Thursday, February 20, 2014

Relationship and Reality

TIME Magazine had a fascinating story about how millennials are prioritizing friendships over romantic relationships. This is likely easier in the age of hookup culture, where the temporary satisfaction of our physical desires is divorced from relationship, but it provides a great launching pad for discussion nonetheless.

The bottom line was simply: Our friends know who we are; we have to meet the ideals of a date. There is an inherent dichotomy in the competitive nature of our romantic life. We have to compete with every other girl/guy out there for the affection of our date. We have to live up to some expectation. (It's a system which doesn't work out long term - eventually we'll be who we are and our partner better appreciate that - but that's another post altogether.)

This plays out on Facebook, where people have to work to balance an accurate portrayal of themselves with the kind of person they wish to project themselves as. In the end, we have to learn that we can't just whitewash out image. We are who we are. This is wise counsel for matters of faith - well, for life in general (Tim Suttle talks about this well), but specifically when it comes to faith.

We want people to be doctrinally sound (we want people to believe the right things) because our beliefs shape our actions and our actions are important. But this priority inadvertently demotes the importance of genuine faith. We don't intend for people to claim things they don't believe, but that is how it too often comes across. It's like faith dating. People like us and want us to like them, so they put on the image we want to see, whether it reflects reality or not.

It's this sort of attitude (again, usually with the best of intentions) that keeps people from asking questions (and when they get answers elsewhere, they right you off as a source of authority). It is the reason we keep secrets - not just that we have done disappointing things, but that we are disappointing (or it appears that way if we're not the people our loved ones want us to be).

I guess I'm advocating a sort of open acceptance that I usually feel is weak and unhelpful. I think the difference is it must be paired with ongoing, honest dialogue - relationship. If you and I disagree about the value of factory farm beef, we can discuss it, learn about each other's thought processes and decisions and come to an understanding, even if we continue to disagree. We're ultimately looking for people to be earnest.

The difficulty comes when we don't believe the other person is earnest. That's tough. I suppose what's required them is real relationship, not just dialogue. We have to trust one another.

It can't just be about prohibition and lines of demarcation.

If everything is about a prohibition, rather than a specific rule of life (in which we voluntarily adopt and avoid certain practices), there is no freedom, value, or individuality. WE are not respected as individuals, but only so far as our individuality matches that of the other or the authority. Peter Rollins talks about this in a number of his books - and illustrates it well in a hilarious story about duck hunting and kicks to the crotch.

It's a natural reaction to defy authority - to want to do something other people tell you can't be done (or shouldn't). It's a sign of maturity to recognize the value of another opinion and change your mind. The whole thing is easier to navigate when there's no ironclad prohibition hanging over our heads (which is how, often, relationships with disagreements - vocal or internal - end up operating).

Yes, it may lead to more mistakes and heartbreak than we'd like to see - but there's that trust thing again. We might save our friends and loved ones some heartbreak if we could just convince them of our correctness, but I think we've got a better chance of getting them where they need to be if we let them figure it out on their own. (Again, not remaining silent, but also not demanding or insisting on our own correctness anywhere but in our own heads.)

So often we try to make blanket statements applicable to all people at all times - and we get into fights. Whereas, if we focus on ourselves and our situations - if we enter into relationship with the people around us and discuss real scenarios and real options, we can address real life. We can work together to figure life out (and maybe live with disagreements).

My last post was received more graciously than I expected. I think you for that. At the same time, Peter Clarke pointed out an important element:

For me, your statement "Scripture is not a list of rules and laws, but an authoritative narrative pointing to relationship with God." sets the direction of your whole case. If a person does not truely understand the implications of that statement, they will not (probably cannot) come to the faith-mature position you've come to. I think most people would agree with the statement, but thinking it all the way to the end, admitting the limits of our perspective as you have, standing up for those with the purest desire to become like Christ despite whatever internal struggle they have found themselves with, takes a lot of courage.

This is exactly the point. Do we trust God (or conscience, if that's your thing) to work in the lives and hearts of people or do we assume, if they don't agree with us, that they're somehow refusing to hear God (or reason)? I prefer to assume the best and continue in conversation about our different beliefs and the reasons behind them.

We can only do this if we're willing to both be really ourselves and accept people the same way. No preconceptions. No conditions.

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