3 Little Words and the Core of Who We Are

You won’t believe what Obama has done this time.
Have you heard about the most recent statistic that shows the world is going down the drain?
10 Reasons the Church is failing.
You can have my guns/flag/religion when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

This is basically the view from my Facebook feed. Ok, it’s this kind of stuff, cat videos and vacation selfies. It’s the mark of today’s culture — specifically our online culture. Vitriol!! Outrage!! Fear-mongering!! I love the way technology allows us to be so connected to one another.

Except when I don’t.

IMG_0982Maybe you feel the same way sometimes, too. It seems like our society is caught in a never-ending outrage cycle. These types of posts don’t appear on my news feed as attempts to get people of differing opinions to agree. They are there to rally people of similar opinions to their already-held beliefs. Social media and the internet can be an amazing tools for amplifying our ability to disagree with others. Actually, it doesn’t stop there; it amplifies our ability to disagree with each other in some pretty nasty ways.

Now, I don’t think trying to get everyone to agree with you is a very worthwhile way to spend your time. There is going to be disagreement; that isn’t going to magically change. But as Trevor pointed out so well earlier this week, the goal shouldn’t be to find a way to consensus. Rather, we need to work on disagreeing well.

So in that vein, I want to offer 3 little words that Christians in particular need to get better acquainted with. They are short, simple, but very powerful in our current cultural climate. And they’re words we all know, but don’t say often enough —

I. Don’t. Know.

You see, the phrases at the top of this post, the viewpoints espoused over and over again in my Facebook feed, the kind of opinions we find scattered all over the internet — they all find their root in a desire for certainty. Christians know this better than most, because we feel it’s our job to know the answers. But that doesn’t mean that we do. And we shouldn’t think we have to.

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly complicated. The more we advance as a human race in our knowledge and understanding, the greater our questions become. Stem cells, the origins of the universe, sexual identity — we’re still discovering and learning so much.

And let’s be honest for a moment as Christians: The bedrock of our wisdom, the place where we go to find guidance on how to navigate our world is a document that is thousands of years old. The authors lived in a much different time and place. They wrote from their own cultural perspectives.

I don’t think that this diminishes the eternal, timeless truth that is located in the Bible. But we can sincerely admit that some of the issues present in our own cultural milieu are either merely hinted at or not addressed in the pages of Scripture. We only have principles and ideals from which to work.

What is required is more than a “turn to verse X and follow the steps” approach. Gaining wisdom on these complicated issues demands reflection, community and pursuit of spiritual discernment.

It requires time.

But this is not the way that our world moves. Instead of thoughtful reflection, we move at the pace of rapid reaction. So when a SCOTUS decision changes our country in some profound ways, we don’t see people — especially Christians — taking time to find their bearings. We don’t see a prayerful pursuit of wisdom. We see reaction. Quick, swift reaction.

And I don’t know about you, but my first reaction is not always the best one.

I wonder if this is because we’re afraid to say those 3 little words. As if saying, “I don’t know” or “I’m not really sure” somehow makes us weak. Because if we’re the ones with the answers in the world, and we don’t really have a good answer, what good are we?

Who are we if not those with all of the right answers? We’re the people who love well, that’s who we are.

Because God doesn’t need his people to always be right. He wants his people to always act in love. Because God is love.

So it’s okay if we get things wrong sometimes. And it’s fine if we’re not really sure of the correct answer or response. As long as we’re acting in love we are on the right path. We have permission to not have everything in this complex world figured out.

Jesus called his followers “disciples.” Disciples are defined as students — those who are following a rabbi. Students are the ones who are on a path, learning from the master as they go.

Jesus followers are by definition seekers of the Truth, not owners of it.

So it’s ok for us to be confused. It’s allowed for us to say we don’t know or to (shocking, I know)  get it wrong sometimes. But no matter what, we should always err on the side of love. That is the one foundational lesson of the master we must never forget.

StudentThis card hangs on the wall of my office. It is a reminder of who I am. A disciple. A student. Someone on a path desperately trying to follow the Great Teacher.

So I give myself permission to follow that path and sometimes trip and fall. Because I am not the master; I’m only a student. This helps me to be thoughtful and not reactionary. It helps me to listen and to consider the viewpoints of others.

And I pray it helps me to disagree in better ways.

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