thanks.

It’s almost Thanksgiving, right?

And so we were talking about thankfulness at Bible Study this week.

Which I think was completely by accident, but maybe the Bible Study organizers are smarter than I thought (likely not: we were supposed to do this chapter last week, but I was the only one who showed up so we talked about nothing and then I left).

This week: Thankfulness and prayer.

And the possibility that thankfulness is only possible alongside recognition of God’s existence, because thankfulness necessitates acknowledging something greater outside ourselves that we are thankful to.

Also: the realization that we’re incapable of being as thankful as others who live in situations where survival is a daily battle, because the fact that we can take basic needs and survival for granted works to our detriment when it comes to an automatic reaction of thankfulness.

And from this: maybe we need to work harder at being thankful than we thought, and maybe we won’t ultimately be held accountable for the fact that we’re not as capable of thankfulness as others.

Someone mentioned Jonah, and that ridiculous part at the end of the story where God gives Jonah a plant to shade him, and then instead of being thankful for his brief shade respite Jonah gets pissed off when the plant dies.

Which was perfect, in fact.  This story is a reminder of how easily we can spot others’ inability to recognize blessings, but we forget all the blessings we take for granted in our own lives.  Perception is a sneaky sneaky thing.

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that girl.

There’s this girl at my Bible Study.

We all know her.  She’s the one who is so self-righteous it makes you want to choke on your tea and bible study banana loaf.  She’s the one who, every time there’s a question along the lines of “let’s share how we’ve personally struggled with —-“, replies with something along the lines of “I’m so grateful Jesus loves me; since I’ve been saved, I never struggle with that, and I’m just so thankful/joyful/conscious of my sin ALL THE TIME”.

This week, when she went on and on about her aptitude for thankfulness, I actually interrupted to convince her that she’s incapable of being THAT thankful, as a result of her social conditioning and the way her easy access to convenience – even luxury – has made it impossible for her to be maximally thankful.

And then I felt like a bitch, and in some kind of awkward apology I suggested that it is not the first world’s fault that it is incapable of experiencing thankfulness in the same way as people who face death and starvation on a daily basis.

So that was all a bit trippy.  I bet that, for her, I’m “That Girl at bible study”.

testify, brother*

keyhole crossLast night at Bible Study**, someone brought up the topic of giving personal testimonies.  Again.

After a childhood of summercamp and round-the-campfire starlit testimonies, I am highly skeptical of the personal testimony.  The practice of standing up and speaking to one’s personal journey from darkness to light always reeked, to me, of self-congratulation and “God-has-been-so-good-to-me-and-you-can’t-beat-my-story”.

I googled “campfire testimonies” and came across a daunting collection of videos on Godtube, as well as church retreat itineraries with time allotments for testimony sharing.  I used to dread this kind of thing at youth group events and summercamp.  I felt inadequate, lacking a transformative story that involved a) sunsets and deep canyons, b) near-death experiences, and c) complete, unequivocal assurance that I knew exactly what God wanted for the rest of my life.

But one of our Bible Study members has been harping for testimony time, both in our weekly study and in the church service, and she elaborated on her reasoning last night:

  • Testimonies are a way for us to learn from the suffering and experience of others, without having to go through near-death experiences ourselves.
  • Testimonies speak to God’s greatness, if recounted in such a way as to NOT seem like they are speaking to an individual’s greatness.
  • Testimonies are something to learn from.  As my Bible Study mate explained, she still struggles as a new Christian to learn that her priorities are 1) God, 2) her husband, and 3) herself.  She admitted that too often numbers 2 and 3 are reversed, and she struggles to be a better wife who also serves God.  She wants to hear from Christians who are doing a better job of juggling the priorities of God, others, and self, and she wants to learn from the testimonies of people who have made progress on sorting that out.

I can understand these reasons.  I can also, perhaps, listen with slightly more open ears the next time I am being eaten by mosquitoes around a campfire while listening to someone talk about their “Road to Damascus” moment.  And I could not roll my eyes when someone yearns for testimonies during the church service.

Lesson learned.

* (and sister)

** I hadn’t read the whole chapter and was feeling sheepish.  Damn you, Google Books and your access restrictions.

Agreeing to Disagree: or, finding space for holy disagreement

dhowSo I’ve been going to this bible study for two weeks now, and I’ve been biting my tongue a lot.

It’s not that I’m trying to be contentious, but I honestly don’t agree with most of the theology that is at the foundation of the book we’re reading.  I finished this week’s chapter and thought to myself, “that’s bullshit”.

When the discussion leader turned our minds to the text at hand and asked for our general opinions, I kept that precise wording to myself.  I listened to a few others speak their minds and then tried to keep myself calm and polite while suggesting that there was, in fact, nothing worth discussing:

The underlying premise for this chapter is that God exists in the same space and time dimension as us.  I think that is completely false, and I think it would be preposterous for us to constrain him to that, so it follows that the rest of the discussion in this chapter is unnecessary.

A few nods, patient smiles.  My thoughts were generally ignored until the end, when one person circled back to my original point and agreed with my logic.  And I thought, “why did we bother with the last 75 minutes, then?”

If I’ve learned anything in all the years I’ve spent both in and away from church, it’s that I’m never going to agree with everyone.  I would be ridiculous to try to find that.  In fact, I think there’s a word or two for people who only put up with agreement: we could start with “tyrant” and “dictator”.

This is where patience comes in.  And listening.  I’m going to work really hard at listening to other opinions.  Who knows; I might learn to agree with one or two of them.  If nothing else, I’ll work on my ability to tolerate bullshit.

What’s the bottom line for how much we can disagree with a faith community and still be a part of it?  

What’s the threshold of trouble I’m allowed to cause by disagreeing?

How long can I bite my tongue before it falls off?