Withholding

Today I was talking to my friend about this BIG.HUGE.SECRET that had been bestowed upon me unwillingly. I was explaining how I hadn’t particularly wanted the knowledge and once told, I felt the need to process it but I couldn’t really talk about it with the people I really wanted to talk about it with. Once processed, though, I went on to say something to the effect it was just as well they didn’t know, they didn’t need to know and their perception of how things were could stay unaltered.

As soon as these words left my mouth, I realized how arrogant and judgmental they were. What makes me think I’m the only one capable of coming to terms to with the knowledge in a healthy way? I’m not saying I’m about to share the information so that I can see if others will, but if I could come to a place of understanding why couldn’t they? And as my friend so wisely pointed out, the nature of secrets is that you don’t know who else already knows them anyway.

It made me realize though, that I place an awful lot of confidence in my own ability to cope, but not in others. I can think of other times I have omitted information from the expectation of the reaction. I’ve played God in a way, deciding who gets to know what based on my own limited perception of others.

I’m not really advocating gossip here at all. There are definitely times when I think it’s best to keep your mouth shut. But there have been other times, issues that are not really gossip but maybe more factual knowledge that I have chosen not to reveal something to someone.

It’s interesting the games we play. It’s amazing how many little areas pride rears its ugly head. It’s another example, I think, of how I sometimes fail to take into consideration how fully human another person is, capable of both the impulses of disappointment and empathy. It should never be my place to decide what another person can handle or how they will respond to knowledge. It sucks a little mystery and potential for wonder out of things. I hope to do better in the future to pull back my controlling hand and let life unfold as it will.

The Buffet of Belief

The same professor I had in college whom I have mentioned numerous times (who had a huge impact on my life) was of the belief that if one thing in the Bible wasn’t true, it all wasn’t true. I can remember his passionate and persuasive lectures on this issue and at the time they were very convincing for me. This is a very common belief among evangelical Christians especially (I can’t speak for others) and it’s why the issue of creationism is so important. The idea is that if they stop believing in a literal six-day creation, then everything else they have believed is also false because the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God. If you say there’s an “error” in there, such as creation, than it all becomes untrustworthy.

Now of course this doesn’t take into account understanding the way the text was written. In fact so much of believing that way still depends on how one understands the translation of the Bible they have received and are reading without bringing any other scholarship to bear on it. It also assumes that one’s interpretation is as infallible as God’s word. Sadly, I think this has allowed the Bible to be manipulated and used to support people’s causes, prior belief systems, and culture– sometimes at the expense of others.

If you decide, for example, that the earth wasn’t created in six days or that women can in fact have leadership roles in the church, well, some people might suggest you are picking and choosing what you want to believe.

But I think we all always pick and choose what we want to believe. There are some pretty radical lifestyle teachings in the Bible that few who claim it’s the inspired Word of God seem to live out.

Belief is very complicated to me. There are times when yes I choose to believe something. I choose to believe that God is good. I choose to believe He is with me. I choose to believe all life is sacred. But there are other times, when things I have previously held to no longer make sense. In those cases, I have to go with my gut and listen to my conscience which I hope is at least partly informed by the Holy Spirit.

This is obviously true for many people or there wouldn’t be so many approaches to understanding the Bible. There wouldn’t be so many different churches.

I often think of the tale of the blind men and the elephant when I consider this…that perhaps each of us are gifted with understanding part of God but only when we come together as a body can we begin to see the whole. (yes that’s my own spin on the tale) But we need to be open to each other and our various understandings.

So in short…I do believe there is an absolute truth, it’s just that I don’t think any of us are absolutely right about what it is.

I think one of the hardest parts about being a Christian to me and about belief is to, as Roberston McQuilkin said, “stay at the center of Biblical tension.” It is much easier to choose an extreme of belief. But I do think we’re meant to live in tension, to welcome questions, to constantly evaluate.

Why Stereotypes Can Hurt

For whatever reason, it seems that humans frequently like to make generalizations. I suspect there are many cases in which this is extremely helpful, but there are other times in which this is not the case.

The problem with stereotypes is that we start to filter everything through them. If we say, “All Mexicans are Dodgers fans” for instance, we anticipate based on this prior conclusion, that the next Mexican baseball fan we meet will be a rabid Dodgers fan. But what if they are actually a fan of the superior Cardinals? They have to disprove an idea we’ve already formed, rather than simply revealing the truth of who they are.

Stereotypes build an extra wall, an extra layer in the process of getting to know each other. And they can lead to uncomfortable situations, like being in France and eating a fine meal and having your host bring out ketchup even though it has no place in that particular meal. All Americans love ketchup, right?

But even more than this problem, we tend to speak our stereotypes out loud. And when we do this, we risk alienating people around us. For example, if you say to me, “all women love to shop for shoes”, and I don’t love to shop for shoes, do I conclude I am not really a woman? Is there something wrong with me? Should I try to fit a new found love for shoe shopping into my life? Yes this is a ridiculous example, but it’s a safe one. 🙂

I think when we’ve been hurt or offended multiple times by people we identify as having something in common, developing stereotypes can at times feel like a safety shield. We can also attribute motivation to the stereotype. “she didn’t say thank you? oh that’s because she’s from California, they never say thank you for anything.”

In my life, some of the stereotypes that have hurt me a lot are about being an American. I was constantly surprised by how easily people would say negative things about Americans as a whole in my company when I lived overseas. Sometimes they’d say something, get a laugh, and then shoot a guilty look my way and say, “present company excluded of course.”

Of course if this happened a few times, it would be more bearable, but it happened on a regular basis. And because I knew so few other Americans, I often felt extremely lonely in this regard. The problem with stereotypes is that you may think you’re only saying it out loud once, but it’s likely that the person who it may be directed at is hearing it on a daily basis. And even if you mean to exclude them, they have no way of knowing that because you’ve already swept everyone altogether in one statement.

I think when you start using stereotypes to think about people, you are no longer considering individual people, but rather ideas. And when you try to relate to people based on an idea, rather than as a person, there’s so much more potential for misunderstanding and hurt.

At the end of the day, I think we each want to be known on our own merits. And while it may take a bit more work, I think it’s worth it to try.

Some Thoughts on Jennifer Knapp

Yesterday Stephen tweeted the link to Christianity Today’s interview with Jennifer Knapp. I was really interested in reading it because my history with her music runs deep.

I’ve often written about how music records a life in a way that words can’t–years after the first time I heard a Jennifer Knapp song I can still remember the experience of sitting in chapel at college and observing that everyone else knew this catchy song but me.

I remember listening to Kansas in college with my friends, but also during the long lonely summers between school years. When I went to France, we stayed in the servants quarters of an old chateau and trust me when I say we could never get that place clean, we spent hours on it a day. We had only a few CDs with us and they are all very dear to me now. Jennifer Knapp’s Kansas, Enter the Worship Circle, and U2’s Joshua Tree. In the middle of these hard days of work, of cleaning, removing wallpaper, planning English lessons, not to mention a great deal of tension in our team, we listened to this music. For that reason it is inexplicably important to me now, loaded with memories and the faint fragrance of salvation.

And then there was that time when I was in counseling and I had just, quite honestly, sobbed my way through my entire session and I was drained and exhausted and I got in my car and was greeted by a Jennifer Knapp song that breathed comfort and hope.

What I mean to say is that her music has met me in my life several times. But then she disappeared off the face of the earth, no one knew why, though there were rumors she was just burned out and also tales that perhaps she was gay. And they were all true.

I so appreciated this interview because she’s honest in it and even while she doesn’t wish to discuss her homosexuality too much and the interviewer persists in it, I find her attitude so healthy and refreshing and what she says is so honest. And while I know she is no longer producing music exclusively for the Christian marketplace (great thoughts on that in the interview) and that she’s a private person who doesn’t want to go on at length about her personal relationship, I’m glad that there are more and more people coming out of the closet, so to say, from a conservative Evangelical tradition. They are paving the way for freedom for others.

To be honest, I don’t know how much I’ll love the new CD. It seems okay so far. But most importantly, I’m glad that someone who gave me music that has journeyed through life with me has come to a place of peace, joy, and creativity again.

Cutting Back and All the Things I’m Looking Forward To

So, I’m starting to realize that I can’t do everything. Again. Fifth time to have this revelation this year. But I’m finally going to be culling things from my schedule. This mainly means blogging things.

I have an outrageous number of domains dedicated to projects that are suffering because I can only give them minimal attention. I have more ideas than time and some of my ideas I love a lot less than others, but because I’ve invested some time in them, the projects I really love are suffering. Also, I have so many books to read and honestly? Very few books are grabbing me anymore. That sort of infatuation with discovering new books and genres I had the first two years of book blogging has waned. I want to read the authors I love and the books recommended by the authors I love. My favorite reads this year have all been books I chose for myself, not ones sent to me for review. And…going back to an earlier goal….I want to read less books overall and read more books I love.

So I’m going to be ruthless now, giving up the things I know I can’t be fair to in order to give loving care and attention to what I love. My book blog. Which I want to take in some new directions. My other writing which is taking place offline at the moment. BBAW, which I hope to do much less work on this year, handling only the aspects of it I really love.

There is freedom, I think, in learning how to acknowledge your limitations and cut back. I’m really looking forward to it.

Of course it doesn’t mean I won’t be busy! I have ALL OF THESE OTHER THINGS going on! But it’s glorious to hand over the reins on some things.

In other news, can I tell you how amusing it is to me that 12 Cities 12 Conversations (which appears to be more than 12 cities) is coming to my city? It is definitely the smallest place on the list of cities, but I’ll take it. Yay for having a big church in town. Next week is actually going to be super fun with both that and my first chance to go to an upfront for a television channel. The benefits of having made friends all over the world through blogging! By the way, I only heard about the Conversation gathering via Jim Belcher, who started following me on twitter (why? it does puzzle me) and so I followed him back and saw his tweet about the Pasadena gathering. I couldn’t make it to that one, but wasn’t too worried when I saw Corona was also on the list! So see? Twitter is more effective for spreading the word than you might ever imagine.

Also, I’m so looking forward to the LA Times Festival of Books at the end of April and of course BEA in May, which is my favorite time of year besides Christmas. If I was independently wealthy I would travel around the country and go to every book festival there is. I really can’t imagine anything more fun! (yes alert the nerd police)

And yay for another rambling post!

More on Belief in God

I was reading a blog written by an atheist who used to be a Christian and was quite interested, as I always am, in what caused him to change his mind. He said it was reading books with an open mind, basically. (so if I read the same books and don’t come to the same conclusion does that mean I don’t have an open mind? Or are there other things at play?)

He had an interview with a popular Christian blogger and when this blogger said he didn’t know how not to believe in God, it really resonated with me. I often feel that way. I am not without doubt but at the end of the day even when I am doubting in God I am still believing Him, if that makes any sense whatsoever. Yes, this is the way I was raised. I was always taught there is a God and while I’ve been through very dark times in my faith, while many superficial things about what I believe have changed, I always seem to come back to Him. God is so dear to me, there is no submission to doubt that offers peace greater than the joy of believing.

I mention this because the comments on this interview were, as I said on twitter, evangelical in nature. The many atheists who commented seemed to want to find a way to latch onto Matthew Paul Turner’s doubts and convince him that it made no sense and that by submitting to his doubts he would never experience any kind of doubting again. They seemed to suggest there was only one way to see the world, and that is without a god. I don’t know if it’s a cause and reaction in which because so many people who believe in God are so enthusiastic about conversion that those who don’t feel they must be equally as fervent. (and I know some of you who read this are atheists and I’ve never felt like you’ve told me there’s only one way to see the world and that’s your way, this is specifically about what I was reading on this blog)

Upon further exploration of said blog, the blogger said that if miracles were proved, he would believe. Huh? Isn’t that the whole point of belief? There’s no proof. Maybe I’m missing something!

I feel like I’ve been spending so much time thinking about this lately, because I pretty much listened to David Bazan’s Curse Your Branches nonstop last week. The music is catchy in the way that it sticks in your head and you feel like you have to listen to it over and over, but the lyrics are also quite deep and insightful. The album has been described as a “break-up album with God” and to be honest, I find it utterly depressing. Bazan, like myself, is a pastor’s kid and has apparently in recent years decided he can no longer be sure of God’s existence. On one level, I can relate to these big huge aching doubts about God. So I sat in that place for a few days, letting the songs and words marinate in my head. And then I started to feel annoyed, to be honest, since the songs are also quite a bit about alcoholism. “Just like an addict!” I thought at one point. “Blame everything on someone else–even if the someone else is the void of God!” Finally, I realized I needed to start listening to something else. Don’t misunderstand…I really like the album, I just had a very emotional week with it. I think now that I’ve been submerged in it and come out from under it, I’ll listen to it in a much more detached way from now on. I bet this makes absolutely no sense, but this is how I am with music…it’s very much an emotional experience for me. Well, I’m also like this with certain books and films, too.

Anyway, I read quite a few online articles (really I bought the album just from a tweet I saw of David Dark’s who’s apparently a good friend of Bazan and had no context really for the music) about Dave Bazan to try to understand the history. I was never into the indie Christian rock music scene and there was all this history I didn’t know. Fascinating stuff! But it made me wonder, ponder, and think again about belief. It’s a mystery to me how we all react differently…no two people react to a set of circumstances in the same way. There are people who would like to believe, but can’t and then people who used to believe who no longer can, and then people who have had no belief who convert completely to some sort of belief system.

I don’t know why, but I find this endlessly fascinating. Also, I find it hard to believe that anyone lives their lives completely free of doubt, no matter what their belief system. And also, finally, I apologize for the meandering nature of this post, I just needed a place to get out these thoughts!