Maybe it’s because I’m in college. Maybe it’s because I’m in my twenties. Maybe it’s because I’m cursed. No matter what the reasoning is, everywhere I go I am surrounded by conflict. Whether it’s about Christianity, politics or what to have for lunch, there always seems to be dissension. Some arguments are deep while others tend to be more shallow, and let’s be honest, no other topic is as complex as lunch.
Through this I’ve learned that conflict is never fun. People get frustrated because their opinion is not being accepted, hurt because they are usually being attacked and exhausted because they get passionate about something they believe in. Although conflict is not always pleasant, it is necessary because conflict is the catalyst for deeper thought.
One of the reasons my life is constantly in conflict is because of the two worlds I am trapped in. I go to a very conservative church while the school I attend is more liberal in Christian thinking. Here is where the curse lies: I am a moderate; so in both places my opinions end up rubbing against people the wrong way. I may not always see eye to eye with either institution, but it allows me to discover new perspectives on various things. I have always walked away from these conversations with a deeper understanding. In fact, I believe that conflict is one of the few ways to help bring about that fuller understanding. It is a huge claim to make, but follow along with me.
Think of the realm of thought like a dark room. Every time we learn a new perspective it illuminates a space in the darkness. As we learn more and more, the room gets brighter and brighter and we are able to see everything in the room. We gain a deeper understanding of why things are set in the room the way that they are. With more perspective, the picture of the room as a whole begins to come together. We get a deeper understanding of why we believe the things that we do (ten points if you can figure out which philosophical reference this is).
As we talk with each other more and more we are able to understand why people think the way they do. In turn, it affects what we believe as well. While this opens the door to relativism (a word that scares any conservative), it is important to remember that we still need to have some sense of grounding. That is what the beauty of all of this is. If we can find a place to ground ourselves, then every new perspective we learn brings a deeper meaning to what we have grounded ourselves in, much like an anchor.
The real danger is when we find ourselves in an environment that is stagnant; stagnant meaning an environment where everyone around you thinks the exact same thing. That is an environment that encourages death, at least mentally and spiritually. Christ does not call us to hang around with people that think the same things as we do all the time. If we did, the gospel would never spread. This is why learning about new perspectives is important. When we are willing to listen, then people are more willing to listen to us.
Too often the fear is that we must engage in dialogue but never truly listen to the other person. The other person can never be right because they do not have a biblical perspective. My firm belief is that everything in the Bible is true, and if the biblical perspective is true, than it will hold up to the perspectives of others. But not only will it hold up to the perspective of others but it will hold up to the way the world works. If it does not, then maybe it’s time for us to reexamine our anchor.
That is a scary thing to say to Christians, especially a group of twentysomethings searching for truth. If we cannot find a faith that merges with how life works, then eventually we are going to lose it anyways because we are living life with an anchor that is in contrast to the way we experience life. It is a recipe for Christians living with a lackluster faith.
One of my favorite things to watch is a group of people at my church sitting and talking. It usually consists of a few people who are out of college, those who are in college, and older high school students. One recent conversation was about global warming and went a little something like this:
Conservatives: I can’t believe that you believe everything that you hear from the liberal news media.
Liberals: It’s not like you don’t believe everything you hear either. You suck down everything you hear from the pulpit without thinking about it.
Conservatives: I’d rather suck down the stuff from the pulpit then the liberal news.
Liberals: That’s just as bad when what you’re hearing from the pulpit is basically a conservative political agenda with no real mention of Jesus.
Conservatives: You’re just a crazy liberal!
Liberal: Well you’re a conservative jerk!
That’s a small glimpse into my life. And people wonder why I’m constantly at ends. While a lot could be discovered by breaking apart this dialogue, this kind of “conversation” is not helpful at all, just disheartening and destructive. The conversation of ideas and exposing each other to different ideology is where true change takes place.
It is not about deciding which camp that we are going to be a part of. Rather, it is an exercise in deciding what is going to be our anchor. When push comes to shove and the storm of clashing ideology is strong, what is that anchor going to be? We cannot allow ourselves to become stagnant as Christians because then we lock ourselves in an ideological box that nobody else can begin to understand. When we begin to expand our understanding of the world, it only makes our faith stronger. This is why conflicting dialogue is crucial not only to change, but the spread of the gospel message. We must go out and begin talking to those round us. Test out your anchor and see how it holds up to the world around you. Only then will we have Christians who are truly rooted in their faith.