Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Romancing the Gospels

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Self realization is a wonderful thing. The more I know about myself the better person I can become. It’s very hard for some people to face who they are, to really look themselves in the mirror and see themselves as they really are. I’ve had a fairly significant, in my mind anyway, moment of self realization this week. I, D’Ma, am not a romantic.

Now before anybody starts getting the wrong idea here, I love fresh flowers. I love a candlelit dinner and I love a well timed surprise. But I love all these things from a significant other in my life. I don’t sit around and fantasize about someone I’m not in a relationship with or someone unattainable. Even when I’m in a relationship I don’t sit around and fantasize about the romantic things they might do for me. I’m practical, I’m down to earth. I think about things I know I can have. If I do fantasize about romance, it’s about what I can do for someone else. I daydream about things I know they would like, but then most of the time I actually do the thing.

This is the way my mind works. I like things to be concrete, real, that I can hold in my hand and examine. I need to understand how a thing works, to be able to examine it. For this reason I don’t care for abstract art, or music I can’t understand the lyrics to – that eliminates death metal and most rap music. It’s probably why I flunked out of geometry in high school. All those theorems seemed so abstract to me at the time. Once I needed to actually use it for a project at hand I could figure it out. It became clearer.

On the other hand there are those who are hopeless romantics. They daydream and are creative. I won’t call them flighty, but they seem to be more wistful. They aren’t so serious all the time. They tend to be artistic and crafty with fabulous imaginations. They travel the world in their minds and have exciting adventures without ever leaving home. They love opera, and abstract art and funky music. They also tend to be spiritual, not religious.

Maybe that need of something concrete and definite is what draws some of us into fundamentalism. The rules are clear, the objective is clear. The Bible gives us something to hold in our hand and examine and test everything by. For a fundamentalist it spells everything out in black and white because that is the way our minds work. It’s true or it isn’t. It’s yes or it’s no. Grey areas are few and far between. We see mercy and judgment. We see grace and wrath. Believing it word for word is our evidence for the unseen. We can’t hold God in our hands and touch him to know he’s real, so the Bible is the next best thing.

Those who are more romantic don’t need that evidence. They can daydream and imagine a God of love. They are idealists and can take hold of the gospel in a mystical sort of way that we rationalists cannot. They can look past the judgment and wrath and decide that’s not part of God’s character because it doesn’t fit with their idea of a God of mercy and righteousness. When they read John 3:16 all they see is the part that says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son”. As s-p put it “”salvation” is about the “healing of the human person” NOT guilt, shame and black and whites. EVERYONE who struggles is on a continuum of “repentance”, even those who look like lost, unrepentant, gross sinners to everyone around them. It is not a matter of rejecting “Absolute truth”, it is a matter of defining “Truth” correctly.”

Here is the problem I see with that statement: It comes across with an air of superiority. I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way. But because my mind doesn’t operate that way, it feels as if he’s saying he’s doing it better than me and I’m doing something wrong. Like if I could just think his way about it, I’d see things the “right way”. I hope you didn’t mind me using that as an example, s-p. Just like when I said, “This is how I picture the analogy of a fluid faith. Fill a bucket with gravel, that would be reason. These are the concrete things we experience and know to be true because we’ve seen it with our own eyes or they are ways of making sense of our perception of reality. Now fill that bucket with water. That is God. He only fills in the parts we don’t already have figured out. He’s the God of the gaps. When our perception of reality changes, our God changes with it.“. That was offensive to someone who has a fluid faith because to her it implied that I thought her faith was “less than”. I’m in no position to judge the faith of someone else or whether they are right of wrong.

I am not saying any of that to criticize. It’s an observation on my part – a self realization. No two people think the same way, of course. But maybe there are some of us who think in such concrete ways that we cannot romanticize the gospels in that way. For us it is black and white. It’s the way our minds work and we cannot change that. Maybe the reason we fundamentalists have such a hard time communicating with progressive/liberal Christians isn’t that we’re trying to be bullheaded. Maybe it’s honestly that we can’t understand. We can’t wrap our minds around the concepts that they so readily accept.

The flip side of that is also true. Progressive/liberal Christians get equally frustrated because they cannot wrap their mind around how fundamentalists can be so black and white in our thinking. As one person put it, they rejected inerrancy right out of the gate because it clashed with their sense of reason. They reject the notion of a God who wants our worship, and who needs Jesus sacrifice to reconcile us to himself. They think it’s ridiculous that we can’t separate God and Jesus from a book. They speak of a different way of taking hold of the gospel.

I’m not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a neurologist. I got my degree from a cracker jack box. But I think it takes both kinds of thinkers to make things work in this world. Neither way of thinking is superior to the other. And we could learn from one another. But we’ll never, ever think alike.

What do you think? Do you see yourself somewhere in there?

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13 thoughts on “Romancing the Gospels

  1. D'Ma, This is a tough topic, for sure. Thank you for acknowledging I didn't intend to sound "superior". I wrestled with "fundamentalism" for decades too. Eastern Orthodoxy has its own brand and versions of fundamentalism too, so it is not just a "Protestant sola scriptura issue", it is a way of viewing God, I think. If I may unpack your illustration of the "God of the gaps"… I think it shows that we see our "view of God" as the "solid pebbles", the real "substance" and God kind of mysteriously flows around our concepts. The question I'd ask is, "Where is your confidence?… In the solid pebbles or the flowing water?" I've come to trust that the mysterious flowing water is probably more "True" than what I think is solid in my mind. God has revealed Himself, but is ultimately unknowable (any God we can conceive of is smaller than ourselves). Of course it is not an "either/or" but perhaps getting comfortable with a "both/and". You make a very good point that some people are "romantics" and some are "ptagmatists", neither is wrong and they often speak different languages. The challenge for the romantic is to accept the realities of structure, laws and limits, the challenge of the pragmatist is to accept the reality of passionate, wild blind love that dies for the sake of the beloved. Both are realities of the human heart. So, yeah, I see myself. 🙂

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  2. @s-p,I definitely wanted to make sure I wasn't insulting in any way. Your comment actually made made me do quite a bit of thinking about this. I could tell yourself, along with a couple of others who have commented here, just have a completely different personality and way of thinking. Some people tend to think in absolutes, wanting to know what is real and what is true, where others have a more esoteric way of thinking. We do speak different languages. I think it's a challenge not to try to force our respective ways of thinking on each other.

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  3. ExrelaymanThis seems to me a look at the feeling vs analysis ways of knowing. This goes back (as far as I know – but likely farther still) to the Greeks use of both Dionysian and Apollonian ways of knowing. Where is balance? There is only one reality despite the disheartening trend to respect 'your truth'. Always an intriguing area of inquiry.

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  4. Ex,I agree with you. This was mostly a reminder to myself that I need to respect others' ways of comprehending and thinking, even if I can't understand it or employ it myself.But you are right. There is only one reality. Either there is a God or there isn't. At this point that seems unknowable to me.

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  5. I'm more on the concrete side myself, too. The problem I see with the romantic version is that it is completely disembodied from the text of the Old Testament, and only loosely tied to the New. They do not own up to the wrath and spite displayed by God, which (unfortunately) is often captured all too well by fundamentalists. It's like they ask they answer the question "what would I want God to be like?" instead of simply asking "what is God like?" and getting that answer from the text.Oddly enough, though, I am a bit of a romantic when it comes to my relationship with my wife. 🙂

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  6. I'm definitely on the concrete v. romantic side. I always preferred math/science to literature and english in school. But interestingly, after starting to homeschool my daughter, I'm fostering the more creative, narrative part in me I thought I never had;) But whether that will help me in matters of faith and Christianity is anyone's guess.

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  7. TWF,I'm not sure if romantics don't see the wrath and judgment or if they can somehow overlook it. Maybe they believe since they are Christians wrath and judgment doesn't apply to them, so it's no big deal? They tend to lean toward "God is love so he can't be those other things" whereas fundamentalists tend to lean toward "God is wrath and if you don't accept that as love you're gonna get the wrath". Someone asked where is the balance? I'm not sure there is one.==================================================LAC,I've always preferred literature and english, but have always understood it's correlation to reality. I like the "Canterbury Tales", and stories of mythology. Harry Potter is a good read but I know it's fiction, fantasy. Maybe that's part of my problem, I'm starting to put, at least some, the stories of the Bible in that category.

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  8. Fascinating post. I'd like to know what cracker jacks box you got your degree from!Having a masters in counseling i can verify your observation. The myers-briggs personality test separates those who prefer an "intuitive" way of knowing and a "senses/concrete" way of knowing, as well as a distinction between those who prefer "thinking" vs "feeling."Having said this, how does it relate to doubt and faith? I'm not sure it really helps. Meaning… there are some on the intuitive/feeling side who have embraced christianity because of it, and others who have rejected christinity because of it. Similarly, there are those who have been drawn to and away from christianity because of a senses/thinking approach.What seems to be a similar thread among us doubters is this… For whatever reason, we embarked on a way to beef up our thinking/senses way of validating our belief, and were surprised to find that there was not as much evidence as we wanted in order to get the beefing up we were looking for. In my history I have had several conversions and deconversions. Consistently, when I come to faith it is in the intuitive/feeling way. The falling away is a senses/thinking process. When I reconvert I conveniently set aside all that foolish questioning and doubting I did and "just believe," because I have become convinced of the truth in an intuitive/feeling/experiential way. I hope I don't make that mistake again…

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  9. EI,I got it out of a cracker jack box at an Atlanta Braves game during the seventh inning stretch. 😉

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  10. I'm not tooo far from Atlanta. Might be worth the drive if I can get one of them there diplomeees.

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  11. You should give it a try. It's a lot more fun than school!

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  12. Fascinating post. I'd like to know what cracker jacks box you got your degree from!Having a masters in counseling i can verify your observation. The myers-briggs personality test separates those who prefer an "intuitive" way of knowing and a "senses/concrete" way of knowing, as well as a distinction between those who prefer "thinking" vs "feeling."Having said this, how does it relate to doubt and faith? I'm not sure it really helps. Meaning… there are some on the intuitive/feeling side who have embraced christianity because of it, and others who have rejected christinity because of it. Similarly, there are those who have been drawn to and away from christianity because of a senses/thinking approach.What seems to be a similar thread among us doubters is this… For whatever reason, we embarked on a way to beef up our thinking/senses way of validating our belief, and were surprised to find that there was not as much evidence as we wanted in order to get the beefing up we were looking for. In my history I have had several conversions and deconversions. Consistently, when I come to faith it is in the intuitive/feeling way. The falling away is a senses/thinking process. When I reconvert I conveniently set aside all that foolish questioning and doubting I did and "just believe," because I have become convinced of the truth in an intuitive/feeling/experiential way. I hope I don't make that mistake again…

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  13. D'Ma, This is a tough topic, for sure. Thank you for acknowledging I didn't intend to sound "superior". I wrestled with "fundamentalism" for decades too. Eastern Orthodoxy has its own brand and versions of fundamentalism too, so it is not just a "Protestant sola scriptura issue", it is a way of viewing God, I think. If I may unpack your illustration of the "God of the gaps"… I think it shows that we see our "view of God" as the "solid pebbles", the real "substance" and God kind of mysteriously flows around our concepts. The question I'd ask is, "Where is your confidence?… In the solid pebbles or the flowing water?" I've come to trust that the mysterious flowing water is probably more "True" than what I think is solid in my mind. God has revealed Himself, but is ultimately unknowable (any God we can conceive of is smaller than ourselves). Of course it is not an "either/or" but perhaps getting comfortable with a "both/and". You make a very good point that some people are "romantics" and some are "ptagmatists", neither is wrong and they often speak different languages. The challenge for the romantic is to accept the realities of structure, laws and limits, the challenge of the pragmatist is to accept the reality of passionate, wild blind love that dies for the sake of the beloved. Both are realities of the human heart. So, yeah, I see myself. 🙂

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