There's a strange egotism in a Christian faith that allows for such robust argument and fiery debate as we are encountering in these days of fraught social change. The conviction of some that we have established concrete, resolute, unchanging doctrines flies in the face of the equally sturdy rebuttal that we know very little of God's mystery.
We are, as the proverb says, the epitome of God's creation and concurrently, we understand so little of the world around us, we are nothing.
The Church is pulled and pushed in many directions as we wrestle through doctrines that must change, expand or stand firm in the face of sociological questions we've never before been challenged with. As I listen in on these discussions, I'm more and more convinced we require a reset of what it means to listen and learn from one another.
Jason and I first met at the Christian group meeting at the private high school he was studying at. Several of my other students were leading the group and their debates around theological issues were surprisingly robust, so they'd asked me to pop my head in. Jason was a self-proclaimed atheist - and very specifically an atheist, not remotely agnostic, he told me.
It's important to point out that Jason is one of the most intellectual students I've ever had in my ministry. Ever. And I'm a pretty smart cookie, with a passion for Socrates, philosophy, the Renaissance of wisdom and so on and so on. Jason was at the Christian group because like any philosophy student, he'd loved a good debate.
Challenge #1: Hearing Jason's point of view, never condescending or defaulting to spiritualizing what for him was a deeply intellectual and rationally-based conversation.
Challenge #2: Jason (after a long, intellectual journey) became a Christian. He leapt into full-on 5-point Calvinism and I was his favourite debate partner as he wrestled through his understanding of that doctrine. I was happy to oblige.
After a further long period of discipleship by way of conversations at the coffee house – Jason's theological views shifted again, not just slightly, but a lot! Jason found himself ensconced in liberalism, as he searched for doctrines and expressions of his belief that could be worked out both philosophically and practically.
Challenge #3: Realizing that I had something to learn from Jason's processing and his story. Realizing that doctrines are in fact, subject to change but well thought out values are not.
Learning to objectively reason with yourself is a hard skill – let alone trying to explain it or pass it on to another human being or community of humans. However, this life-long process of learning begins always with the self, a willful taming of the Ego. In an argument, in a difference of a opinion, even when someone is angry with me – it always starts with me. What could I learn from this, what insights does this other person have?
God doesn't need me to defend my traditions or my point of view – in fact, I think He prefers it much if I listen and weigh what I hear from others, so that He might have the opportunity to point something out to me that I haven't seen before. God is proactively involved in our debates and conversations, revealing perspectives and new discoveries to each of us.
I simply cannot know it all – this is the only certainty. Nor do we, know it all when we wear our collective noun, the Church. We are still discovering and determining how we respond to much of the world around us. And the more the world changes, the more we'll need to figure out.
I try to always be on the lookout to learn something new from those who differ from me. I have some friends of a different faith than I, and their faith has taught me a lot about the values of community in marriage, and how individuals can truly respect each other.
I am fascinated by what I learn when spending time with them, especially when they interpret the same Scriptures I am so familiar with. Their understanding leads me to understand more of God than I have before – therefore I don't need to address them with fear or insecurity, this is my learning opportunity.
Women are allowed to vote today – we didn't always think that was appropriate or good for society but somewhere along the path of human history it changed, amidst fierce debate and quiet resolve. Therefore, what is concrete? Just because this is how we have practiced faith and determined meaning historically, as today dawns,
I still need to again examine myself, my beliefs and my practice, that I may always be prepared to answer the question 'Why?' in a way that is meaningful and authentic.
Jason has reaffirmed to me, that we are never truly static in our beliefs and practices. The only thing that is really concrete is God and his gift of Jesus, the Son. Our interpretation and expression of most other aspects of faith has changed and continues to be molded as we move through a living, present and unfolding history.
So I carry two stones in my pockets, sure of what I know – that God is God, and that I have much, much, much to learn.
Tash McGill is a professional writer and communications consultant who has been involved in youth ministry for 15 years, working in local churches as a volunteer and bi-vocational youth pastor. She is passionate about adolescent development, community formation and hospitality.
Tash McGill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/tash-mcgill.html