More Both/And than Either/Or
I’ve long believed that life is more about paradox and “dialectic” mental, spiritual, and emotional processing than it is about right and wrong, good or bad, black or white, etc. I remember when I first started to wrestle with this idea when I was in college. My advisor “hammered” home the idea that we could not continue to interpret the bible or even “do” theology from a “hardline”, “I’m right and you are wrong” perspective. My professor, Dr. Kallas, was the first person that introduced me to the concept of Mystery. In other words, there are simply things that we cannot sort out conclusively and that leads to the appreciation and embracing of paradox.
The concept of Mystery originates within the scripture…you might say that it is captured by the essence of the word, “holy” (that being, something truly different or set part from that which is innately human). Something considered “holy” was/is to be understood as that which stood outside of human definition and categorization. It was wholly “other.” Mystery is also something that the Apostle Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13 when he exclaims that we see in a “mirror dimly but one day we shall see things face to face.” Again, there are things that are simply beyond our human experience to define. Thus what appears on the surface to be contradictory and “enemies” to be separated (e.g. Jesus’ divine/human nature; the interplay between the love of God and judgment/justice of God; the being/doing aspects of what it means to be a disciple; etc.) are really examples of a broader conceptual partnership. Confused? How about this – Paradox can be defined this way:
A statement that appears to contradict itself…a paradox can be defined as an “unacceptable conclusion” derived by apparently acceptable reasoning from apparently acceptable premises. Unlike party puzzles or brainteasers, many paradoxes are serious in that they raise serious philosophical problems, and are associated with crises of thought and revolutionary advances. To grapple with them is not merely to engage in an intellectual game, but to come to grips with issues of real import. One well known paradox was written by the Greek stoical logician Chrysippos. The poet, grammarian and critic Philetus of Cos was said to have died of exhaustion attempting to resolve it.
1. A Cretan sails to Greece and says to some Greek men who are standing upon the shore: "All Cretans are liars." Did he speak the truth, or did he lie?
2. A week later, the Cretan sailed to Greece again and said: "All Cretans are liars and all I say is the truth." Although the Greeks on the shore weren't aware of what he had said the first time, they were truly puzzled. If someone says, "I always lie", are they telling the truth? Or are they lying?
In the last few years, this idea has been “reshaped” linguistically to be recognized more under the banner of “dualistic thinking.” So, what’s the point of all this? To get to this sentence for you to consider in your heart and life:
“You no longer need to divide the field of every moment between up and down, totally right or totally wrong, with me or against me. It just IS. This calm allows you to confront what must be confronted in life with even greater clarity and incisiveness.” Richard Rohr, Falling Upward
There is a BIG difference between being a person who can truly be fueled by dualism and a person who, in fact, has left that which can and is the “small and petty” to allow God to use them in new ways. Remember, dualistic thinking and living is a well-practiced pattern of always knowing and interacting with life by the rule of “comparisons.” It puts us in the position of constantly being the “judge.” Just think how easy it is to “label” things – come on, be honest! Notice your thoughts and reactions to things in life. You will see that you will move almost automatically into a pattern of:
“…Up or down, in or out, for me or against me, right or wrong, black or white, good or bad…it is the basic reason why the ‘stinking thinking’ of racism, classism, religious imperialism, and prejudice of all kinds is so hard to overcome…” Richard Rohr, Falling Upward
The dualistic mind and heart always compares, competes, conflicts, conspires, condemns and cancels out any contrary evidence and then, as Rohr says, it crucifies with impunity. And as long as you and me are thinking like this we will stay stuck in our little, sheltered world of personal preferences and be unable to live God’s Kingdom out in our lives with the same generous grace and mercy we have so wonderfully received from God.
One of the other authors I read a few years back wrote a book called, Generous Orthodoxy. The title alone took my breath away because I had NEVER experienced orthodoxy as generous NOR had I ever experienced genuine generosity in a pre-planned, systematically driven manner. The words seemed to be oxymoronic…but that was his point. Orthodoxy, though somewhat important, is more about judgment and exclusion than it is about love and understanding. What the world needs to see now more than ever is love, understanding, gracious listening, and acceptance especially from people who follow Jesus.
I believe the culture has seen enough battle from believers especially when it appears that Christians are the first to take up a “weapon” and condemn others. Remember when Jesus says things like, “the Father’s sun shines and the good and bad, his rain on the just and unjust” (Mat. 5:45) the “dualist” inside of us wants to yell, “STOP Jesus! I thought WE were your chosen ones!” But I know it is time for another way. I believe, like Rohr does, that one of the HUGE reasons Jesus changed the world is because he was a non-dualistic religious teacher. Nothing is going to change in our lives if we continue to be those who constantly argue about the strength of our facts over against any other person. Instead of splitting “hairs” we ought to be those who embrace Mystery and look for healing. When we are profoundly made “whole” by the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it is our calling to promote wholeness in our world. People who created splits in everything and everybody may, in fact, be those people who have not experienced the healing that Jesus says comes along with the gift of God’s grace and mercy.
We assume people (let me say it truthfully, Jesus following people) who think differently, believe differently, and see the bible or theology differently to be automatically wrong. We condemn them and separate ourselves from them under the banner of doctrinal purity when at the same time they are praying to the same God and attempting to faithfully listen and respond to the same Spirit. There have been many times that I have shared with friends some of the books I’ve been reading when I’ve heard the words, “you can’t read that!” “That book isn’t (fill in the blank).” Even so, I find it extremely enlightening and challenging and “growth enhancing” to expose myself and my heart to other ways of seeing the Jesus following journey! I might not always agree but, I tell you, I have grown SO MUCH from considering other perspectives on issues of which I had my mind made up. God has more to teach me!
So, how about you? Are you more about conflict than consensus? Finding wrong than looking for right? Pointing out the bad versus looking for the good? Calling out that which divides than searching for that which can open up a conversation and a relationship? Remember, life in God’s Kingdom may be more about “both/and” and either/or…it may be more about God’s YES than God’s NO. Give it some thought and prayer, OK? That’s what I’m doing! In fact, in the next post, I might share some stuff that I'm "relearning" based upon some new perspectives. How about that!