Monday, April 18, 2011

Room at the Table?

[Update 4/20/2011: I love it and hate it when someone says what I mean, but in a much, much better, friendlier, clearer, more intelligent way.  Here's an example.]

I think seafood is disgusting.  I hate it.  I hate the smell, the taste, the texture... Everything about seafood gives me the heebee jeebees.

And yet I know many people who love it.  I have friends (who are otherwise rational, responsible, sane-seeming people) for whom seafood is not just enjoyable, but is a favorite food.

What is wrong with them?  I often wonder if their taste buds are, perhaps, deformed in some way, or if their DNA has a faulty mutation that makes them think this way, because, seriously, seafood?!  Perhaps I need new friends.

Another example: My husband is the dearest, sweetest, most loving man in the world.  He's dependable, good at his job, and a great father.  I've never heard anyone say a negative thing about him, because he is an all-around great guy.  And yet, even after years of my attempts to educate and persuade him otherwise, he continues to deny that Led Zeppelin is the greatest band of the 1970s.

I have often wondered if he is human, or if it is advisable for us to continue on speaking terms.

I jest, of course, but it's easy to understand the sentiment.  Sometimes what seems obvious and incontrovertible to me, seems exactly the opposite to someone else.  And it's funny when it's framed in terms of food preferences or musical tastes, because as personal as those are, they are not who we are.

But what about the bigger issues?  What about the different ways we have of understanding the world, our faith, our role in the world as Christ's followers?  What happens when we disagree about those things, the big things? 

For instance, what of disagreements about our origins?  Some Christians hold to what is called "Young Earth Creationism," which takes the Genesis 1 creation account as literal fact and dates the earth at about 10,000 years old.  They dismiss modern science and its theories for various reasons, taking the Bible alone as their science book.  Other Christians see Genesis 1 as an inspired, mythic story and have no problem accepting the prevailing theory that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and see the body of evidence supporting this theory not as a threat to the Bible's authority, but as a compliment to it.

And what about our response to tragedy?  Some would say that everything is as God wills it, or everything happens for a reason, and we're not meant to understand in this lifetime.  Others would say that the world is broken, and bad things happen, and not every tragedy is sent from God, but results from our fallen state, and the rain will fall on the just and the unjust until God renews heaven and earth.

What about our views on salvation and heaven and hell?  Some people say that God has determined the few who will go to heaven, and everyone else will go to hell, and since God preordained it, we have nothing to do with it.  Some would say that we are free to choose salvation, and all those who don't choose it are bound for hell.  Others claim that salvation is available because of Jesus, though a person doesn't necessarily have to pray a "sinner's prayer" in order to avoid hell and go to heaven.  Still others (who wear that dirtiest of dirty Christian labels, universalists) purport that, in the end, God lets everyone into heaven.

Lots of viewpoints.  Lots of important things to think about.  And these are just a few examples of the kinds of deep beliefs Christians hold.  Unlike our food and our music, these deeper issues aren't just preferences, but vitally important issues that help shape our faith and our very selves, and as such are worth wrestling with, worth struggling over.

I have spent the last few years doing much of this kind of wrestling, and from what I can tell, I am only at the very early stages of this journey.  But the one thing I struggle with the most is that there will always be other Christians, other members of my family of faith, with whom I cannot agree about some of these issues. 

What then?  Christ's words in the Gospel of John said that the world would know us, his followers, by our love.  And yet the most mainstream perceptions of the church are of hypocrisy, infighting and judgmental self-righteousness.  So how can we change that?  How are we to present a united, loving front to a world in desperate need of it when we can't even stop shouting at each other long enough to understand what the other side is saying?

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