Words have always fascinated me – just as much for what they cover up as for what they reveal.
For example, there are lots of words that some Christian folk use for ideas and people who challenge their traditions or beliefs. I’ve read some of these words recently in the comments left on Amazon about the books of the Where’s the Faith? series as well as in the comments section of friends’ and colleagues’ blogs. Words like “unChristian” and “unBiblical”. Phrases like “slippery slope” and “lukewarm”. In a comment about our Oh God! book, one “reader” (I use scare quotes primarily because I am skeptical about whether or not the commentator actually read more than the introduction to the book) went as far as to state that we had produced a “good handbook for incurring the wrath of God.”
Statements like that hurt, and for a time I found myself grieving the fact that anyone would rub the wrath of God in our faces – we who had come together to write a book that was honest and real and raw and faithful. I mean, we knew that our approach to sexuality would tick some people off, but comments like that wounded nonetheless. Yet, now that the hurt has worn off a bit, I find myself wondering what those comments are really about. Are they words that reveal? Or, are they words that conceal?
I’m inclined to think that they are the latter.
If this is indeed the case, what in the world could such hateful and hurtful statements be hiding? On the face, they seem designed for the primary purpose of revealing our sinfulness (with a secondary purpose: hurting the god-less authors and putting us in our place). But as I have sat with these words, listening to them echo off the surfaces of my mind, I’ve noticed something at work that is akin to sonar: as the words bounce and reverberate, they provide valuable information about what exists hidden in the darkness (both within ourselves/myself and within our accusers).
If we listen carefully, these words betray the presence of the very things they are designed to conceal: fear and pride.
This is not to say that any one of us (myself very much included) isn’t periodically off course and in need of someone to help us find our way back. Sometimes we are blazing a new trail that seems inconceivable to those who have come before us (or who cannot see beyond their own context), and other times we are simply wrong. But regardless of which position we may find ourselves, the fact remains that someone who wants to help us back on track doesn’t do so by insulting or hurting us.
Those who hurl epithets and judgment like bricks, those who almost gleefully lash out and brand others with a searing “H” for heresy, those who post scathing blog comments or send sanctimonious letters have no desire for the wholeness of the other – those of us who do this to one another are mostly trying to hide our own uncertainty, our own fear that we might not be as thoroughly right (or righteous) as we pretend to be.
Instead of engaging the ideas and the people who challenge us, so often we give in to the temptation to lash out. It is far easier to boldly pronounce “blasphemy” than it is to enter into that vulnerable, risky space where dialogue happens. Dialogue is sometimes perceived as “dangerous” because it always contains the possibility for change. The other folks in the conversation might give us new insights or help us to see that we’ve been holding onto a faulty assumption. They might sway us with their logic or convince us that we don’t yet have it all figured out. Rather than take this chance, sometimes we reject dialogue outright and insist that our way is the only way (and then commence with destroying those who are different from us).
That may very well be pride at its worst. When we look down our noses and wish damnation on our neighbors or enemies (or when we revel in our certainty that they are hell-bound, ignorant, unenlightened, etc.) our own pride has pushed us so far from all things Christlike that the ways we are “right” no longer amount to much. For even though we may be correct on the finer points of doctrine or the meaning of a portion of Scripture, when we prance about without humility or love for neighbor and enemy, we have missed the point.
I’m still working out what all this means. I don’t have all the answers by any means. But I want to shed my fear and my pride. I want to be in dialogue with you, even if you think I am lukewarm, unBiblical and unChristian. I want to be in dialogue with you, even if I think you are ignorant and mean-spirited. Chances are good that we are far more (and far better) than our biased opinions of one another. We may never change each others’ minds, but we can love each other and pray together that God will make us whole. And part of that relationship, part of that process requires using words that reveal instead of conceal.
May the light of Christ shine upon and within us as we learn to love each other more deeply, differences and all.