Thursday, June 12, 2008

Do we really know each other?

Tomorrow I'm leaving town for our annual summer vacation with extended family. Should be fun! Before then, I've got one more post in me.

All of us understand the concept that we don't always say what we think, all the time to all the people around us. There's a sense of responsbility there, that perhaps our thoughts and words might be rude, offensive, misinterpreted or just plain irrelevant.

The lady in front of you at the grocery store who's on the cell phone and ignoring a question from the cashier? Annoying, but I probably wouldn't say anything. The young boy who's being kind of mean, but not dangerously mean, to another kid at the park? Sad, but if he's not my kid, I probably wouldn't say anything. The sweet lady who plainly tells me her political opinion, which happens to be the polar opposite of mine? I'd probably just nod my head, smile and thank her for sharing.

These are times we might just stay quiet and choose not to cause a ruckus. But how far does that go, exactly, before our silence is causing us to be disingeuous? If that silence extends to never telling anyone what we think or how we feel, does anybody really know us at all?

I've been wrestling with this one for a while in regards to my faith. I've shared plenty of things here over the past few years, but that's really just the tip of the iceberg. Most of my journey I'm still holding back, and at times I can't tell if that reluctance is driven by responsibility or fear.

Let's be clear -- we don't need to share everything with everybody. Heck, nobody is closer to me than Jamie, but we have an understanding that on some issues and some ideas we're just not gonna agree. So we don't go there. That's responsible, I think. I guess what I'm saying is that lately it's been hard for me to discern where the line is between responsible avoidance of hot topics, and dishonest keeping of secrets. Does anybody else struggle with this?

It's all coming to a head now because a men's reading group has been formed at our church, and I was asked to be in it. It's a small group, just 10 guys, and half of them are a formal church leader or employee. It's a great group of guys, and our first book assignment was "The Shack", which strangely enough does not really fit into some of our church doctrines. But it fit with me.

Our group isn't able to meet in person so I set up an online group for us, and introduced myself and mentioned that I've never really shared my faith journey of the past few years. The response was strong and immediate -- several of them felt the same way. They said it's very sad that we can't be "real" at church and admit that the answers to life aren't simple. They said it's tragic that we haven't been able to foster a safe environment where people felt like they could really be themselves. They said that all discussion details would stay private within the group, and that we should never feel that we have to stick with what have historically been the church's positions on any topic.

It was partially a breath of fresh air, and partially terrifying. Are they seriously asking for me to share who I really am? Is it that safe? I haven't decided yet. But I'm hopeful.

My dad recently wrote a poem that included this verse:

Will we ever get rid of our preconceived notions,
And our quick answers we think are fast magic potions?
Will we ever see what could have been really be,
Where I take you for you and you take me for me?
Not till we get there.

He's probably right, that we'll never totally accept each other in this life. Perhaps all I can hope for is that soon I can start to test out some of my ideas by sharing them instead of holding them in. And if somebody doesn't like them, perhaps they'll keep it to themselves instead of rocking my boat. :)

Speaking of silence and secrets, have you ever seen the postsecret blog? It's incredible. A mailing address was setup for people to send postcards to, with no return address. On the postcard the sender is supposed to put a secret they've been keeping. It's fascinating to see the types of things people haven't been able to share. Obviously some of them are heartbreaking, but I've been collecting the lighter-hearted or soul-sparking ones.

Here are a few of my favorites. See you in a week!

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MamaRose said...

WOW!!!!! Another GREAT BLOG, Bud!

Since you KNOW me, MY problem along these lines has/is usually telling folks MORE than they EVER WANTED TO KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!

And, in the past/and I'm still working on--NOT speaking when I SHOULDN'T!!!!!!!! OR saying something TOTALLY TOO BLUNT!!!!!

So, I haven't had your 'problem' much, as I see it, but I can see where it would/could be a problem.

I would say you've FOUND the BEST place to 'bear your soul' on whatever's on your mind--with your NEW church group/friends--esp. since they AGREED to KEEP EVERYTHING ONLY 'IN THE GROUP'--that's a GOOD 'net' to have!!!!!!!

And, then, as you see HOW that goes, then you MIGHT branch out more with others--but, as I've found, IF they don't YOU--they usually don't care MUCH about WHAT you think--and, that's sad, too, huh??!!!!!!!!!

So, when I'm talking with a 'stranger' now I try to AT LEAST make it about a subject I THINK they would be interested in!!!!!!!
Make it RELEVANT to their LIVES today & LOTS of times, I've found that 'THAT' is something about Jesus & HOW HE HELPS ME EVERY DAY!

And, I TRY to 'leave them laughing'--if nothing else, I CAN say something that SHOULD help them be HAPPIER, at least for a minute of that day!!!!!!!!!!!

GREAT BLOG, again--THANKS!!!!!!!!!!
Can't wait to see ALL of you!!!!!!!
LOVE YOU BUNCHES!!!!!!!!!!!! Mom

Andrew said...

Very timely Red. I totally struggle with this. I know there is nothing new under the sun, but I think a lot of us are going through this for the first time - this quandary of wanting to be real and yet sometimes finding our strongest resistance to that ( at least from our perception ) is within our Faith communities.

My honesty about my journey and thoughts has had mixed results. My wrestling with theology that many assume to be a "given" produces relief for some, reservation for most, and revulsion amongst a few.

I have gotten advice from both angles. Some tell me to censure what I say aloud, keep certain thoughts to myself. Others say that is not being "real" and that, while being courteous, I should let my thoughts on a matter be known.

I really think that any potential convert should be made to memorize Romans 14 before even being allowed to attend a church service. :)

Hal Johnson said...

"I guess what I'm saying is that lately it's been hard for me to discern where the line is between responsible avoidance of hot topics, and dishonest keeping of secrets. Does anybody else struggle with this?"

Hell yes.

Great post, Michael.

James W said...

I'm there with ya buddy. I've found the deeper I get into the word the bolder I become with my faith. I have gone through many peaks and valleys. I normally am pretty quite, when it comes to people I do not know.

~aj~ said...

Michael, I absolutely love your honesty and your desire to be your "true self" to those around you.

Personally, I think it is totally acceptable to not share all your personal feelings/beliefs with everyone you know. Yes, it's a part of who you are, but you also have that right to keep things close to your heart. I've definitely been in situations where it's been best to just keep my mouth shut and not cause a ruckus, like you mentioned.

However, if you have that desire to be more open about your beliefs, then by all means, share away! Those that care about and love you will do so no matter what you believe. Myself included.


Don said...

Michael- I am hopeful that if you choose to share openly with your group that all of them will honor the commitment to keep it within the group. Otherwise this could have negative consequences for you at your church. Good thoughts and intentions are coming your way. Have a great vacation!

debby said...

I do not share at church. Some can. We've got gossips there, though. One of them asked my daughter "Is your brother your 'full' brother?" "Yes." she said. Being very young, she didn't 'get' it. The lady said, "Do you know what full brother means? It means that he has the same father as you. Does he have the same father as you?" "Yes." Cara told us about it on the way home from church. She didn't understand what it had to do with the Sunday school lesson. Me either. But no. I don't share at church, and most people do not care what I believe. I believe differently enough that I'm glad that they don't ask. But I do enjoy the people at church.

paul maurice martin said...

I agree - it just doesn't make sense, in a lot of superficial social situations, to feel a need to give your own outlook. But it sounds like this group you're involved with might represent a real opportunity for going in depth about faith in a place where this is being genuinely welcomed.

FishrCutB8 said...

It sounds like you're trying to build the men's group I already have. I am blessed with an incredible group of guys from across a broad spectrum of belief. We question, talk, raise each other up, and even go on trips together. We've supported a Belarusian orphanage and church, supported a prison ministry and a drug recovery ministry, helped people move and built a house. All the while, we foster a safe, close environment built on Biblical principles of love and sharing.

One of the things I realized early on is how different it is from church. It's much more open. It's a lot more interpersonal. Church, for me, is more about praising God. Men's Group is more about exploring my relationship to God and acting on those beliefs I've formed. Both are equally important in opposite ways.