Monday, October 11, 2010



It's been a long time since my last post.  Not that there have not been things that have almost made it here from time to time, (many of which have accumulated as "drafts" but never quite got finished).  Some of that was due to a hectic summer schedule where the normal rhythm of things was, often pleasantly, interrupted by various vacations, trips and events.  But while those things contributed, they are probably not the most significant reason.   I think much of the reason had to do with something, for lack of a better term, I might describe as "absurdity fatigue," and the resulting desire to simply disengage for awhile.  

While I am not a great fan of Alice in Wonderland, there have been times when I feel like I am living in the midst of the story line.  

However reasonable people might dialogue about the various ways our country might be run, or what political perspective is the best, what we have experienced in the last couple of years has been largely characterized by people standing in opposition to things for the sake of opposition (and hoped for political advantage), and a willingness to exploit anxiety, fear, and in some cases much more malignant sentiments, in order to . . .  well . . . there doesn't seem to be much consensus on what the real point is . . . only that it is somehow good to be mad and want to make a change.   In rallies and gatherings, charisma, to use the term loosely, triumphs over informed substance, and people who in any other setting would be seen as "not all there,"  mean spirited, or in some cases simply dishonest, command airwaves and influence public opinion, seemingly, in direct proportion to their absurdity.  There is a lot that can be learned from healthy public dialogue, but, seriously, is this the best we can do?  Does no one feel embarrassed or maybe even a little ashamed?  Really?

In church communities, I watch people who claim to be standing up for truth, deriding, and in some cases slandering, those who honestly desire to reconcile both scriptural and scientific data in a way that has integrity for both disciplines.  It's not that the conversation is a problem.  In fact it is a very needed and fruitful one when both sides are willing to listen honestly and non-defensively to each other.  But, instead, what could be an opportunity for mutual learning and growth, becomes an arena for the rise of the orthodoxy police, and in at least a professional sense (though it often gets quite personal as well) - a renewed hunger for the experience of burning witches.  This is only exacerbated by people in positions of influence making sweeping statements about things that a more careful or thorough understanding of which, would prevent.  There is a lot that can be learned from healthy public dialogue, but, seriously, is this the best we can do?  Does no one feel embarrassed or maybe even a little ashamed?  Really?

What is further exasperating, is that in both of the examples (and there are probably many others), attempts at dialogue are often unsuccessful -- and instead become exercises in trying to talk to someone who is so intent on defending their ground that they are unwilling to consider, even for the sake of dialogue, any idea or data that differs from what have already (and often somewhat arbitrarily) decided is "right."  And once you have determined that you are right, and even more that those who suggest anything different than what you have decided is the "enemy," then of course dialogue is unnecessary.  We all know what you do with enemies.  Under the banner of accountability, we fight them.  If possible, we destroy them.  And of course in  war, the rules that might constrain behavior in less extreme situations can be suspended.   

That is of course, until you listen to Jesus, who makes this outlandish suggestion that the best way to treat your "enemies" is to love and pray for them (which, ironically, often has the effect of re-framing the way you look at them, causing them to seem less like enemies that somehow should be given less consideration than yourself).  It does not, necessarily, mean you surrender to their agendas, but rather that the nature of the interaction changes dramatically.  And the good news is, that you don't have to wait for the "other side" to figure this out before you start practicing it.

And so it was that, recently, in the midst of a long prayerful walk on an exceptionally beautiful day (one set aside strictly for the purpose of listening more than talking), sitting on a rock overlooking a mountain side dotted with trees showing signs of new life, and clouds that wove themselves in breath-takingly beautiful patterns above them, that I was reminded that the absurdity which so often surrounds us is not what we are created for, and does not have to be what defines us.  That however intense, intent, and frankly embarrassing things become in the communities in which we live, what God has called us to, and to share, is deeply meaningful, rich, and a continual reminder that (to borrow a phrase from Rob Bell) you don't have to live like this

Following Jesus is much more about the way that we live, the kind of people we become, and how that leads us to live our lives in the world, than getting every detail of how we might explain things into conformity.  If my life, the way I interact with those around me, does not reflect genuineness, authenticity, grace and God's way of looking at people, then no one, perhaps even God, is going to care much about how "right" I was or wasn't about the details.  In the great parable of the judgment in Matthew 25, the issues clearly lie elsewhere than that.

Too much time in the land that feels like it belongs on the other side of the looking glass can leave one feeling like it is best to give up on talking altogether.  Over the course of the past several months, I began to realize, perhaps largely out of some sort of internal fatigue, that I was simply beginning to disengage and withdraw.   What I was reminded of on my walk, is that perhaps a better response is simply stop letting the other side of the looking glass set the agenda and define the conversation - and begin to live "in the truth" - to begin to really live once again.  Not only might that lead to interesting (and perhaps less reactive) conversation at "tea parties," but perhaps to lives that are even more compelling than whatever we might say?


H.E. Curtis said...

Definitely can relate to conversations which potentially can be constructive only to have the other counterpart be so totally focused on "being right" they miss the bigger picture and totally undermine it, and than get mad at me when I get frustrated.

Chris Oberg said...

Thanks for the reminder of Rob Bell's line, 'you don't have to live like this.' I find that a great summary of Jesus' teachings, again and again. I also appreciate that something hopeful can come from occasional disengaging.

Welcome back to the dialogue! We need your voice.

Michael J. Bennie said...

Love it, Ken. Compelling lives are the miracle of Jesus, and the essence of his spoken message. But I, too, get caught up by annoyance with those who make enemies of new thoughts and those who think them, which keeps me playing the same enemy/battle game that I thought I was above. It reminds me of Neo in Brian McLaren's books, with his hand hovering a foot above the regular level of discourse and disagreement. Here's praying for the peace, presence and love to live "in the truth" that is higher than the fray.

Michael J. Bennie said...

A poem from Rumi that reflects a Christ-like perspective, I think: "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other"
doesn't make any sense.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks