Monday, April 14, 2014

yes or no

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One of the popular ways we have of making decisions is to pit two options against each other; we list the pros and cons, we have a debate, perhaps we poke at both until their weaknesses become evident, and then we make a decision about which one to align ourselves with. If we are honest, we are rarely completely satisfied with either choice, but we find ourselves leaning towards one of them, be it a political party, a candidate for a leadership position, the house we buy, the vacation we go on, or the meal we order in a restaurant.

The difference between Yes and No is usually not as clear-cut as we imagine (or wish) it to be. In Quebec, we just had a provincial election which resulted in a change of government. To all appearances, the people changed from being sovereigntists to federalists. But that is not the whole picture. Quebecers did not radically shift their priorities in the last 18 months. Basically, the cost of being aligned with the Parti Quebecois became too high: the PQ's activities were seen as promoting instability and division instead of prosperity and tolerance.

At this time of year, we in the Christian church find ourselves retelling the stories of the last days of Jesus' life on earth. Part of this narrative is the fluctuating popularity Jesus experienced in the last week before his death. How could crowds cheer him on, hailing him as their God-ordained king as he entered the holy city of Jerusalem and several days later be calling for his execution? How did the enthusiastic Yes become a murderous No?

I think it is important to note two qualifications of the Yes regarding Jesus (and to some extent, the voting example). First, it is not unanimous. Though there were crowds that supported Jesus, not everyone was a fan of his, not everyone wanted him to establish himself as a king, and not everyone wanted him to bring the kingdom of God. Even among his followers, there were disputes and disagreements. Our situation is no different as followers of Jesus today. We struggle to find unanimity, both in the church universal and inside ourselves. We are conflicted people, inside and out.

Second, the Yes is conditional. People found it easy to go along with the miracles, the healings, the compassion he showed to the underdog, the food giveaways, and the fascinating stories. But when it came to identifying with someone who was suffering public humiliation and facing retaliation for his words and actions, the crowd's No votes began to pull ahead of the Yes votes. Though we may think we are 100% committed to following Jesus, we are no different from Peter who found it difficult to keep the No at bay under duress.

This is not cause for discouragement, not at all, but an invitation to embrace wholehearted living. Being wholehearted people is difficult, and one might be prone to think that it requires rallying more Yes votes (an exercise in willful, positive thinking) and quashing the conflicting No's (those nagging doubts we have). On the contrary. Sociologist Brene Brown talks about the need to embrace uncertainty as part of cultivating wholeheartedness. It seems contradictory in some ways, but when one sees wholeheartedness as related to faith, it begins to make sense. Brown quotes Anne Lamott who writes that "The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty." Rarely do we find ourselves in a position of being 100% certain of Yes or 100% convinced of No. Though we would love to have certainty, most often we find ourselves in the swampy territory in-between Yes and No. Brown also quotes theologian Richard Rohr who says: "We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we are people of 'faith'! How strange that the very word 'faith' has come to mean its exact opposite." Letting go of certainty means we become vulnerable to fear, to anxiety, to risk, to getting it wrong. But it is also the place where we find our "legs of faith."

Brown defines faith this way: "Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty." I believe that our desire to land with surety on Yes or No can be a hindrance to living fully, to loving wholeheartedly, and to cultivating trust and faith in God and in each other. Living between Yes and No is not so much a matter of going with the best option I have available but being able to trust in something beyond my own knowledge, my own reason, my own ability. Can I let go of Yes and No and instead, find my anchor in faith? in hope? in love?

I am leaning toward Yes on that.

Quotes taken from Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection (Hazelden, 2010), 90-91.

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