About two weeks ago, ahead of his most recent book release, a theologian I admire formed an online community opening up a “safe place” for people to discuss issues of faith without fear of judgment or ridicule. This progressive Christian writer formed this community primarily as a way to promote and discuss his new book, but it has also allowed many folks who are evolving in their faith to come together and speak freely with others who, may share similar points of view or have great input and feedback regarding complicated spiritual issues. I felt overwhelming relief when I was accepted as a part of this small community and read some of the other introduction posts. We are a diverse bunch, all coming from different backgrounds and worshiping in a variety of ways in many different denominations (and elsewhere). The group is welcoming, engaged, knowledgeable, friendly, spiritual, and fun!
Since leaving Lancaster Theological Seminary to move to Germany as a duty assignment for my husband, this openness has been largely missing from my life. Recently, I have found a few friends (at least one locally) who are engaged with these questions and are comfortable living in the tension that comes with asking the tough questions. Since I enjoy discussing issues that are rather controversial, these relationships (and now this group), have allowed me the freedom to spread my wings a bit and share ideas, questions, and possible responses (even when we disagree on these issues, which happens often).
I expect that I will have more to write about this soon, without divulging too many details (it is a “secret” group for now) but for today, I will keep it short.
I recently finished McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity.” In one of the final chapters, he discusses how important it is “to hold in tension two indispensable elements,” as we move forward on this quest. The first is what his friend Mabiala Kenzo calls the “courage to differ.” We should not feel compelled to pretend we agree with people who hold views and beliefs with which we do not agree. It’s okay to have differing opinions, and we ought to have the courage to speak openly about our disagreement, or at least not to falsely “go along to get along” on these important matters.
The second, and equally important, element is that we hold onto what he calls “the grace to differ graciously.” It is important to acknowledge that 1.) we do not need to “convert” everyone our way of thinking and 2.) doing so can frequently put us in a place of unproductive contention rather than fruitful conversation. One of the greatest blessings of seeking to grow spiritually is to keep us engaging in discussion and community with one another. God knew Adam needed a community, so God created Eve and had the two populate the Earth. If, in the human community, we cannot hold both of these elements in mind, conversation is stifled and growth, love, and fellowship do not occur.
I will not pretend that either of these attitudes is easy to hold all of the time. I struggle more, I think, with expressing the former, but both of these can be a challenge at times. What I want for the community of folks who read my work is simply that we try to be both courageous and gracious in our differences. Bearing this in mind will save much hurt, anger, nastiness, and hopefully keep people from withdrawing reflexively from what could otherwise be great discussion. If the ideas are too controversial, it is, of course, okay not to read or discuss further. At a certain point, some people just have to agree to disagree.
It is in our ability to recognize areas of agreement, find the courage to disagree, allow ourselves the grace to disagree graciously, and use our wisdom to know when to agree to disagree peacefully that will keep community healthy.
Grace and peace to all on this beautiful Thursday morning!