Monday, February 17, 2014

Entertaining a Thought

"The mark of an educated mind is to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

Fourteen years ago I graduated with an Associates' degree from Johnson County Community College. It only took me eleven years to complete the requirements for a two-year degree. Not bad for someone with my aptitude for slackery.

I had a lot of surprisingly good classes out there: Physical Anthropology, Pop Culture, Masterpieces of the Cinema, and Ethics were my faves.

After graduating from the community college I transferred to a local state university, but I dropped out after one semester. I was going through a bad time in my life emotionally, and I was worn out from going to school while also working full-time at the library. I decided I needed more time to get my shit together holistically before I could spend the energy to get my shit together academically.

I don't miss the hard work. The requirements. The objectives. The time management. I miss taking classes for fun. I miss showing up to class one day and learning something I never knew until that day but somehow it made such perfect sense to me it's as if the knowledge of it existed inside me all along and I just needed my teacher to shine a light on it. That's what's so brilliant about receiving an education from teachers. The connection to something deeper, more complex, different than the thoughts you come up with on your own. Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of autodidactism, but I also understand the value of a good teacher.

I also understand that a good teacher will sometimes say things I cannot accept. That doesn't mean I should plug my ears. I'm not afraid of disagreeing with someone. I don't take it personally. Usually. As long as I'm taking my pills.

So today when I walked into the Adult Speaker Series room at church and saw this Aristotelian quote on the flip chart, I smiled and exhaled and found a seat and opened my mind to learning things I might not accept.

The speaker announced that today we were going to watch a video clip by a conservative pastor named Francis Chan. "So often we talk about more progressive theology that every once in a while we like to study something we don't talk about too often. Today we're going to watch his clips 'Fear God' and 'Follow Jesus'. I'm sure they'll spark some conversation."

And they did.

The "Fear God" video freaked me out the most. I felt like I was suffocating the whole time watching it. I don't do well with drowning scenes. I almost drowned when I was four, but my brother Pat rescued me by jumping into the lake and pulling my foot loose from the mud at the bottom of the lake. Pat is the same brother who, along with his friend, sexually abused me when I was was about five and they were about fourteen. The brother who was always there for me in every other way except for this one way he really betrayed my trust and set me back on my journey toward self-acceptance. I'd never condone sexual abuse. God no. But surviving it has helped me learn to fight for the rights and protections of my body, and all people's bodies. My privacy was violated when I was too young, but I've struggled and survived and I've taken-it back. My body. Not yours.

Perhaps that's why I don't fear God. I feared not doing what my elders who were barely teens themselves forced me to do. I don't fear God. I've come a long way, through anorexia to binge eating disorder, through anxiety to depression, through  distrust of the Christian community to embracing a new Church and it's teaching of love and forgiveness. I don't fear God. I'm grateful for God's presence in my life.

I don't fear God. I'm sorry, Francis Chan. I think of myself as being a child of God. I don't need fear to learn what's right and what's wrong. I need love. Francis Chan can call me lukewarm all he wants, but I don't think adding a little fear in my relationship with God would bring me closer to him.

I read some articles about Chan. He had a rough upbringing. His mom died giving birth to him. (Talk about guilt!) His dad regularly beat him for disobeying and bothering him. And through all that pain, Chan insists his early childhood trauma instilled in him discipline and respect. Chan's father died when he was a teenager. I can see how comforting it would be to feel the firm embrace of God the Father. I don't accept advocating living in fear, but I do understand why some people do.

Other than the fear and hell and sin talk, Chan sounds like an amazing pastor. He lives in poverty. He gives away most of his money to charities that help get people out of sex slavery. He and his wife often invite people over to stay the night with them. He doesn't believe Church needs to have walls. He thinks regular people like you and me can be disciples of Christ. Pretty rad stuff. I like it.

I just don't like all the talk of fear and damnation. I've lived with enough anxiety and fear in my life, I don't need God to add to the mix.

So I'm not into all his fear-mongering, but it's good to learn about people who are trying to make this world a better place, helping people, walking the walk, even if I disagree with some of his core beliefs.

I don't have time to go back to school now. I found a great guy and we married. Bought a house. Had a kid. All the usual stuff that eats away at a person's time and money. I enjoy helping my daughter with her homework, but I don't think I could stand to help her with hers and then have to go do my own.

So these Adult Speaker Series classes at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church are an awesome way to learn about philosophical things without investing a lot of time, energy, or money. And there is such a wide-variety of topics: faith-based organizations helping fast food workers get a raise, prison ministries, inner-city youth after school and summer programs, all kinds of ways to jump in and help out.

Never, back when I was young and pretentious and thought I was so cool reading Nietzsche and Sartre and being anti-organized religion and pro-secular humanism, I never once would have thought that some day my ass would be sitting in a fold-up chair inside a church listening to a conservative pastor talk to a group of progressive Christians about things we can entertain without accepting.

I love all these mind-expanding thoughts and the thinkers who share them with us. As the great Feynman said, “I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”