Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Show Your Work

Remember that annoying little note your math teacher use to write on your homework in red ink? The one that indicated that she might possibly be on to the fact that you were bright enough to discover the answer key in the back of your textbook? The one that insisted that for some ridiculous reason she wanted to know how you actually got to your answer, when you were perfectly content with simply the answer itself? 

Show your work. 

Now, sometimes there were legitimate reasons for not showing your work. Perhaps, the way your brain functions, the answer really was just that obvious, and you really did do all of the work in your head. Perhaps the answer was really, really tough to come by. Maybe after trying to get to the answer ten different ways on both sides of two pieces of scratch paper, you were just really, really happy to have an answer you felt confident in, and there was just no energy left over to neatly copy the correct solution process over to your worksheet. Maybe you WERE one of the na├»ve students who thought you were the only one who noticed the answers were printed near the glossary of the book. Maybe you simply forgot your teacher liked to know how you arrived at your answer, until her powerful red pen set forth to remind you. 

Show your work. 

Why aren’t the answers enough? Especially if they’re the right answers? 

Aren’t there more pressing issues in life then how I solved for X? Especially after I’ve already found X? 

But good educators want us to know how we got to a solution, so they know we know how we got to that solution, so we can get to future solutions, and so we can show others how to get to solutions, too. 

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I’ve been mulling over something RachelHeld Evans shared this weekend. Some girlfriends and I went up to hear her talk about her experience writing A Year of Biblical Womanhood. We drove up on Saturday, stopped to stuff ourselves on Central American food for lunch, rested, went to hear Rachel speak, took Rachel out to eat pie, went to bed, woke up, walked the prayer labyrinth at the local Benedictine monastery, and went to hear Rachel again before driving home. Whew.

The Sunday morning session was much less presentation and much more Q&A. Rachel received lots of interesting questions and did a good job of sounding confident and casual in her responses. One made me giggle because it’s one I get all the time – basically “Now that you know you’re allowed to preach and pastor and lead, are you going to go to seminary?” But that’s a post for another day.  

The topic that really stuck with my soul was her response to a question about… well, to be quite honest, I can’t remember what the question actually was. Maybe it was about how she views mainline churches as an evangelical… or what she’s learned from speaking in so many mainline churches around the country… or what advice she has for mainliners. Luckily, the question is beside the point. What held weight for me was not the question, but rather Rachel’s response.  

You see, over the past year, I have seen generic “invitations” from several well-meaning friends inviting all the wandering evangelicals to join their mainline congregations where they’ve already settled the issue of open communion, or women in ministry, or marriage equality, or divergent theologies coexisting at a common table. These were not poorly written, or badly reasoned, or even written in an off-putting tone. They were legitimate, sincere, compassionate invitations. 

Many of us former (or questioning, or conflicted) evangelicals appreciate the parish model of many mainline churches. We appreciate the practices observed behind your red doors and under your bell towers and steeples. We appreciate the rooted history permeating the aged wooden pews. (Those of us in the Bible Belt have also experienced mainline churches that differ from the evangelical churches in history and polity only, but operate with much of the same expectations.) 

We appreciate the slow work that has been done in community to come to many of the conclusions of the mainline churches. But we need more. We don’t just need your invitations to come under your umbrella – we need you to show your work.  

As Rachel pointed out, many young people in mainline denominations are invited by friends to evangelical events, where they are inundated with the “biblical” reasons against such-and-such belief or practice. I’ll let you in on a little secret: those of us raised in the evangelical church were raised to believe you came to your positions because you don’t care about the Bible and you just wanted to justify your sins. 

True story. 

It’s not enough for us to know you hold those truths to be self-evident. We need to know you struggled as we are now. We need to work out our answers on our own scratch-paper, but we need your legacy – we need to see your work. We need to know how you solved for X, so we know our process is part of a larger story.

What kind of conversations did you have? What kind of questions did you ask? How did the story of scripture inform your positions? 

I believe that scripture informs our decisions in the church through slow reading, in concert with the Holy Spirit, discerned and applied in community. I do not believe that mainline churches have reached their theological positions out of contempt for scripture or malice toward God. I believe their positions have been reached by being in local community with other believers, rooted in a history of engagement with scripture, listening to the stories of the people they are in relationship with, opening their hearts to the holy spirit, and discerning how best to apply the teachings of Jesus in our context.  

Here’s the thing: I believe the same thing about evangelicals. Though I do believe some newer communities pop up because they do not want to be confronted with the listening aspect (“We are going to break off & do our own thing, because we don’t want to listen to your story & have our beliefs challenged…”). 

Instead of simply inviting us to join you, because you’ve already answered our questions, point us toward resources. What books are out there telling the story of how you solved for X? Invite us to coffee – encourage us on our own journey, and tell us the story of your own. Listen to us – there may be things we’ve learned by going through our own process that may have fallen by the wayside of your path. Be careful not to come across as having already figured it all out – because, quite frankly, we’ve had enough of that. 

And don’t just do it for us, do it for your children and your youth and your wandering (or questioning, or conflicted) mainline prodigies. Share the stories of work that has gone into a communal understanding of the innate value of each and every member of the body of Christ… and, for that matter, the innate value of each and every creation of God. 

There’s a lot of hard work that has been done in the history of the Church. 

Don’t take that legacy for granted. 

Share your stories. 

Show your work.

6 comments:

erniebufflo said...

That work is the kind of thing they teach us about church history in our mainline confirmation classes ;) And in the case of my upbringing in the PCUSA, gets played out in the national news every time the General Assembly talks about sexuality.

David Williams said...

Darned tootin'. Having trundled my way through the PC(USA) ordination process, and as a lifelong old-line Christian, I'm immensely frustrated by our tendency just to say, "Gosh, it's a justice issue!" And yes, it may well be, but we need to go deeper. We need to say, no, here's where my position on women or on same-sex relationships is grounded in what is most significant about our faith. For same-sex relationships, for example, one of the most constructive things I've been able to do as a pastor is point people to both my own thinking and writing on the scriptural foundations for my position and to the thinking of those who've informed me. It says...I take this seriously. I have settled this, not from my squishy satanic leftism, but from the heart of an authentic walk with Jesus. So, yeah. Great post.

Carol Howard Merritt said...

Thanks so much for the post.

I grew up as a Southern Baptist, went to Moody, and became Presbyterian (USA). So when I invite people to my church, it's not because "we've got it all figured out and we've answered all your questions," (that must feel so demeaning...I'm so sorry that you've gotten that message).

It is because I know the heartache of the struggle. I know what it's like to write and teach while defending your right to do so. I know what it's like to hide in your room as a little girl, write sermons in your journal, and be told that you're a sinner because of that. I know what it's like to have a calling, from God, and be in a place where you can't say what you need to say, because you're spending all your time defending your right to say it.

It's incredibly painful.

I experienced a flood of grace when a Presbyterian pastor said, "I think you should go to seminary. You'd make a great pastor." And I want to share the grace that I received.

There are wonderful resources... depending on the topic. I just finished a book in titled, God, Desire and a Theology of Human Sexuality by David Jensen.

I'm always happy to help with resources... and I'm always learning from you and Rachel. So thanks...

Gabe said...

I often find it impossible to "show my work" to evangelicals, recovering or otherwise, because they so often insist that I do it on their terms. They want to know how I can justify the positions I hold while operating from their understanding of the Bible and its authority. I just can't do that. We're operating from very different starting points and very different foundational assumptions, and those just aren't going to mesh in a productive way. If someone wants to hear about what I believe and why, that's wonderful. If they want me to prove to them that it's okay to have certain positions when the Bible says X, Y, and Z, well... I'm not interested in that conversation. I left evangelicalism in part because I got sick of having to justify myself.

My body, my experience, my community, my history is the seat of my theology. If I have to place that seat elsewhere to make it work for someone else, it's going to collapse. And sadly, I find that's usually what people want me to do.

Gabe said...

I also realize that I'm speaking to something that's tangential to what you're talking about. I apologize if that's derailing.

Kimberly said...

Thank y'all for chiming in! I'm not use to getting comments 'round here. ;)

I am so thankful to be able to learn from everyone's experiences.