A Better Way

“Most important of all,
continue to show deep love for each other,
for love covers a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8 NLT

“Be completely humble and gentle;
be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace.”
Ephesians 4:2-3 NIV

“…it is God’s GOODNESS that leads you to
change your mind for the better…”
Romans 2:4 (my paraphrase)

When someone has harsh words for you – condemning what you think or what you are – better-wayhow do you typically respond?┬áIf you’re like me, your options include ignoring them and walking away or taking offense and fighting back.

Judgment – and by that I mean condemnation, not discernment – never attracts anyone; it repulses. It’s a repulsive way to relate.

I grew up in a faith tradition that was very much about judgment. It’s one of those traditions that says “love the sinner, hate the sin”… but we all knew that meant it was just fine for us to condemn those who weren’t like us… even other people in our same tradition. Christians condemning Christians… which is SO NOT Christian.

The “Christian” high school I went to condemned the “Christian” high school my future wife went to because they allowed boys to have haircuts that extended below their ears and girls could wear – GASP! – slacks in the winter instead of dresses that went below the knee. I’m not making this shit up.

The chief method of trying to get new converts was to tell them how horrible they were, but don’t worry – God is even MORE horrible because he’ll torture you forever for a few decades of not ascribing to our list of rules and beliefs.

Yes, I rightfully reject that stuff now… but when you were in that echo chamber, it was all fear and guilt and shame and condemnation trying to keep you in line.

Yet the verses above (and your own heart) say that the way to sustainable change and harmony is LOVE.

Not judgment… LOVE.

Not angry boycotts… LOVE.

Not shaming people… LOVE.

Not inflammatory memes… LOVE.

You’ve taken the time to read this far. There must be something about this that is calling to you. I know it’s calling to me, and that’s why I have to write stuff like this.

So let’s make a pact, you and I. Let’s drop the condemnation in favor of something more productive, more peacemaking (blessed are the peacemakers, right?).

Yes, there is PLENTY to be angry about in this day and age. There are plenty of conflicts we all face, especially within ourselves. I can be quite certain within myself about a particular thing, yet have some other position that someone can point to as seemingly hypocritical. My hope is that in the end it is LOVE that drives my views, that drives my words and deeds, that drives my car (really – you should see my commutes sometimes!).

And beyond that, let’s try to actually understand people who don’t think like us. When I started doing that, I discovered that people with an opposite position from mine weren’t evil, stupid, or any other pejorative… and that sometimes they had actually thought this through BETTER than I had and their view demonstrated God’s love much better than what I had been living for years. It changed me.

And it wasn’t their hateful expletives and powerful shout-downs that had that impact. No, it was their compassion, their love exemplified despite how it initially seemed to me with my arrogant views that were in the end not really road-tested.

“…it is God’s GOODNESS that leads you to
change your mind for the better…”
Romans 2:4 (my paraphrase)

Let’s aim to be more like that… because when that kind of goodness and acceptance and love changes US inside, then and only then are we in a position to truly show compassion and acceptance and love to others. And then maybe… just maybe… it will encourage them to give this better way an honest try.

The Bridge to Cross

I grew up in a subculture that assumed it’s understanding of scripture passages equaled “God said it, that settles it.” I bought into that for decades. Questioning such things was not allowed and usually resulted in condemnation and ostracizing (typical cultic tools to insure conformity).BridgeToCross

When I finally had enough serious questions that I actually started asking them… AND getting satisfying answers… well, I saw “the man behind the curtain” for what he was – not a wizard at all, but just a guy who had opinions and was confused about how authoritative his opinions were.

To this day when I see people trying to make “biblical arguments” as if their understanding of a collection of scripture passages is “Truth” for all time in all cultures, I want to engage them but they are so deep into a paradigm I’ve discarded that communication on their topic is almost impossible.

You see, they have to start with so many assumptions about the nature of scripture, the validity of their understanding of it, and the quality of their implications about it. In other words, they start off by strongly assuming they are “right”. So what could have been a discussion about actual ideas becomes a serious threat to a cherished paradigm that provides safety and structure to their lives. It used to provide that for me… used to. Whether the topic is the distant future, the distant past, or sociological issues like abortion, homosexuality, feminism, etc., it is incredibly challenging to discuss it across paradigms.

I now view scripture as written by men in their times and places with their evolving understanding of God and the universe. I think it’s obvious as I scan scripture that thought patterns changed from author to author. My job is to try to understand what the authors thought and were trying to communicate to their culture, and to compare that to what we have learned since. I don’t think God was changing at all throughout scripture, I just think humankind had the wrong ideas about God (starting from a place of fear and violence rather than love and restoration). We go to the scriptures to gain insight and wisdom, whether or not we agree with each author’s perspective.

It’s my contention that the words and life of Jesus are the best example of what God is really like. So when I look at who he loves (and how), when I see who he corrects or scolds (and how)… I do not see the smug condemnation and use of fear, shame, & guilt that I have seen all my life in religious circles. That tells me a LOT. I appreciate those who try to follow his way of living, especially the outwardly religious types because they are the few who don’t give “Christianity” a bad name. These are the ones who understand the new commandment Jesus gave his followers before his death: LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

That’s the kind of person I want to be. It takes time, effort, and lots of forgiving yourself because failure is guaranteed. Lots of it. Please be patient with me, and I’ll do my best to be patient with you as we aim to exude the kind of love that restores rather than divides, that heals rather than injures, that comforts rather than terrorizes.

Love. Maybe that’s the way to communicate across paradigms. Maybe that’s the bridge. It’s the one I aim to cross at least.