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Monday, April 26, 2010

The Ignorant and Unteachables

What a Monday!  It started off rather typically: Stumbled into the home office, coffee, granola bar, caught-up on work email, two devotionals and some scripture reading, opened my Twitter client and began perusing the morning banter.  Then I came across the following tweet:

"OK, fellow largely Biblically illiterates, garden-variety progressives and ignorant and unteachables, I gots to get to work. Checkin' in l8r"

As I cleaned coffee from my monitor and keyboard, I couldn't help but to dwell on this post.  At first, I thought this was a self-effacing statement and tongue-in cheek remark toward various members of the group.  I later learned, this was an abbreviated list of things he had been called by people who, shall we say, have a different perspective on Christianity than his.  Either way, I enjoyed the post.

But I couldn't let it go.  Later, I went out for a run where I continued to chew on the statement.  If we consider it three different groups, whom belonged in each bucket and why?  Let's explore these categories a bit.

Garden-variety progressives: I guess the 'garden-variety' was meant to be condescending.  Whatever.

Biblical illiterates: This one is more interesting.  Since I happen to know that the author is a Commissioned Lay Pastor, I'm pretty sure he's more biblically learned than most.  However, one could assert that someone could read the Bible cover to cover, several times, and get very little from it, not be transformed by it, or worse yet, twist it into a grotesque self-serving justification for hate, judgment, crusades, etc.  Reading and quoting doesn't necessarily mean "literate", especially if one misses the author's intent entirely, doesn't understand context, or cannot effectively apply the lessons.  In fact, I've heard many pastors with Dr. in their title who've preached some pretty "interesting" stuff and don't seem to resemble Jesus at all.

Ignorant and unteachables:  Yep...this is the one that had me howling.  Who are these people...these ignorant and unteachables?

I suppose whom we place in this bucket depends on where we are ourselves.  Some Progressive Christians might classify literalist Evangelicals this way:  "They just can't move past the literal words and get the greater, metaphorical meaning present in the story!  They cannot accept that the Bible is neither a science book, a constitution, nor a history book, but a collection of stories written by flawed human beings about their struggle to understand God!"

Some literalist Evangelicals might classify the Progressives as unteachable: "They are reading stuff into the Holy Scripture that isn't there.  The Bible is the written Word of God.  If God said that Jonah was inside that fish, then Jonah was a real person and was inside that fish, and that is that!"

And the battle goes on.  But this blog post isn't really about the ever-present Progressive vs. Conservative theological debate.  What I really want to consider is this:

How do we treat all people, regardless of their degree of ignorance and teachability?
Let's start "at the margins".  Many people of faith (yes, including other faith traditions other than Christianity) have compassion for the mentally handicapped.  We don't expect them to necessarily accept our arguments and our growth expectations for them are adjusted according to their ability.  OK, that's an easy one.

At the other extreme, we expect highly intelligent people to test, reason, learn, grow, produce, contribute...the list goes on.  "To whom much is given, much is expected."

Most of us are in the middle on varying points of "otherness".  Some reason well, others feel their way along.  Some learn from trial and error (with lots of errors), some seem to pick-up things naturally and can deploy their new skills with ease.  But rare is the person who is good at everything.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.  People are more than intellect.  We have unique physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual shapes.  We're complicated.

We also have baggage.  Events, traumas, successes, failures, all these things go into to who we are and how we engage in life.  If I overlay this understanding to the earlier discussion of Progressive vs. Literalist, how might I now attempt to view someone's perspective as to the nature of God?  Let me pick on fathers for moment:  If a girl had a traumatic childhood with an abusive father, how might she respond to the metaphor of "God, the Father"?  If a boy grew-up with an authoritarian father who judged everything he did as never good enough and lacking, perhaps even being punished for his shortcomings (in the father's eyes), how might he respond to the notion of "God the Father"?  Could he / she accept that God loves them, just the way they are, no matter what they ever have or have not done?  What might their view of love be?  Could they accept that they have worth just as they are, that they are God's unique creation that He called good?  Might they have some atonement baggage?

Some people will never see our point of view.  No amount of evidence, science, archeology, logic, apologetics, or arguments will convince them that their point of view might need at least some honing and perhaps a complete overhaul.  Does this make them unteachable?  Perhaps.  If we want to over-simplify and go tongue-in-cheek, "Some people are just stupid, angry, or both and are unteachable."  Perhaps a better way is this: "All people are complex, have issues, and may not be reachable by you."  If we all look at our circle of influence for opportunities to befriend, love, and serve, we'll reach some.  Others, perhaps not.

There's another option:  What if their belief system works for them and has become truly transformational?  I guess we'll know them by their fruit.  If they're still spewing hate, judgment, condemnation, and division, we'll know something about them.  If they seek the things that Jesus sought, like providing food, shelter, and healthcare to the least of these, speaking out against injustice, and walking in peace, even among oppressors, that tells a different story...a transformational story.

Jesus didn't hand-out IQ tests before serving those he encountered (or those he called into service).  He did, however, ask those who had the most to give much to those with the least.  He loved and served "the unloveable" of his day.  That's a tall order.  Can we love them anyway?  Even the unteachable?

Blessings my friends.

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