Thursday, March 15, 2007

You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions

I was sitting here the other night studying over the possible essay questions for my upcoming ethics test, and I found myself playing with my pen in that way that Anthony Michael Hall does at the beginning of "The Breakfast Club" when he's trying to figure out what to say in his paper about who he is. Realizing this, I just went with it and started mumbling, "Who am I? Who am I?" with the pen clipped to my lower lip. I then turned my head slowly towards the invisible Judd Nelson glaring at me from the neighboring table, and sheepishly removed the pen from my mouth. There was no audience, so you'll have to trust me that it was a brilliant rendition of a great moment in film. It called to mind other moments of cinematic authorly procrastination, including Billy Crystal in "Throw Momma From The Train" (The night was...sultry) and Nicholas Cage in "Adaptation" (I need a muffin).

The real reason for my procrastination, however, was not laziness. See, I'm currently enrolled in a master's program at a seminary. An Episcopal seminary to be exact. The Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest to be even, um, exacter. You might find that surprising given that one of my most recent posts talked about how much beer I used to swill. Honestly, sometimes I find it kind of strange that I'm on this path. Strange in a positive way though. But that's not the evening's topic. Perhaps another time, and another post. Or ten.

See, I was going over the possible essay questions that may be on the test. It's one of those "two of these six questions will be asked, so you'd better be ready for all of them" situations. I'd already coasted through the first five, gone back and compared them with my notes, and was happy with what I'd come up with. Mostly just comparing and contrasting different ethical theories, considering what each has to say about what. Interesting stuff, to me anyway, but the questions were much too abstract to really be all that inspiring. The last question though, hit very close to a subject that I feel particularly passionate about. I had to really think about how I wanted to articulate my answer, hence the putting-off of the writing, the pen play, the goofiness. The question was basically along the lines of "what political questions should Christians raise when making ethical decisions about our shared life?"

Wow. Where to begin?

As I read it, it basically goes back to the fundamental question of what to do when you have several billion people all stuck on the same planet. You know, like in real life? All these people want a lot of the same things, but the differences between them feel as vast as the universe. And then you throw something as powerful as faith into the mix and you’re lucky you don’t have people killing each other. Oh wait.

Faith makes things tricky because of just how core it can be to one’s persona. It permeates every facet of a person’s being, affecting their viewpoint on everything. This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s what moved people like MLK, Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But on the other side of world-changing people like that, you have those whose faith makes them arrogant, unwilling to listen. I think too often people of faith forget that they’re on a journey and instead think they’ve already found their ultimate truth. Listen, anybody who tells you they’ve got it all figured out is a liar. These are the ones who, when put into a decision-making role, will attempt to mold their little corner of the world into some kind of ideal vision, a feat which is unrealistic, dangerous, and doomed to fail. God help us when we find ourselves at the mercy of these kinds of people.

So I won’t bore you with the entirety of what I wrote in response to the question, but it basically all boils down to humility. It’s about trying to stretch ourselves to accommodate another person’s point of view. It’s about remembering that even those who agree with us are human beings as much as we are, or in Christian language, children of God. And they’re entitled to as much dignity and respect as those with whom we take communion.

Fortunately, I think my professor agrees with me on this one. I’d have a pretty hard time in this class otherwise.


Tara said...

That's definitely a tough question. Sounds like you've got it squared in your brain now, so you'll do fine. Good luck on your test!

Whit said...

Why do I hear David Bowie playing?

Jason said...

Nice answer. A lot of Christians seem to have the mindset that non-Christians are second class and don't deserve respect.

I agree wholeheartedly: anyone who thinks they understand it all is full of poo.

Kristi said...

Yay for reasonable Christians! Yay for intellectual faith!

we don't see it often enough, huh?