Despite all of its strengths, courage is perhaps the greatest unexamined factor in divisiveness. This is because courage cuts (at least) two ways. It takes courage to stay a course in the face of opposition. It also takes courage to do something new that counters tradition.
Where there is courage, there is a dark side — a very dark side.
A person who acts with courage is very likely to assume that her or his opponents are cowards. When we face a paradigm that is different than our own, we have a proclivity to presume that it is sacrificing a crucial value in some kind of capitulation.
Nothing kills dialogue faster than assuming cowardice.
Through our own subjective lenses, it can seem like the “other guys” are merely yielding to the very influences that our courage is actively opposing. But even as you read that, you can probably recognise that it is not necessarily true. The other guys may be making courageous decisions to counter a concern that you either can’t see, or perhaps don’t agree with. Yet when we recognise that staying or going both take courage, perhaps we can arrive at a fuller understanding of each other, and get a better sense of the actual (not assumed) values that are motivating action.
To add another layer of complexity, courage isn’t just about hope — it necessarily requires fear. Indeed, if there is no fear to conquer, then it is inaccurate to describe any thought, word or deed as courageous. From that perspective, it is unreasonable to point out someone else’s fear, and not pay any heed to our own. I believe it’s essential to identify the fear we’re trying to conquer — make the implicit explicit — and from there work to discern if the motivating fear is legitimate. When we recognise that courage is an active response to fear of a consequence that we’d rather not experience, we have the capacity to ask better questions about the preferred (or less preferred) future which informs each others’ motives.
The question “What are you afraid of?” is often asked pejoratively, but when asked honestly will raise the level of a discussion. Another honest question is “How bad could it get?” — my own fear tends to over-inflate consequences.
Ultimately, we need the courage to change some things.
And we need the courage to keep some things the same.
But I believe that the most important application of courage is in trying to disclose ourselves, and to see each other, for who we really are.
If we made a better effort to honestly assume the best of each other, and recognise that human motivations are almost always more complicated than they seem (even internally), I believe our discussions would cross important barriers much more effectively.
I remember when I quoted some thing to a friend of mine that included a swear word in it, and he tore a strip off me. He told me that it was awful that I would use quoting something as an opportunity to swear — it was a kind of weakness on my part.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I actually do swear.
I’m not sure what kind of a gasket he’d have blown then!
I started swearing in high school. Truthfully, I probably overdid it in high school, although generally only in certain “safe” zones, with friends who could handle it, and who wouldn’t think it meant more than it did. I’m generally very careful with my language to this day, and I’m around people who would be shocked to hear it from me.
I don’t swear to provoke offence. I don’t swear to shock. And when I do swear, I pretty much never feel guilty about it.
One of the most memorable times I’ve ever sworn is with a girlfriend I had. We had gone from a Christian university to a secular one, and one of the things that we were really bombarded by was the language. I mean, it was everywhere — even from profs in class, or just after class.
It was so ubiquitous that it was meaningless. And yet because it was inescapable, it felt deeply oppressive.
We shared this with each other on the way home one day. It was weird that we hadn’t been able to name it, but when we did, it made perfect sense. We laughed about how completely unnecessary it was, how over-the-top, and how our internal reactions were so instinctive and uncontrollable. And what happened next surprised both of us:
We started swearing!
We commented about the snowy weather, about all the other drivers, the condition of their cars, the traffic we were stuck in, and several details about the classes we’d just had. And everything, every single thing we said was liberally saturated in the most absurd level of profanity that probably anyone has ever strung together.
We were laughing so hard we couldn’t even speak.
I could hardly keep our little blue hatchback on the road. If anybody looked, we probably looked like we’d both completely lost it. Because in a way, I suppose we had.
And after that, we felt better. We could handle it. We could absorb it. And finally, we could let it go.
There has been a bunch of discourse about profanity this week in my circles. There are biblical opinions on both sides. Frankly, with some people it’s flat wrong all the time, and with some people it almost seems wrong not to. Language is a release valve available to all. It’s designed to create meanings, and — it may come as a shock to some — profanity can even be used to edify. I think probably the people who are the most hung-up about this issue should probably try what we did — a lot of the turmoil only persists because it’s unexpressed.
And that girlfriend I had that time? I married her! And, I’m happy to report, we still have days like that!
Have you seen the recent piece on why youth are leaving the church? It’s all over the place. I’ve decided not to get involved in the comments in those places because my views often stir controversy, and I’m tired of being called into a fight for no good reason.
So here on my own blog, where I have a modicum of control, here’s my take on this. The tools intended to “contend for the faith” don’t cut it. How many Christians are one conversation with a sharp atheist away from a legitimate faith crisis? Too many!
When put up against the best philosophers, what passes for intellectual rigour within Christianity is generally sophomoric at best.
I have paid attention to Christian apologetics in books and in debates, and they aren’t as persuasive as they think they are, or indeed as is claimed on their behalf. These positions are even less convincing when their advocates become desperate, angry and hostile.
We now have the clash of multiple paradigms simultaneously on the internet. They reveal that many of the things we’ve been telling ourselves Christians have a monopoly on, we don’t — things like inner peace and purpose. There are people of other faiths (or no faith) that have those things, and many Christians who don’t. Even more seriously, the internet also pulls back the curtain on how messed-up and abusive the church is — sometimes systemically, most heinously through misapplication of its own precious scripture.
Within Christianity, we don’t even have a consistent way for “liberal” and “conservative” Christians to co-exist without resorting to labelling, trolling and other violence. (Both sides are guilty!) If we can’t even establish harmony with other self-identified Christians, what kind of witness do we hope to bear in the world?
And finally, when Christians start to really explore the size and depth of God, and find that God breaks the narrow view they inherited from their parents and/or their tradition (and this cuts many ways), all too often they begin to incur the fear and hostility of their church-going peers. Oddly, the most suspicious are often the people who insist that they attribute awe to God, but must do so in their neat, safe and pre-packaged frameworks. (Our guilt is broad here, too.)
A God that is confined in human imagination, who is defined in human theology, and who is constrained by simplistic platitudes isn’t really a God worth worshipping.
If this is the best the church and its orthodoxy can do, then people are right to abandon it.
My name is Brad, and I'm a recovering mortal.
That's my whole bio on twitter. It doesn't tell people that I'm a husband, a father, tell what kind of job I do, what kind of computer I use to do it, what kind of car I drive to get there or give any other identifiers.
I'm just sharing the most important thing.
I'm addicted to the temporal, but I'm in recovery. I don't even know exactly what that means or what it looks like. But I won't let that stop me.
- @justinhubert Actually, it's what I wish someone said. Right after they got called on an overreach, and continued to bluster.
- RT @damienpepper: @livingmartyrs the mark of a respectable person is the ability to change your mind about something
- I wish more leaders said this, and I hope I can when it's my turn: "You're right: I got carried away, and I'm sorry."
- RT @renovatuspastor: Grace & truth are not on a seesaw. They exist together if they exist at all. They do not "balance each other."
- RT @damienpepper: I am the very model of a modern major general I'm fljdnsbdckfndmdkfkrd #MeSingingMusicals
Follow @livingmartyrs on twitter.
- Duane Arnold on So What’s True Christianity, Anyway?
- bradj on So What’s True Christianity, Anyway?
- Duane Arnold on So What’s True Christianity, Anyway?
- bradj on Is it Possible to Grieve Strategically?
- Dan on Is it Possible to Grieve Strategically?
- Able Baker on 21 Reasons Why List Posts are Lame
- bradj on Something’s Gone Ridiculously Wrong with Education
- Alyssa on Something’s Gone Ridiculously Wrong with Education
- bradj on Lights! Camera! Pause…
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