50 things I once believed (3)

 

So, how and why did I come to change my mind about these matters of my faith? I see at least seven steps common to virtually all of my change in belief.

First, someone challenged my thinking. In essence, they dared to say to me, “I respectfully disagree, and here’s why.” It wasn’t a matter of confrontation or debate, simply a clear and respectful challenge (let me underscore the word “respectful”). Someone dared to ask me why I believed what I believed, patiently listened to my response, and then either deliberately tried to set up a checkpoint of thought in my path or tried to plant in my mind the seed of a differing view.

In a few words, they disagreed with me without being disagreeable about it. As a result, I learned, and continue to learn, to welcome, rather than resent, questions about my faith.

Second, I dared to truly consider what the person had said or written. Actually “consider” isn’t a strong enough word; “ponder” is more accurate. But we’re talking baby steps here; consider, then ponder! This is often no easy thing to do, particularly given the speed at which we live our lives today and how so very much competes for our attention every minute of every day. Distractions are about us like the air; they’re everywhere. But unless a thought, especially a challenging thought, has time to settle deep into our mind, we will never open ourselves up to the chance of changing our mind.

If I changed my mind about something, it was because I didn’t let things go in one ear and straight out the other. This could very well be the most personally challenging of all the steps I’ll list here, for a full and busy life is not a friend to reflection.

Third, I talked with God about these things with faith. I prayed for God to shed his light on the matter. I asked him to show me if I was wrong, where I was mistaken, and what path to take. I trusted him to lead me to a better understanding and practice of his will. I believed he would cross my path with the people, places, things, and experiences that would answer my requests of him.

I believe he did. And I believe he does.

Fourth, I sought more information from the person who planted the seed. This rarely happened at the time of the question or challenge, but came about instead after pondering the matter a bit. It was as simple as saying to the person who had differed with me, “I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day. Tell me more. I’m here to listen and learn, not debate or argue. I want to know more about what you believe and why for your view intrigues me.” Significantly, it was in this listening that I often discovered that some, or even all, of my conceptions as to what exactly others believed, or why they believed what they did, were often skewed mistaken.

How very embarrassing, but, oh, how enlightening is this step! In this I continue to learn that embarrassment is more often than not, a necessary part of learning. If I will not risk shame, I will not grow. It’s as simple as that.

Fifth, I investigated matters for myself. That is, I started reading and digging into the subject at hand and as I did so, I deliberately read outside of my comfort zone. I read things that challenged my views and differed from my understandings. I read the other person’s mail, so to speak. I tried to walk a mile in their moccasins. And as I did so, I deliberately tried to keep an open mind and to not engage the material in a combative spirit. And then, having read the other person’s mail, I’d go back and examine my beliefs in light of what I had encountered.

I have grown to relish this step, for it is here that I hear the cogs of my mind turning most clearly.

Sixth, I began to look more closely at the fruit of my beliefs and the fruit of the beliefs of others. Ideas have consequences and as I traced the trail of various beliefs to their logical ends and began to pay attention to how they were commonly and outwardly expressed, I discovered much more about the real “stuff” of these beliefs. I found that sometimes a belief that sounded reasonable in my head and didn’t meet strong resistance when expressed in words, actually made little sense at all, or was contradictory to the facts at hand, when put into practice. Typically, what I learned from these observations came as a complete surprise to me. I had expected one thing, but witnessed another. I believed that practice is the acid test of faith, but I came to realize that if I didn’t hang around long enough to see what happens to the belief when it was put into the acid, I’d never really know what my beliefs, or the beliefs of others, were made of.

I can’t begin to say how immensely powerful this single step was to opening my eyes up to my change in belief on some matters (for example, #6 on my list). Some of the most humbling experiences in my life have come from taking this step quite seriously. I believe it is one of the most commonly overlooked and least often practiced of the disciplines mentioned here. May this change.

Finally, I made it a point to not stop looking at, thinking about, listening to, and seriously considering, the minority view on matters. This didn’t come naturally for me, nor did it come easily or quickly. It was something I had to work hard at developing. What influenced me strongly then was the fact that there were people around me, or people to whom I frequently exposed my mind, who believed the same way I believed. They were “the majority,” in my mind, because they were my circle of influence. What slowly dawned on me across the years is that “the minority” view on a matter needed to be given extra attention in my mind if their perspective was to ever get a fair hearing. How so? Because the influence of “the majority” was so strong in my mind that it tended to filter out any real chance of detailed consideration of differing views. And so, I made up my mind to no longer be capable of being a mere bobble-head doll, nodding in near automatic agreement with those in my circle of greatest influence. I deliberately chose to allow other perspectives to go against the flow and challenge my thinking.

This is a huge, significant step for it strongly calls out what I actually believe about God. None of us hold our beliefs alone, but majorities and minorities don’t factor into the mind of God. As a Christian, I live under his sovereignty, not my democracy.

Without a doubt, I remain a very long, long way from where God would have me to be in terms of my walk with him, and my being shaped into his Son’s likeness. But this shaping must occur, inside and out, and must not ever stop. If by sharing these things with you, you find you’ve been helped in some small way, then I know that I have been helped as well.

God have mercy and give more of his light to us all as we can see it. And may he smile on all of us as we seek to become and reflect his ways. Amen.

50 things I once believed (2)

 

Halt! You have reached an accountability checkpoint. Did you make your list of things you once believed in regard to faith, but now no longer believe? If not, stop, drop, and write. If so, proceed.

No doubt you’re wondering: “Why on earth did you ever believe some (or all) of those things?” I could name more reasons, but I’ll limit myself here to enumerating and commenting on six.

First, I came to hold the vast majority of those beliefs because someone taught them to me. If not by declaring them to me with their words, they trained me to hold them by their actions. I know of no one who willfully tried to deceive me into believing anything. Quite the opposite; they sincerely thought they were following the will of God and, perhaps even deliberately trying to enlighten me. But the fact remains that as I look back on such now I think: “My foolish heart was darkened and I didn’t even realize it at the time. As was their mind, too.”

Second, I believed many of these things because I thought they made sense to me in the moment and because I thought they helped me make sense of the people and situations around me. We humans will live without many things, but truly few of us will live without answers. And where no explanations are obvious, explanations will be created. This is just part of the stuff that makes us tick; we simply must believe something and that something must explain something going on in our head, going on around us, or both.

Third, some of these things I believed simply because I had never considered otherwise. They were things I had simply “always believed,” or so I thought. Holding such convictions was something akin to breathing; it was just something I did without need of ever giving it thought. Quite literally, some things I believed (and no doubt believe, present tense) without thinking. This, perhaps more so than all of my reflections on my beliefs, gives me great pause. To hold convictions of great consequence without thinking about them; I don’t even want to think about that! But think, I must.

Fourth, some of those matters I held as faith, but no longer do, I held because I wanted to be accepted by those around me. Now that may come as a shock to some of you who know me, and know me well. I am an independent spirit, to say the least. Perhaps my memory fails me, but I don’t recall ever choosing any conviction in my life because I thought it would gain me some inroad or standing with another. Such a mentality is nauseous to me, more nauseous than some of my former beliefs. However, just because I consciously shun such thinking, I would be a fool to think that such doesn’t work on my psyche and influence me in subtle, and unconscious (or subconscious) ways. Such is true for all of us. We are, in part, a product of our environment and we all, to one degree or another, want to fit in with our environment.

Fifth, I surely held some of those matters of faith in reaction to other beliefs. I saw what I perceived to be a great ditch on one side of the road and so I swerved hard to the other side to distance myself as far as possible from the perceived danger of the ditch … only to steer right into an equally deep, if not even more dangerous, ditch. I left the road because I feared leaving the road. No, such a position makes no sense at all, but whoever said all we humans believe springs from good sense? And so, some things I believed, no doubt came from well-intentioned, but nevertheless fatal, over-correction.

Sixth, I held all of those beliefs because I chose to believe them. I’m the one ultimately responsible for having held them, just as I’m the one finally responsible for having changed them. The buck stops here; I’m the one to blame. For all that could be said as to the influence of people, places, and things, I remain the captain of my soul, so to speak. No one forced me to believe any of these things. However I chose to embrace them, ignorantly or reflectively, I am the one who chose them.

So, why change? Hopefully there’s only one reason: because I’ve learned better. I want to believe it’s because I’ve gravitated more toward the center of God’s will. “I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.” And the clearing of the clouds, that is the owning up to the fact that a great many of my firm, religious beliefs have significantly changed through time (and will, no doubt, continue to change in years to come if God grants me life and sense), affords me, as well as others, great gain. For when I acknowledge my changes in faith:

  • I more truly own the faith I have,
  • I open my mind to more of God’s light,
  • I guard myself from merely “following the herd,”
  • I call myself afresh to sharpen my critical thinking skills,
  • I break down some of the walls that hinder those yet to believe,
  • I cultivate the soil of my heart for the growth of honest humility,
  • I make it easier for others to change and/or admit their changes,
  • I pick up off the ground some of the stumbling stones for the next generation,
  • I am stirred to be more deliberate toward keeping the unity of the Spirit among believers,
  • and I find myself moved to be more patient with, and merciful toward, those with whom I differ.

And having said that, once again you have homework: pray about these things, the things on your list. How you arrived at them and how you came to leave them behind. Your prayers will be solid preparation for the conclusion of this series in tomorrow’s post.

the message behind the movie (1)

A final distinction we should be careful to make when assessing movies is between the message and the purpose. We should avoid the temptation to assign motive to moviemakers based on the message of their movie. There are several important reasons for this.

First, if we incorrectly judge a filmaker’s motives based on certain elements of her film, we risk slandering the filmmaker. …

A second reason to avoid assigning motive is that films are rarely the creation of a single person. … In fact, it is so rare for one person to receive singular credit for a film that the industry reserves a term for people who do: auteur. …

A final reason we should be slow to judge a moviemaker’s motive based on the message of his or her movie is that sometimes a movie may communicate a message the creator did not intend. In fact, there are times when a movie’s indirect (and unintended) message overshadows the creator’s (intended) message. An example of this is the 2006 film Facing the Giants. The movie’s direct message is that we must trust and glorify God regardless of what happens in our lives. This is stated by various characters enough times that it is unmistakable. The clear theme of the movie is that we ought to give our concerns up to God, because we should desire his will above our own. However, in the course of the movie, no one faces disappointment with any of God’s decisions, because every character trusts God and ultimately gets what he or she wanted in the first place! The indirect message of the film comes through loud and clear: a life lived for God gets you what you want. This unbiblical message might not be what the filmmakers had in mind, but it is what their story communicates.

The Message Behind the Movie: How to Engage With a Film Without Disengaging Your Faith by Douglas M. Beaumont (Moody Publishers, 2009), pp.35-36