One of the things I’ve learned through blogging is that there has to be a minimum baseline, a rapport if you will, between myself and another person before we can really talk about anything. Without this baseline, it seems that both of us are pretty much wasting our time. This is probably true of any conversation, any relationship – at a certain point, you’re just too different. When speaking about God, two people who share all of the other markers – ethnicity, language, culture, educational level and so on – can immediately start butting heads.
This has been pointed out by others, but often it is couched in terms like this: “Unless we all agree to Orthodoxy, we cannot have a conversation.” Here, as always, Orthodoxy is defined as what that person believes. If you’ve been reading this blog, or know me at all, you can probably imagine that my baseline won’t be most people’s idea of Orthodoxy.
I see this is a strength, of course.
The baseline seems to include:
1. God is bigger than our ideas. I meet a lot of people, through the blog and otherwise, who seem to think that God is exactly the same size as their ideas (or the ideas they’d claim to have inherited from the past, or whatever). This is alarming on a number of levels, and I find conversation with a person who believes this to be night impossible.
Of course we all have ideas about God, and we can even try to evaluate them (with little hope of success, given the history of such endeavors), but for me, there has to be the sense behind it all that we’re dabbling in things we cannot possibly explain fully.
2. We cannot take ourselves too seriously. Few things are as painful as talking to someone who can’t laugh at themselves. Its really quite sad, because I think it is a sign of brittleness, of a thin veneer stretched over a great deal of doubt and anxiety. Or its like talking to an assistant principal in middle school – often the definition of someone too big for their britches in my limited experience.
I’ve got that same load of anxiety myself, but the way I’ve found to deal with it is to laugh at myself – and to laugh at you too. The other option seems to be panicking whenever I say or try anything that I’m not already completely comfortable with.
Of course some things are serious – there are serious topics and serious times and serious situations – but the chance has to be there that we might get a laugh out of it now and then, or else I’m too uncomfortable to talk for very long.
3. This can’t devolve into a measuring contest. If we start into ‘my education is bigger than yours‘ or ‘who has the longest Orthodoxy in the room‘, the conversation is long dead and its time to move on. I’m not really interested in spending time in a theological locker room whipping out doctrines and Christian resumes.
In situations like that, you’re just stuck with someone who has something to prove to themselves. Let them prove it if they have to, and then maybe they’ll move on, but don’t get involved. This is their problem that they’re overcompensating for. There’s a wound somewhere in there, not a genuine cause for pride.
4. We’re in this together. I am not interested in winning. In fact, I think if your goal is winning, you are failing at Christianity. We are the losers who God bails out. That’s it. If you think you can benefit at my expense, you fail at Christianity. If you think we are all supposed to keep score, you fail at Christianity. If you want to tear someone else down to build yourself up, you fail at Christianity.
The only ethical option is for all of us to be in this together and to sink or swim together. We can’t chop off parts of the Body of Christ that we don’t like and let them sink. We can’t turn into some kind of sick theological autoimmune disease, attacking ourselves because we can’t recognize parts of our own Body. If we do this, we fail at Christianity.
So for me, this needs to be part of our conversation if we’re going to have one that is even remotely meaningful.
I think that is probably a good lesson to have learned, and I need to remember to hold myself to my own baseline. I could do a lot worse.