Gray is the New Black and White

Taylor Culver is a recent graduate of Northwestern College, interning with us this summer in Chicago.

One of the greatest challenges for me in reconciling the components of faith and sexuality was finding a balance between having a concrete answer and living despite the questions I had and still have. As our associate director, Michael Kimpan says, “We are a culture obsessed with answers.” This need for certainty can quickly become consuming, and we open ourselves up to the possibility of drowning in our own desire to figure out what the right answer is to questions that we may never know the answer to.

I found this happening in my own life when I began the hard work of reconciliation. I just assumed that the right answer was out there, and I just had to find it. But if there were a right answer, why would the country and everyone around me be so divided? If there were a clear answer, wouldn’t it be easy to convince people, to convince myself? This is true for a number of politically charged questions. There is no simple answer. So what do we do? How do we be so sure about things that seem so gray? Do we need to be sure about these things?

In my last blog post I mentioned a quote by a professor from Northwestern College, and I’m going to mention another quote that I heard from a different professor that I think fits this context well. I heard it first in my capstone faith integration course for my Psychology major.

The professor said, “The only thing we can be absolutely certain of is that we are wrong about most things.”

I remember being so humbled after I heard that for the first time. Can you imagine if we started living by this quote as a culture? As a country? As a Christian community? If our attitude could shift from one of intellectual and moral superiority to one of humility and acknowledgement that we may be wrong, our interactions with others who are different from us would look drastically different. If we approached the questions of the world not with conquest in mind but with humility, we might discover that this search for answering questions in a right and wrong way has, in fact, led to the many divisions we have today.

Maybe if we lived in this humility we could recognize that the most important thing about being a human being, a politician, a Christian, etc. isn’t that we have the right answer or the best answer. If our pursuit of an answer or our answer itself drives us away from the two greatest commandments: loving God and loving others, then maybe we should reconsider whether or not this answer is so important. Maybe when we stop being consumed with having right answers, we can finally love others where they are at, we can love without having an agenda, we can love because we share the identity of being created in the image of God.

I’m not suggesting that we should not or cannot have answers. We need some framework and foundation for living, but maybe we shouldn’t determine the character or quality of an individual by the answer they give or don’t give to big controversial questions. In my short life, I have realized that people’s experiences hold more meaning than the concrete answers we find in the news, books, and other sources.

Samantha Bender, an intern at To Write Love on Her Arms, says this in her recent blog post:

“Sometimes, people deserve something other than my carefully crafted explanations can provide. Sometimes, circumstances are more profound, more intricate, than we could imagine.

“Because the world and all its complexities—its wars, famines, genocides, tragic events, and natural disasters—deserve more than simple explanations.

“Because humanity, in all its beauty and devastation, deserves more than concrete answers. Our lives call us to cast aside our simple answers and to look for the stars behind the dark clouds, even if that means we have to sit there for a while.”

- Samantha Bender, TWLOHA intern 2013

So let’s rest and be okay with not knowing, with living in the gray; it just might be in this space that we can finally find peace. Maybe this reformation away from having concrete answers will be a space where we can all, as a united body, experience the fruits of the spirit.

When I found this peace, when I lived the questions, when I lived despite not having an answer, I found something new and beautiful about God that I never knew I was looking for. I found that God did not require that I have all the answers, but rather God was inviting me to trust and love God and God’s people despite uncertainties. I discovered that these two things were more important than any answer.

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org

About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • http://thetension.info/ Stephen Doxsee

    Great post! A little humility goes a long way.
    Question though…is it “absolutely certain…that we are wrong about most things?”…and if we answer “yes”, we’re probably wrong? ;)

  • Kasey Summerer

    First, I appreciate your thoughts. While we must have the humility to admit we are wrong sometimes, is this an excuse for not seeking truth? If this had been the case, how would the orthodox faith, that has been passed down to us, have been framed and transmitted? Theology is by definition faith seeking understanding. To stop seeking truth, or worse, stop caring about what is truth, one has lost sight of one of God’s primary qualities and the desires of his heart. Yes, some have dogmatically used truth to deface the image of God in those who forsake a Godly life, but when we have divorced truth from love, we have consigned ourselves to be immature Christians (Eph 4:14-16) and are in fact not loving others because we would rather they like us than to preach truth lovingly (which is by nature offensive to those who walk in darkness) and perhaps see God save them. Paul talks about this same forsaking of truth that will mark the end times in 2 Thes 2:9-11. To give a practical illustration: So say a man is in an airport in a foreign country in which he does not know the language, running late because he just got off a plane, and he does not know which plane is his connecting flight that will take him home. It just happens that a man walks up that knows both his language and the one of the airport, so the man asks him, “Which flight takes me home?” The man with a sweet manner about him says, “Oh I have great news…any of these planes will take you home.” Grateful, the man jumps on the first plane he finds, but unfortunately ends up in a different country further away from home than he was before. In the end the traveler decided that the man in the airport really didn’t love him, but instead deceived him because he knew the truth about which plane really led to home.

    • http://thetension.info/ Stephen Doxsee

      Hi Kasey. Valid concerns. I was chatting with a friend of mine yesterday about just this kind of thing. We found it helpful to get into specific examples and how we’d teach/discuss those issues. Although we thought we were in disagreement (originally), we actually ended up seeing things similarly when we discussed specific things (and learned from each other!). Do you have any specific issues or concerns in which gray is problematic?

      • Kasey Summerer

        First, I definitely agree with you about finding the common stasis in conversations like you had with your friend. That being said, with limited time to write, I’ll make both a general and specific comments. In general, there are a large number of Gen. Y Christians that need to be careful about how far they allow post-modernism to affect their way of thinking. I have seen too many young adult Christians who have let the idea of relative truth rule over holding an orthodox view. For someone to deny that scripture is inerrant and or that its words don’t apply to today is ignorantly blaspheming God and holding a heretical view. Unfortunately too many go that far in thinking that they are “progressive” or thinking outside the box, etc. in an effort to be more attractive to the general public. Truth be told, if a Christian stands for what Jesus taught, it often will be offensive to the general public because who wants to hear that there is a just and righteous God who demands perfection and that in the sinful state most are in, they are on the road to being condemned to hell. That’s pretty much a slap in the face to a lot of people. But that’s also the reason the gospel is such incredible good news; that despite all our junk in our lives God made a way for us to be with him eternally by trusting Jesus in his death and resurrection for salvation! That is the truth…so utterly offensive and yet such incredible good news if you will only turn to him. Another thing our generation fails often on is conveying the truth that trusting Jesus requires repentance, that is the turning of our minds so that we follow him and obey him. Most mistakenly think of repentance as…ok, now be good; that’s completely wrong. It is rather the changing of our minds and hearts so that we are compelled to obey him, not by force but out of love for him and what he has done. That being said…and probably I was plenty wordy…too many think that I can’t tell people that because they won’t like it. Some probably not, others will receive it with tears and joy. The Christian’s job is not to convince people with elegant speech but to faithfully tell people the truth about Jesus Christ and let God work in people’s lives, whether to bring them to faith or to leave them in their hard-heartedness. So that’s the general picture. In specifics, their are to many philanthropic minded Christians that desire to comfortably do good things for others, but then they abort the whole purpose by never telling people that the reason they did it was because of the way Jesus has radically changed their life. The Christian cliche, “preach the gospel and if necessary use words, carries truth in one aspect…simply the way we live in order to earn the right to tell them truth, but on the other hand has become a poor excuse for many not to tell people about Jesus and the truth about who he is. So coming back to the question of gray. Gray is where a large part of the world is; many hope that they can do enough good to overturn the bad they have done…welcome to not only semi-atheism but to most of the world’s religions. First, as Christians, we must not be afraid to reach down into the gray to meet people where they are at; the love them as Christ does, but also proclaim the truth to them in love. Second, and just as important, when we go down into the gray, we must have an understanding of what is black and what is white so that we can point them in the right direction; otherwise we become as tasteless salt and invisible light…that is worthless. A final note: While we won’t know every truth until we get to heaven (and I hope most of the readers have decided to follow Christ so that I will see them there), but not being able to know all truth should not detract us from seeking out God’s truth, because in doing so we have given up on trying to know God better and to miss out on all he desires to show us in this life. I pray that this may bless you, whether you agree or not. My desire is not to pick a fight but rather encourage anyone who would hear to run after God wholeheartedly.

  • Jerry Lynch

    To go into any moment with an ache for deeper discovery and to look with wonder, aware that profound mysteries lurk in every soul I meet and along the path we journey. Beginner’s Mind.

    Love makes the heart of the matter and the person of primary importance, and both are hidden, unknown, demanding questions, not answers. It is not directly the issue or situation before me–that I may be quick to rule on from my past experiences, education, beliefs, and values–but the pain and longing, beauty and wisdom beneath the surface that beckons my attention.

    The present is always exotic: the greatest damage I could do to that environment is to pave it over with what I know.

    • Jerry Lynch

      Truth can only be found in the moment and carrying It as a collection of facts will make me too fat to pass through the narrow gate into the present. Passage into the moment, into truth, can only be accomplished if I BECOME as a little child, wholly dependent not on what I know but upon the father.

      Truth is not my knowledge about God but in becoming the love of God, an open conduit of the divine. All my past experiences, education, study of the Bible, beliefs, and values does not give me the necessary Eternal Perspective. To have the eyes to see means abandoning me. I am to become a means with ends. To treat truth as my knowledge about God is not unlike treating breathing as the knowledge of a past inhale: it will not fill my lungs now.

  • Anthony Venn-Brown

    when I began living in the mystery and no longer needing answers to everything suddenly my faith increased and my God became bigger…..no longer limited by the restrictions of a human mind.


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