Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Necessity of Insecurity

October 2007

"That's stupid. Totally wrong. The Bible is either completely true or it isn't." Jack said.

"What do you mean by 'completely true'?" I said. "That's an impossible statement to either attack or defend."

"C'mon, Steve, you know exactly what I mean."

I nodded. I did know what he meant. I just didn't agree with him.

A few of us had broken off and were lingering in the hallway just to the left of our classroom. We'd just finished the first half of our Biblical Interpretation course and most of us had grabbed a coffee to help us get through the second half. Coming to Toronto to work on my Masters in Divinity had offered a few surprises, not the least of which was the absolute certainty of so many of my fellow students. Partly due to age -- when I was twenty-five I actually did know everything -- and partly by indoctrination, it was difficult for many of them when our professors challenged our convictions. From my perspective, sitting and standing in the small circles outside the classrooms and in the cafeteria and library, regurgitation and rejection seemed the order of the day. Get the grade, reject the idea, and get out. This wasn't true of all my classmates, of course, but in my mind, too many of them thought the professors were out of line for even questioning the traditional belief patterns.

"I mean, c'mon, how are we supposed to convince people that Jesus matters if we can't agree on the basics?" Jack said, continuing his rant.

I shook my head and slid back into the classroom. I still remembered when I'd first come into the church and my time in the ministry as an enthusiastic zealot at twenty-one, when the world had seemed so easy. So... black and white. After fifteen years of brokenness and disappointments and successes, watching my worldview change seemingly every year, there was little to say to my classmate. He'd have to live it to understand it. I had.

One of the important things I'd learned through the years however, something that had really surprised me, was that my attitude had little to do with religion. This pattern of absoluteness carried into every area of my life, from my idea of who should be playing right field for the Blue Jays to the proper way to worship to the best way to prepare roast beef. In many ways, life was simpler then. I didn't need to worry about nuance or insecurity. Just believe, right? It wasn't that my mind couldn't be swayed by good argument, because it was possible to convince me of something else. What I couldn't do, however, was hold two ideas about the same issue in different hands.

And that had nothing to do with my belief in God, and everything to do with what I believed about being human.


April, 2009

I stood on the stoop outside my house, listening to the birds chatter and sing across the street. Spring was here. Another year, and more changes would soon follow. In two short months, I would be leaving my home for the past two years to be married. I thought about all the times on the stoop with my housemates, how we had laughed and cried together, sharing our lives in ways I would never have thought possible when I had arrived. Of all my housemates the past two years, only one had been born in Canada, and yet the bonds of friendship formed in that time could only be described as familial. We shared different beliefs about God, about life, and the "right way" to do things. We never talked about what it meant to be human, but it was the basis of our discussions, because in discussing the "other" things, we were really talking about our humanity.

Most people of faith don't like to hear the idea that understanding your humanity is more important than understanding God. But without the acknowledgement of our own limitations, how can we point to God without assuming a portion of divinity? How can we love and empathize with people around us if we do not understand that we all start at the same point? The only way to share and love and reflect the love the Bible talks about is through our willingness to expose our own insecurities, our own weaknesses, our own unsurety. Humanity is conjoined in her weakness, not in her strength, and in a society that promotes a (misunderstood) Darwinian ideal of the survival of the fittest, it is no wonder that we find community so hard. That we are so lonely and discouraged. Our beliefs about what makes us human are rarely questioned, and yet they are the bedrock from which our lives spring.

A black squirrel hopped onto my neighbour's porch, staring at me with a twitching face as if deciding whether he should run. I smiled and remained still, waiting as he slowly worked his way down the steps and into my neighbour's yard. We all love strong opinions, don't we? I enjoy listening to Simon on American Idol because of the forcefulness of his opinion. Conversely, listening to Paula's barely comprehensible pap ("I love you all!"), is boring. However, there is a great difference between the exchange of ideas and the interpretation of humanity, which is the biggest danger of any form of punditry. It seems as if we're constantly in search of the "perfect" idea, and that there is only one ultimate idea for everything. This is impossible, of course, unless we are God. To me, the greatest sign of a maturing human is their ability to hold different views on the same topic by remembering who they are, and to do so by remembering that they are human too.

I have long decried the idea of strict evangelicalism. I don't like it, because for me, the idea of a strict community is suffocating. There are those, however, who have grown up without boundaries, who see the very same things I see and regard them as a sign of love and concern. It would be unfair -- inhuman -- for me to castigate them for their experience, wouldn't it? To say that there is only one way to "do church."

It is this idea of nuance that so attracts me to Jesus. Not the Jesus most of us grew up with, the one with black and white ideas about tattoos and earrings and wine, but the one who consistently challenged people by their own ideas about humanity. Who is your neighbour? Why do you ignore that race? Who of you has sinned? This is what Jesus addressed, and they reveal so much more than the doctrines we spend too much time debating. Are not these the basics that truly matter? Without unsurety, however, we would never look for answers. Without weakness, we would have no need to share our lives. Without vulnerability, we would have no idea how to be compassionate.

It is because of our weakened humanity that we search for anything at all, and in so doing, it is only then can we find the One who has always loved us, and who asks us to share that love.

Not because we're right.

But because we're human.