Erasing the lines we’ve drawn

by Kristin on May 31, 2010

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by frozenchipmunk

Lately, it seems I’m being convicted of my hypocrisy at every turn.

There are many different brands of hypocrisy. Somehow I’ve been able to mostly convince myself that the brand I struggle with is a lesser kind. It’s easy to look at the hypocrisy being addressed in the Bible and think “Whew! That’s not me! I’m not like the Pharisees!” It’s easy to subconsciously define “hypocrite” as a certain type of person (a wealthy, powerful, compassion-less know-it-all), rather than as a common state of the heart and mind, with many permeations.

I’ve got my own brand of hypocrisy

But these are the sorts of things I’ve been realizing about myself more and more, lately:

I get fed up with people who identify as Christians but don’t seem to be living lives of love and compassion for all (by “all,” I mean people who exist on the fringes of society for one reason or another). But I am not directing love and compassion toward those very people that aggravate me.

I get all worked up about how closed-minded and opinionated the Tea Baggers are, but I am close-minded and opinionated, too—I just happen to hold opposing opinions.

I am very aware of how others are acting in divisive ways, particularly within the Christian faith, but I fail to recognize my own divisiveness. I can work with minor differences of opinion, but when it comes to radically different ways of seeing things, my attitude is a line-drawing one: If I can’t convince them to see things more like me, then I just separate myself from them—cut them out of the community of faith I claim.

A new paradigm that’s less about opinions and lines

Thankfully, it hasn’t been people who are getting in my face showing me how I need to practice what I preach; it’s been words. That’s always a bit easier to take—I don’t get that automatic urge to be defensive. Our small group just started reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. I’ve only read the first few chapters so far, so I’m not going to make any overarching claims about the book, but I was really struck by some of what McLaren is laying out in the third chapter, especially this:

We understand that many good Christians will not want to participate in our quest, and we welcome their charitable critique. A search for a new kind of Christian faith can’t be reduced to another list of propositions about which debates rage and over which debaters indulge in hostile polemics. Nor can its proponents be content to forge arguments urging converts to defect from the heretical “them” and affiliate with the righteous “us.”

I’m just letting that sink in, and start a paradigm shift in my head and heart. The fact of the matter is, I’m really sad about the state of the Christian faith. I’m really sad about the way Christians are treating people outside of our faith, and about the way people are communicating with one another within the faith. And I think sadness is the right way to feel about it, because sadness makes room for compassion; anger—the emotion I had been feeling a lot of—does not.

This image (McLaren, chapter 3) is the one I’m going to carry with me now, along with prayers that it will transform me from the inside out:

We need a new way of being, a new inner ecology, a new spirituality that does more than make us opinionated or fastidious, but that renders our souls an orchard of trees bearing good fruit, rooted in who we are before God and who we are becoming in God.

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  • http://captainestes.blogspot.com/ Chad Estes

    “sadness makes room for compassion; anger—the emotion I had been feeling a lot of—does not.”

    Good stuff, Kristin. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your journey. Hope you keep sharing it. I, for one, am listening.

  • http://takingtheyoke.blogspot.com Ray Hollenbach

    Poor Brian McLaren has been taking it on all sides lately, especially from those who consider orthodoxy the paramount expression of Christianity. For me, the words of Jesus I find most helpful in “evaluating” others’ faith expression are, “By their fruit you will recognize them.”

    I believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through him. how exactly that happens is entirely up to him. I am not the keeper of the gate, he is.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed Cyzewski

    I think you’re coming at this the right way. Another thought is that folks on both sides often react out of fear. Many conservative folks fear losing their faith or watching Christianity crumble. When fear is injected into the equation, all kinds of crazy stuff can happen. Having spent some time in a fundamentalist church, I can look back and see how fear drove so much of what we did.

    In addition, there are those on the left who use fear to their own ends. Fear immediately creates an us vs. scenario, much the same as anger.

  • http://sweetbiandbi.wordpress.com Rachel

    Wow. We are walking in similar paths–this resonates so much with where I am at.
    particularily: “and about the way people are communicating with one another within the faith”

    I listened to a podcast yesterday and heard a brother and sister in Christ ripping apart another sister–without the privilage of her being present for the conversation–and spent most of the day in shock and awe. And then reflected–how often have I done this? Ugh, it HURTS.

    Thank you friend–for inviting us in to your conviction, and helping me to reflect deeper on my own behavior. SO grateful.

  • Ron Simkins

    Hi Kristin,

    I think you are focused on one of the key issues of our times. In a very polarized society, world, and church, it is easy to excuse our own polarization and the ways we act it out. Modeling the current culture in this way seems more and more natural, but it certainly isn’t more and more Christ-like.

    This isn’t to claim that Jesus didn’t stand firmly for the important realities of love and truth, but to claim that he always did so with a totally porous boundary that would allow anyone in who wanted in. No one was discounted. Not a Pharisee, not a teacher of the bible, not a wealthy woman, not a beggar, not a questionaer, and not a beggar. wow! Thanks for the challenge to remember a better way.
    Ron S

  • http://adventures-in-the-everyday.blogspot.com/ Michelle

    “We need a new way of being, a new inner ecology, a new spirituality that does more than make us opinionated or fastidious”– yes! I couldn’t agree more. I read New Kind of Christian 4 years and it dramatically changed the way I think about and talk about my faith. For awhile I had a hard time even defining myself as a “Christian”- because I was sad and disappointed in what “being a christian” had come to represent. It’s nice to know that that other men and women resonate with some kind of new Christianity. Thanks Kristen.

    P.S. There’s a great book called Not the Religious Type– written by a pastor in Boston. He describes this shift in churches and Christianity through the lens of psychology. It’s worth reading if only for those first few chapters.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Chad, thanks for listening, and for sharing your ideas and perspective along the way, too!

    Ray, yeah, I’ve been trying to stay away from all of the McLaren commentary and controversy—I just want to see what he has to say and decide what I think of it. It’s sort of like going to a movie without reading the reviews or hearing people tell you how great it is (or isn’t). Anyway, for the past 5 years or so, as I’ve struggled to make sense of the Bible and of life, I’ve really clung that verse that you shared: “By their fruit you will recognize them.” It makes all that can seem so complex and vague feel so simple and concrete.

    Ed, fear is a really important thing to address here—thanks for bringing it up. As you so aptly put it “When fear is injected into the equation, all kinds of crazy stuff can happen.” I’ve written posts about fear before; now I’m motivated to think about it more within this context.

    Rachel, thanks for sharing in my journey! It’s good to know I’m not alone. It’s also good to know that you (we) can still feel shock and dismay over the way people often treat one another. Sometimes I worry that we will all become so accustomed to this type of behavior that it will cease to strike us as something devastating and ugly.

  • http://www.ordinarymer.com Meredith

    I get all worked up about how closed-minded and opinionated the Tea Baggers are, but I am close-minded and opinionated, too—I just happen to hold opposing opinions.

    I think it takes a lot of courage and honesty to admit this. It definitely applies to me as well, but I don’t like to actually own up to it, because we want to believe that “they” are “wrong” and “we” are “right.”

    This post, as well as Michelle’s comment, have definitely sparked my interest in finding this book myself. I too have deliberately backed away from defining myself as Christian, but I also know that there are plenty of good people out there who do call themselves Christian who are nothing like the Christianity I turned away from.

    Thanks as always, Kristin!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Ron, I think this is spot-on, in terms of how we should be thinking about the problem: “Modeling the current culture in this way seems more and more natural, but it certainly isn’t more and more Christ-like.” We have to learn to be comfortable in the tricky spot Jesus stood in: Standing firm in convictions but not firm like a wall that shuts others out.

    Michelle, I can SO relate to this: “For awhile I had a hard time even defining myself as a ‘Christian’- because I was sad and disappointed in what ‘being a christian’ had come to represent.” Gradually, after I started going to my current church and interacting with a more broad range of people who identify as Christian (both in real life and via Twitter and blogs), I began to feel less despair about the state of Christianity. Thanks for your comment, and for the book suggestion! I will definitely check it out.

    Meredith, it is SO tempting to just stick with the “they are wrong, we are right” perspective, isn’t it? It’s also tempting to surround ourselves only with people who fall into the “we” category, and to avoid interactions with people in the “they” category. I know it’s natural and even healthy, to a certain extent, to build community with others who are like us, but this book by McLaren is really challenging me to open up in important ways—at a time when polarization is getting out of hand.

  • http://themoderngal.blogspot.com The Modern Gal

    This is a lesson I have to remind myself of everytime I clam up at words or opinions I don’t agree with. I wish every Christian could get this message so that all our disagreements would be more civil!