Living In the Grey

When we are young, we are taught about life in black and whites. Good versus bad, it is or it is not, right or wrong, are all ways we gain understanding of the world around us. When we are younger and have family to help guide us and watch over us, these black and whites make sense and provide us a clear boundary. However, as we get older and experience more of life outside of our homes, the black and whites are not so clear cut. Our world appears to us to be more grey in some areas. This can create times of confusion and tension. Yet through this process we grow and mature.

One area where this becomes clearly true is in relation to our faith. Young Christians are taught Bible stories and given examples of how God chooses us to live our lives. When we are young, these are given in very black and white terms. However, as we mature in our faith and in our lives, we start bumping up against details which cause us to question the clear black and white understandings. We learn more about God and realize that God is much more complex than black and white.

There are some individuals who never seem to make the transition from looking at the world solely in black and white to understanding a world filled with grey. These people have definite views which create an either/or dynamic in their lives. They cannot accept that life can be a both/and situation. Often they experience life on the extremes. Compromise is difficult. Uncertainty creates anxiety for them. They only see two options and determine which is the right option. Easily they can become judgmental of others. In regard to faith, they often ignore other possible interpretations outside of their chosen perspective.

I often tell people that if you truly study the original languages and cultures from which our modern day Bible emerges, you will soon discover that there is a lot of grey. First, it is difficult to truly grasp the ancient civilizations from which the stories and words of the Bible are generated without years of in depth study. Even if a person is a scholar in these ancient cultures and languages, there still are unknowns. Second, since the modern day Bible has gone through a multitude of translations and interpretations, the words we read are filtered through the experiences of Bible scholars and then refiltered through the experiences of us, the readers. Finally, there are multiple versions of the Bible today and in some cases, the words vary greatly depending on which version you are reading because of different word choices available during translation. This all points to the reality that there is grey in the main written source of the Christian faith.

Life is not black and white. There are choices based upon interpretation, experiences, culture, and new understandings which we make every day. These choices can change as we gain new insight. Understandings can be redefined as new revelations occur daily. Throughout all our life this is reality. When it comes to our faith, I believe in a living God who continues to reveal God’s self all the time. As God reveals more and more, we are moved from one interpretation to another. The grey is there because we do not fully understand God. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this when he says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV)

Integrating Faith

Having spent most of my life in Iowa, moving to Texas at the end of last year has given me the opportunity to experience some different ways in which people live. I truly have enjoyed these new experiences and you can read more about them on my other blog. One of these experiences has been the openness about the sharing of faith. I realize that Texas is considered part of the Bible belt but I really did not fully understand what that meant. There is seldom a visit to a nearby Starbucks when I do not overhear a conversation regarding personal faith or a specific congregation. Many people come into the Starbucks carrying a Bible.

As I sat in Starbucks doing some research last week, two people were sitting at a table next to me. They were discussing which version of the Bible was their favorite. Then a man carrying two Bibles walked in the door, searching for the person he was supposed to meet. I began thinking about this openness and how I felt about it. Having grown up in Iowa, my experience with faith is that it was not something people shared publicly often. I seldom encountered people carrying Bibles into Starbucks and rarely heard conversations of faith.

Whenever I have had the opportunity to learn about another person’s faith, whether the person is a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or even someone who states they have no faith, I have enjoyed listening and learning from them. One result of this is that it makes me very mindful that not everyone believes what I believe. I have also learned that there are different understandings and practices in relation to the manner in which someone lives out what they believe. I was thinking a lot about these things when I was sitting in the Starbucks last week.

I admit that I had a reaction to the conversation which I heard and the man walking in with two Bibles under his arm. My reaction took me a little by surprise since it was a negative reaction. I thought to myself how it appeared that these individuals were forcing their faith on to me. Even though none of these individuals said a word to me, I had this immediate reaction. My question then was why I would react in such a way since I am a Christian and am not ashamed of my faith. The conclusion to which I came was this amount of openness was an experience which I had not had while growing up.

Another thought that entered my mind is how a non-Christian feels when she or he experiences a similar situation. Are they offended by such an outward demonstration of the Christian faith? Does the person feel uncomfortable? What I described here is definitely not an aggressive action taken by anyone. There was no attempt at proselytizing anyone. No one made derogatory comments to me, in fact, none of the people who I mentioned even said a word to me. Yet, I still wonder how I would feel if I were not Christian and I experienced this regularly.

As I have thought more about all this throughout the week, I realized that at one level it is refreshing to be in an area where people have no concern regarding speaking to one another about their faith. I do not believe any of these people were trying to flaunt their faith but instead were making it a normal part of their everyday life, even in Starbucks. I also determined that I would want a Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, or anyone else to feel comfortable to do the same. Everyone should have the freedom to integrate their faith into as much of their day in a manner they choose.

My first negative reaction to this new experience came out of a sense that someone was trying to shove their faith into my face. I was concerned about how it might also offend others who may not be Christians. Now I realize that not only was that not the intent of the people who I encountered but instead that I might actually have learned something from them on this day. I need to be more willing to integrate my faith even into trips to Starbucks. I will continue to be sensitive to those around me but I need to do a better job of not compartmentalizing my faith. While I may not carry a Bible around with me everywhere I go, I can still demonstrate my faith in my actions and words.