Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Personal Story (with Rich) - Part 1

Trev:
I am hesitant about speaking of my religious views. It feels a little like talking about an ex girlfriend in public. I get quite emotional when I start even contemplating the existence of the God I believed in growing up. I also know that God is very important to lots of people I care about. They talk publicly about God. They believe that if I don't believe, that is a very big problem. I worry most about what the older members of my family think. It is easier to just avoid the subject. My youth pastor growing up is someone I have been reconnecting with through mutual interests in online discussion. He asked... So it is time for me to wade into that uncomfortable area.

Rich:
Trev, I love the fact that we can chat about this, so many years later. I remember so much of that early faith journey of yours. It was an epic time in my ministry... a purple patch of sorts. Leading a bunch of teens along a path that (I still believe) is central to our existence... "setting them up for life"... what a rush!! Loved those people and those times. I look back now and (I know for a fact that) most of those teens are not connected with church anymore. For a long time this was very painful to me... I guess we both share massive emotions around this issue. Having said that... I truly believe that the space between us in this conversation is a safe space.

Many moons ago at the Westville Baptist Church

Trev:
I am not sure where to start. I was always a curious little guy and not one to leave stones unturned. I looked for consistency in things and a story that resonates. Before diving into my story, I do think faith is deeply personal. It is the whole reason the Church evolved from something where people were told what to believe to a place where they figured it out themselves, with help. I don't think it is a coincidence that various faiths, and people who aren't religious, are still able to have fruitful conversations about the things that matter. Discussions of morality, law, communication and living a good life can be done independently of our own personal stories. Though our stories add flavour.

Rich:
"I do think faith is deeply personal". Trev, trying to latch onto what you are saying in that statement (though obviously I agree with the sentiment at face value). If I understand correctly, you are stating that we all have an inner reservoir of experience/hope etc. that reaches for the faith tool to be explained/understood... did I understand you correctly? If I did get you, you then throw (seemingly) a curve ball to say "discussions of morality, law (etc)... can be done independently of our own personal stories" Can you expand a bit on the "deeply personal" and "independent of personal stories" tension please.

Trev:
Historically religion has often been used as a tool for controlling the masses. Telling them the 'truth' independent of their context. People pushed back, e.g. the Protestant movement in Christianity, to say there is a direct relationship with a higher power. For me, whether you are religious, spiritual, atheist or whatever, that's your own bag. Find a story that resonates for you and lets you fill the gaps. Independently of that story, the stuff we have to wrestle with is how to function as a society. Law, ethics, morality and building of communities is very tangible. The stories may add flavour, but we have to come to a common ground and that requires flexibility and tolerance.

Rich:
I fully agree with a major aspect of what you are saying Trev... every person is called to act according to their conscience. Each of us can/ should only do what we think is best and right. Having said that, the story we might find ourselves in, may not permit complete autonomy (though we will fight for it to the bitter end). If in fact I do have a relationship with an Eternal God, I had better find zones in which I simply fall in line with His reasoning, or I am in danger of simply creating a god in my own image. This would imply that although there will be much common ground (which we should celebrate and accentuate) there may also be significant and irreconcilable differences. What do we do with those?

Trev:
I don't know. But I do think the question of how to deal with irreconcilable difference is easier than how to convince people to believe what we believe. Even if it requires pragmatic hacks. It stops us debating and starts a conversation. The point becomes a philosophical, psychological, legal or social science one. How do we create a society that allows people to live meaningful lives as individuals, as communities and as neighbours? Faith then becomes a thing of beauty. Not a thing of division.

Rich:
I love the thought of us being able to focus (massively) on unity, conversation, togetherness and to live life from that basis. To describe that approach in terms that my "tribe" would relate to, we should all work really hard at discovering the image of God that is to be found in every person we meet. Their opinions, actions, perspectives etc. could easily be laced with something from God that we have forgotten/are ignorant of. So how does all this relate to the fact that you were once part of my tribe... but have now chosen not to be? ;-)

Trev:
If a tribe is the people who agree, have had the same journey, and will respond to life's challenges in the same way, we are all in tribes of one. If we expand the definition of a tribe to those who would benefit from looking after each other, we are all in one tribe. From my perspective we are in the only tribe there is. I know I certainly agree with you on things that are important, that some people from "your/my old" tribe disagree with. Disagreement shouldn't divide. We can develop language and culture that frees us from the lottery of geography, genetics and circumstance of our birth. We are better than tribes.

Rich:
Trev, I have been learning so much (from you) about the best type of open-mindedness I have heard verbalised. It is an awesome sedative (more than that) in a world of bullying, condemnation and manipulation. Nevertheless, I battle to settle with the idea of trying to convert someone (as tough as it is) as an unloving act. An example; I have a couple of friends whose commitment to work is so high that it concerns me massively. I have seen this film and know how it ends... for their family, marriages and their health. I could choose to celebrate their high work ethic or their sense of loyalty... but I believe I should call a spade a shovel and ask them (nicely) to "convert". It is a gift a friend should offer. I cannot help myself... I will always hope for the opportunity to once again lead my buddies from a bye-gone era back into a connection with God. It is (I believe) the most loving gift I can offer.


--- [being continued...] ---

My first guest conversation with Richard Erasmus was on 'Better Interacting'
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