If the Church embraced paradox with humility, it could have its cake and eat it too. I learned that in forty-odd years of potluck suppers.
When bringing food to a church dinner, I’ve found it’s best not to eat what I brought. It’s better to eat what others share and let others enjoy what I contribute. When I want to have some of my own cooking, I can always have the leftovers. And if you’re in ministry, you’re probably given leftovers of other people’s cakes as well. So, you can have your cake (and other people’s cakes) and eat them too.
The Church’s Paradoxes
For two thousand years, the church has embraced paradoxes like this. Well, maybe not quite like this. The church’s paradoxes seem a little harder to wrangle. Things like:
- God is three, and God is also one.
- The Church is Jewish, and the Church is Gentile.
- Lose your life if you want to save it.
- God is in Heaven, but God is here.
- Heaven is far away, but Heaven is here.
- Love the ones you hate; hate the ones you love.
- The one who wants to be great must become a servant.
- “Jesus is coming soon!” But it’s been 2,000 years. “Yes, but He’s coming soon!”
- Jesus, the Prince of Peace, said, “I’ve come not to bring peace, but a sword.”
- Take a yoke upon you if you want to find rest.
- God exalts the lowly and humbles the exalted.
- Strength is found in weakness.
- Salvation is through faith, not good works–but you’ll know a saved person by their good works.
Paradoxes are when two propositions that seem to be mutually exclusive occur at the same time. Recently, a commenter told me that my writing had some theological contradictions. Maybe–but I’d prefer to think that I embrace paradox with humility.
Christians Killing Christians
Theologians have been battling each other over such paradoxes since the beginning. When I say battling, I really mean warring. As in killing each other. Saul of Tarsus, who later became Saint Paul, started out as a persecutor of the church and a murderer of believers because of their doctrine. Such zeal has come down through church history so that nearly every generation has Christians killing Christians for what they believe—when maybe they’re both right.
What if the Church Embraced Paradox with Humility?
So, my question today is, “What if the church embraced paradox with humility?” What if the Church could have its cake and eat it, too? It’s a simple yet profound thing to be able to say to a hard question, “Y’know—I don’t know.” Instead of thinking we need to answer every hard question, maybe it’s better to say, “I’ll share my ideas with you, and I’ll receive some of the ideas you’re sharing with me—and we can both go home with our own stuff and also some leftovers.” Because in the church, you can have your cake and eat it too.
Collaboration, Not Competition
In high school drama class, we played a game called, “Yes, And…” It’s a simple game. Each person in a group presents a preposterous statement. The next participant’s response may inwardly be “No—that’s ridiculous.” But the object of the game is to say, “Yes, and…” You then present the next step, which may either normalize things or be an equally preposterous statement. An alternative way to play is for each participant to do a preposterous thing, and have the next player play off of that preposterous thing as if it’s normal, or in a creative new way. The object is to practice collaboration, not competition. The game may look like this, in a group of twelve participants:
- I was talking with my Aunt Betty, who is a fish. I love her so much!
- Yes, and she’s married to a lighthouse keeper.
- Yes, and she has twelve children.
- Yes, and one of those children is an astronaut.
- Yes, and he took me on a trip to the moon.
- Yes, and I ate some of the moon, which is made of cheese.
- Yes, and I love cheese!
- Yes, and I’m lactose intolerant.
- Yes, I am, too—but my doctor says it can be cured by standing on my head.
- Yes, and I do that while I’m in Yoga class.
- Yes, and your Aunt Betty is my Yoga instructor.
- Yes, and I love Yoga so much!
Cooperate Rather Than Compete
This might sound like a nonsense game, but it teaches players to cooperate rather than compete. Instead of reacting to someone else’s statement with an automatic, “No—that can’t possibly be,” this game encourages players to validate another person’s story and build upon it. If you want to change the overall narrative, that’s fine. Just redirect it without being confrontational. See how the story begins with love and ends with love? This is what happens when we honor one another’s story and perspective.
Forrest Gump and Paradox
In the beloved movie that bears his name, Forrest Gump addresses the paradoxical theological question of predestination versus free will. He says, “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floatin’ around accidental-like on a breeze. But I, I think maybe it’s both.” He embraces paradox with humility. He doesn’t have to declare one wrong to make the other right. In typical Gump fashion, he holds both to be true, and says, “Yes, and…”
Focusing On Each Other’s ‘Buts’
No matter what church you attend, you’re going to have people with different perspectives. We spend a lot of time arguing over who has the best theology, the best way of “doing church,” or “doing life.” It’s because we’re focusing on each other’s ‘buts.’ When we say, ‘but,’ sometimes we’re focusing on a problem that we have with someone else. Other times, we say ‘but’ because we anticipate other people’s objections and rejections. We spend way too much time focusing on these ‘buts.’
Instead, what if we played a game of “Yes, And…”? By doing so, we’d be more welcoming. We’d run fewer people away from the church with our opinionated ideas. We would embrace collaboration, not competition. It would look something like this: People would tell us a thing we aren’t sure about, and we would say, “Yes…and?”
- “I’m gay, but I’m a Christian.” We reply, “Yes, and…?”
- “I believe God is both Father and Mother.” We reply, “Yes, and…?”
- “I’m Buddhist, but I’m a Christian.” We reply, “Yes, and…?”
- “I’ve been both immersed and sprinkled.” We reply, “Yes, and…”
- “I’m an addict, but I’m a Christian.” We reply, “Yes, and…”
- “I’m female, but I’m a pastor.” We reply, “Yes, and…?”
- “The host is both bread and flesh.” We reply, “Yes, and…?”
- “I’m an Atheist, but I still want to attend church.” We reply, “Yes, and…?”
- “We’re living together, but we’re not married.” We reply, “Yes, and…?”
What if the Church Could Have its Cake and Eat it, Too?
What if the Church could have its cake and eat it, too? The Church tells us to accept paradox with humility in a lot of areas. We’re supposed to accept, without question, that God is three in one. That God is omnipotent and loving, yet bad things happen. If we can accept these paradoxes, why can’t we accept other paradoxes that people bring to our door? What if we embraced the advice of author and podcaster Carlos Whittaker, who says, “Don’t stand on issues; walk with people?” Instead of making people’s behavior, identity, or perspectives a problem to be solved, what would happen if we saw them as people to be loved? By embracing paradox with humility, we’d learn to say, “Y’know—I don’t know.” And perhaps, just perhaps, the church could have its cake and eat it, too.
For Further Reading, check out other articles in this series:
- The Climate’s Changing, So What if the Church…
- What if the Church Focused On Its Own Sin Instead of the Sins of Others?