexual conduct.

  4. Athena Says:

    Are you are taking the position that God does not or will not judge individual humans?

    Jesus directs his human followers not to judge, but, he clearly states that God will, at the proper time, effect judgment.

    Jesus reaffirms the sacred nature of what we call the Old Testament. The OT is full of warnings of God’s judgment.

    Are you suggesting we ignore these passages? Do we not do so at our peril?

  5. Athena Says:

    Would it be wise for me to follow what you described as “your experiences” with God rather than what generations of Orthodox Christians have taught over the centuries.

    If I adopt your position that God will not judge us on the basis of our conduct and our adherence to His Will and you are wrong, do I not suffer very serious consequences.

    Do you appreciate what is at stake?

    Why should I trust your individual, subjective experience over the wisdom of the sages over 20 centuries?

  6. Jeff Says:

    Athena –

    You have lots of good questions in your posts.

    Essentially, I read your question as this:

    “Why do I trust Jeff’s (or anyone else’s) view of theology and not the view that I have always held?”

    My answer to that is very simple: You don’t.

    But I also believe that it is incumbent upon all people of faith neither to hold so fast to answers they have learned by rote memory that they cannot hear what the Spirit is trying to tell them.

    I am not afraid of being wrong. In fact, I know that there is much I do not know. That is a key differentiator from me and the traditional point of view.

    God is infinite. We, as humans, are finite. We, as finite humans, cannot possibly know all that there is to know about the infinite God. We are imperfect. We are bound to screw it up somehow. We cannot, as humans, come up with a perfect theology.

    But to hear the traditionalist point of view, there is an absolute truth that we are capable of understanding. I reject that. We have seen throughout history that the human understanding of God has changed. From the dawn of time our understanding of God has grown. The one thing that has not changed is the ability of God to love us and give us grace.

    On the ability to “pick and choose” what I like out of the Bible, I would argue that we all pick and choose.

    You have judged me– fairly harshly. You have disregarded “judge not lest ye be judged” in favor of some other passage.

    The Bible is too inconsistent to believe the entire thing.

    Jesus clearly indicated that he was coming back soon and Paul backed him up. What does soon mean? To me it means sooner than 2000 years, and it hasn’t happened. You can twist the words, you can argue a metaphoric meaning, but it isn’t 2000 years. We choose to now disregard the “soon.”

    We are all selective literalists. Perhaps you have a psychological need to find absolute rules in your life. Perhaps that is why you now seek a church that reinforces a rule-based religion- orthodox Catholicsm or eastern orthodoxy. I can’t answer that.

    I can only say that I believe we are called beyond our current capacity to push our limits. To go beyond our comfort zone into what makes us uncomfortable. That, I believe, was the message of Christ. We are not good at it– none of us. But that, I believe, is what we are called to do.

    j

  7. Jeff Says:

    I forgot one point- I said you don’t trust my view of theology. But I also believe that we all must remain open to what the Spirit calls us to hear.

    That means not being so resolute in our beliefs that we shut out the voice of the Spirit. That voice is a small, still voice. It is easy for that voice to be lost. If we make so much noise about holding on to what we have we can easily lose it.

    So rather than look to embrace my beliefs, I would suggest instead that you search to find your own. Not that of your forefathers, not those of mine– but those that the Spirit calls you to seek on your own.

    j

  8. Athena Says:

    Jeff, you stray from the issue:

    The issue is NOT the quality or completeness of human understanding of God. Human understanding of God will always be limited and flawed. I agree that we all need intellectual and spiritual humility as human beings.

    The issues are (1) whether the Creator has in fact, effectively communicated to his Creatures what he requires of them and (2) whether God will at some point in time judge human beings according to whether or not they have obeyed his Word.

    Touching on the first issue, we, as humans, do not have to know everything there is to know God. We, as humans do not have to have an answer for all possible theological questions. What we do need to know is WHAT DOES GOD REQUIRE OF US? I assert that any God worth worshipping is capable of communicating clearly to his Creatures what he requires of them. I also assert that God has done just that.

    Touching on the second issue. Your position requires that a student of Scripture ignore literally hundreds of passages in the New Testament that state that God will in fact judge humanity. It is proper for a Creator to judge his Creation. It is not proper for a creature to judge other creature.

    Now as to your past last post:

    JEFF WRITES:
    Essentially, I read your question as this:“Why do I trust Jeff’s (or anyone else’s) view of theology and not the view that I have always held?”My answer to that is very simple: You don’t.

    But I also believe that it is incumbent upon all people of faith neither to hold so fast to answers they have learned by rote memory that they cannot hear what the Spirit is trying to tell them.
    END JEFF QUOTE:

    Firstly, Jeff you assume that the view I hold now is the view that I have “always held.” Liberals reflexively like to assume that people they classify as conservatives are think in a rigid and rote manner.
    Frankly, it insults my intelligence to asset that I have learned theology by “rote memory.” In point of fact, I hold degrees in law, electrical engineering and economics and I have lived 3 decades longer than you have. I have actively represented thousands of clients in hotly contested trials and I have a fairly deep knowledge of life and human nature that comes from obserivng human beings under stress. Your assertion that my ideas are acquired by “rote” is insulting. I will forgive you because of your extreme youth however.

    In your second paragraph, you refer to “what the Spirit is trying to tell them.” This presupposes that you have access to what the Holy Spirit says. This ALSO presupposes that the Holy Spirit is saying something that CONTRADICTS what the Holy Spirit said to Christians in the centuries before us, twenty centuries, in fact. This assertion is made with no authority other than your own individual belief.

    JEFF WRITES:
    I am not afraid of being wrong. In fact, I know that there is much I do not know. That is a key differentiator from me and the traditional point of view.

    God is infinite. We, as humans, are finite. We, as finite humans, cannot possibly know all that there is to know about the infinite God. We are imperfect. We are bound to screw it up somehow. We cannot, as humans, come up with a perfect theology.
    END JEFF QUOTE:

    This point was addressed in my very first post. The issue is not whether humans will ever acquire a complete knowledge of God. The issue is whether GOD is capable of communicating clearly what he requires of humans to humans. The answer to that, of course, must be yes, or He would not be a God that was worth worshipping.

    JEFF WRITES:
    But to hear the traditionalist point of view, there is an absolute truth that we are capable of understanding. I reject that. We have seen throughout history that the human understanding of God has changed. From the dawn of time our understanding of God has grown. The one thing that has not changed is the ability of God to love us and give us grace.

    On the ability to “pick and choose” what I like out of the Bible, I would argue that we all pick and choose.
    END JEFF QUOTE:

    Well, at least you are honest. YOu state that you reject the idea that “there is an absolute truth that we are capable of understanding.” Jeff, that is what religion is about. People are looking for absolute truth, for there is no other kind of truth. Religion is the search for the absolute. If it is does exist, there is no point in proceeding. I do congratulate you on your honesty in admitting your position.

    You assert that I pick and choose what I will out of the Bible. I assert that I accept the interpretation of Scripture as taught by Holy Orthodoxy. Eastern Orthodoxy has maintained a consistent theology since the days of the Apostles. It teaches the same doctrines and uses much the same liturgy. Orthodoxy teaches that Scripture is like a jewel held in place by precious stone. The Stone is the Tradition of the Church, a group of writings by persons revered to have been guided by the Spirit and to have been anointed in an unbroken chain from the Apostles. You are free to reject this Tradition. However, I maintain that you know little of it and are in no position to refute it.

    JEFF WRITES:
    You have judged me– fairly harshly. You have disregarded “judge not lest ye be judged” in favor of some other passage.
    END OF JEFF QUOTE:

    Jeff, if you venture into the world of ideas, you need to expect to have your IDEAS tested and debated. I did not judge you, I tested and debated your ideas. If you are going to engage in theological discussions you have to be prepared for this.

    JEFF WRITES:
    The Bible is too inconsistent to believe the entire thing.

    Jesus clearly indicated that he was coming back soon and Paul backed him up. What does soon mean? To me it means sooner than 2000 years, and it hasn’t happened. You can twist the words, you can argue a metaphoric meaning, but it isn’t 2000 years. We choose to now disregard the “soon.”

    We are all selective literalists. Perhaps you have a psychological need to find absolute rules in your life. Perhaps that is why you now seek a church that reinforces a rule-based religion- orthodox Catholicsm or eastern orthodoxy. I can’t answer that.
    END JEFF QUOTE:

    First, I disagree that the Bible is inconsistent. The New Testament states that Jesus opened the eyes of the Apostles so that they understood the Scriptures. This understanding has been passed down from generation to generation to the present day.

    Second, letus assume for a moment that what you say is true. IF the Bible is so inconsistent, THEN, why should anyone give it ANY credence. This is an answer you need to provide?

    JEFF WRITEES:
    I can only say that I believe we are called beyond our current capacity to push our limits. To go beyond our comfort zone into what makes us uncomfortable. That, I believe, was the message of Christ. We are not good at it– none of us. But that, I believe, is what we are called to do.
    END JEFF QUOTE:

    I am sure that you “believe” various and interesting things, but, since you have disqualified the Bible as a real authority for anything, by what authority should anyone give any weight to what you “believe.” Since the Bible is inconsistent WHO or WHAT is “calling us to do” anything?

  9. Athena Says:

    Jeff writes: The Bible is too inconsistent to believe the entire thing.

    Jeff this gives rise to a terrible problem for you. If you assert that the Bible is “too inconsistent to believe the entire thing” then why in the world should ANYTHING in the Bible be granted authority.

    You make reference to the Holy Spirit. How did you learn about the existence of the Holy Spirit? How do you know it is Holy? How do you know it is connected in some way to the Bible reverred by Christians?

    Deep Six the Bible and the Tradition and you have no life preserver. You are just like the fortune tellers and tea leaf readers at the local “Zodiac fair.”

  10. Athena Says:

    Juding harshly?

    Jeff you accuse me of “judging”you “harshly.” Yet, you assert that because I disagree with your theological positions that my ideas were “learned by rote.” This is quite insulting to me. My theological positions are based on reading, study, discussion and quite a bit of intense living and learning. Try to remember that I am about 2.5 times older than you are. Whatever my ideas are, they are certainly NOT the product of rote.

    On the other hand, nearly everything you have proposed I read back in the 1960’s probably 40 years before you were born. It is nothing new.

  11. Athena Says:

    Going beyond the “comfort zone” into that which makes us uncomfortable?

    I would feel “uncomfortable” stealing books from public libraries or pushing little old ladies down staircases?

    Should I push beyond this sense of discomfort and do those things anyway?

    How do you expect people to receive guidance for the difficulties life will throw at them with this type of thinking?

  12. Jeff Says:

    Athena –

    I have no desire to get in a “tit for tat” debate with you- you have your mind made up, and although judging from the timestamps on your posts you come back to the well often enough to be curious enough about divergent viewpoints to make me wonder why you visit here, I will speak mostly about your two main response points:

    1) You believe that God has communicated all that is necessary for “what is required” of us.

    2) My assertion that there is no judgement.

    On the first point, please research the prophetic tradition. In theologic tradition as I understand it, there are two main viewpoints; the prophetic tradition which believes that God’s word is revealed continuously through prophetic insight, and the Apocolyptic tradition which focuses primarily on the return of Jesus Christ as predicted through the literal translation of Scriptural reference in Revelation and other passages.

    I believe firmly in the prophetic tradition, true to my tradition in the Anglican and Episcopalian roots. We know more about God’s character than we did 2000 years ago.

    If you believe that slavery is to be condoned so long as you treat your slaves right, if you believe that women cannot hold leadership positions, if you believe that Gentiles were not fit to receive the teachings of Christ when Christ was alive but only after Peter’s dream, if you believe that divorce is a sin– if you believe these things which are revealed in the Bible– then fine. Believe what you want. I won’t argue with you.

    However, please make sure that you do not ever tell me what I need to get out of Scripture. Please do not ever try to legislate based off of your beliefs. Because when you try to hold an absolute standard that is based on human interpretation of a historic document subject to interpretation, you have failed to allow for the many, many, rich and varied layers of that document which cause it to be rich and wonderful. You have changed a masterpiece- a wonderful mosaic- requiring skill, craft, and spirituality to interpret- into a simple rule book. It simply doesn’t- in my experience- work that way. But I don’t suggest that my experience is applicable to yours, so long as you acknowledge that your experience may not be applicable to mine.

    I don’t believe that God judges, however I believe that God has the privilege and right to judge. Like any loving parent, I believe God loves his children more than can be articulated. And no matter how bad we screw it up, I believe he gives us grace because he understands how we got this screwed up. I don’t believe that is free license to screw up, I just believe it is a wonderful gift of a very big God. God’s love is bigger than we would like. I think that is the area of discomfort. It is very telling that when I talk of discomfort you take it to a harmful place rather than a healing place. That is certainly not the intent.

    Gods peace to you Athena, and I hope you find what you are looking for. I don’t think I can help you any more on your journey unless you make a decision to have something shift within you.  If that happens, please pay me another visit.

    Blessings,

    j

  13. Athena Says:

    Jeff

    You should read my posts more carefully.

    JEFF QUOTE:
    However, please make sure that you do not ever tell me what I need to get out of Scripture. Please do not ever try to legislate based off of your beliefs. Because when you try to hold an absolute standard that is based on human interpretation of a historic document subject to interpretation, you have failed to allow for the many, many, rich and varied layers of that document which cause it to be rich and wonderful.
    END JEFF QUOTE:

    My proposition is that I accept the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, something initiated and preserved by the Holy Spirit. The Tradition is definitely NOT my interpretation. I accept the interpretation of the Church which has withstood much more than you have experienced in your short life.

    Secondly, the fact that various humans have from time to time asserted false doctrine or heresy is not proof that the Faith has changed. I accept the Eastern Orthodox Tradition AS INITIATED AND PROTECTED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, not as “my interpretion.”

    I understand that you take umbrage at the suggestion that I, as an individual, would “dictate” to you how to interpret the Scriptures. I don’t suggest that I, as an individual do so. I suggest that there exists a Tradition initiated and upheld by the Holy Spirit.

    Again, although there will always remain many msyteries and unanswered questions, I have concluded that God has effectively communicated what he requires of us, His Creatures in a way which His Creatures can understand.

    As to the “rich and varied” layers of Scripture. Contradiction does not make a document “rich” it makes it incoherent and of questionable authority. The term “double think” comes from Orwell and it isn’t a complement. Your style of interpreting Scripture amounts to little more than intellectual incoherence.
    You have actually expressed something close to contempt for Scripture on this web by stating that Scripture contradicts itself so much that there is no way to decide what to believe.

    As to a decision to “make something shift within you” you are essentially stating that I should reconsider my conclusion that Eastern Orthodoxy has preserved the Truth Faith. While the decision to accept the Tradition is mine, I did not create the Tradition. Your disagreement is not with me, Jeff, it is with
    twenty centuries of Christian thought.

    Now you assert that God judges, something I that I asserted. Well, it would be unjust for God to judge UNLESS he had first clearly communicated what he requires of His Creatures, don’t you agree?

  14. Athena Says:

    From incoherncy to a “masterpiece”

    JEFF QUOTE:
    You have changed a masterpiece- a wonderful mosaic- requiring skill, craft, and spirituality to interpret- into a simple rule book.
    END JEFF QUOTE:

    Again, as noted, I accept the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church. That Tradition is a marvelously fecund and complex body of thought, it is not merely a
    “simple rule book.”

    I believe you referred to an association with ECUSA. ECUSA is crumbling apart as we speak. There is no truer test than the test of time. What Henry the VIII initiated has NOT held together, it is breaking apart right now. I consider the break-up of ECUSA to be a setback for world Christianity and I don’t enjoy seeing it, but, it is a fact.

    If you a truly a suitable candidate for a position as a spiritual leader, you need to be prepared to provide coherent support for what you advance. To date, you have advanced only the idea that Scripture is inconsistent and unintelligible and that you, Jeff, somehow have access to the promptings of the HOly Spirit. The Spirit which with you commune apparently advises you to cast off the teachings of twenty centuries. So much for “such a cloud of witnesses.”

  15. Athena Says:

    Open debate UNTIL Jeff decides to block access to comments.

    A person who has selected himself as a leader in a Christian community should be prepared to engage on an intellectual level with others. He should be prepared to debate ideas.

    Please note that Jeff frequenlty characterizes those who disagree with this position as intellectually deficient. People who disagree with him have learned their ideas “by rote.” People who disagree with him have reduced the Bible to a “simple rule book.”

    Apparently Jeff possess the “skill, craft and spirituality” necessary to interpret the Bible. But, the question remains, how do we know WHO has those requisite attributes? Does everyone who attends an Episcopalian seminary possess them? If so, why is ECUSA splitting apart at the seams as we speak?

    Inquiring minds want to know, if they get past Jeff’s blocking technique. Ah, the liberality of the “liberals.”

  16. Jeff Says:

    Athena –

    I believe I have created a forum for intellectual debate here which is quite friendly. I have intelligent conversations both with those who agree and with those who disagree; however I do not choose to engage those who are disagreeable.

    I have not, as of yet, blocked comments– however as this is my site I certainly reserve that right. You are always welcome to get your own site to express your views if you do not feel like your point of view is being expressed here.

    Your characterization of TEC is quite inacurrate. I believe that there are 9 of about 100 or so dioceses who have elected to try and leave TEC. That is hardly splitting apart at the seams– rather that is a small voice making a loud noise.

    And if you read my comments more carefully you will see that I am all for the inclusion of the orthodox in the church, so long as the ORTHODOX don’t do exactly what you are claiming that I am doing– claim to have superior knowledge over me. I claim no such superior knowledge, and refuse to accept that anyone else does either. That is why we must all live together in peace.

    j


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