They sit in the seats at church next to us. They go to the Bible studies we attend. They attend school. They are our neighbors, friends, and relatives. They could be the person sitting next to you as you read this. They are people who have questions and doubts about what they are hearing in the world around them. They are questioning what they have been taught as kids, students and now adults. Yet they are too afraid to ask these questions, dig deeper, offer their perspective and/or explore the boundaries and edges of their faith and politics. They are afraid that they will be yelled at, unfriended, told they can’t ask that question. They are worried that they will be demonized, pushed to the side, rejected, called names, and shamed. They will be called a heretic or radical for merely asking the questions offering their ideas or thoughts. These people don’t fit in our usual boxes of a liberal, conservative, democrat, republican, believer or unbeliever.
Why are they so afraid? It doesn’t take much to look around our American culture to realize how polarized our country is today. People are picking sides, and both sides have resorted to name calling, demonizing and well, evil. The American culture is becoming a shame-based culture. It’s coming to the point where if you don’t believe the same way as a particular group you are shamed, labeled and discarded. If we are not careful with the words we use and the tone in our voice as we talk about people we disagree with us in faith and politics we will only drive people who have questions, doubts and want to have real, genuine conversations into the margins and into a dark place that can be overwhelming and lonely. Our words have consequences. There is a better way.
There are many people out there that need a safe place, a safe person to test the edges, the borders of their faith, beliefs, and politics. They have a thought, an idea, a different perspective on an issue, but their context, where they live, does not allow them to wrestle and talk about their beliefs. I’m not talking about the “safe spaces” on college campuses. I’m talking about people’s living rooms where deep, genuine conversations happen free from fear and shame. Where people can safely wrestle with their questions and doubts about spiritual matters and political issues such as; can women teach in a church and be leaders in their congregations, how women are treated in and outside the church, the role of evil, God’s heart for social justice, gun rights, pro-life/pro-choice, homosexuality, the after-life, etc.
Many are digging, searching, exploring, wondering, is there a better way through this life other than right or left? Is everything they have been taught and being taught really true? Is there really only two sides to our politics and religion? The only way we can know if we are believing a lie is if we dare to say it without fear of condemnation. To speak it to a person or persons we know that will love us and not condemn or shame us, even with our crazy ideas, thoughts or perspectives.
One thing Jesus never did was disregard people’s sincere questions or genuine seeking. In fact, he welcomed it. He honored and gave dignity to people who were willing to explore the edges, the frontiers of their faith with Him. It was the Pharisees that told people to shut up, don’t ask questions, and get in line. It was the self-righteous that called people heretics, shamed them, called them names, yelled at them, and threatened them. The reason why people do not find safe places and safe people is because they have seen what happens to people who do. They see people name calling, shaming people who have asked questions, dared to float a different perspective or made a statement that was contrary to someone’s perspective. They have seen “Christians” demonize the other side. Whether it is through social media, in the churches, in coffee shops or in the news, the tone and rhetoric are alienating a large group of people from wrestling with their questions, doubts, and perspectives. We all need to take a serious look at how we treat others through our words and tone because people are watching and considering if you are a safe person or not.
The question is which kind of person are you? The one exploring, the safe person who welcomes the explorer or the Pharisee who condemns the explorer? Chances are that if you are the one exploring, you can also be that safe person for others. If we cannot ask hard questions and wrestle with the deeper more complex things in life without fear and condemnation, we will settle for a sterile faith and a stagnant relationship with Jesus. When we claim that we have all or most of the answers about God and life, we cease to grow in our relationship with Jesus. Let’s face it, no one has all the answers, but together in safe places with safe people we can plumb the depths of the mystery of God and life where faith is required, and risk is expected. We can question modern day beliefs that seem to be contrary to scripture even though these beliefs are being held by other believers. When we step out in faith, seeking Jesus’ wisdom and understanding, we can trust that God will guide us into truth. Therefore, we have nothing to fear by asking questions.
I believe there are many other people out there like me, who want and desire safe places to explore and there are people who welcome others into our living room where it is safe to ask those questions we are too afraid to ask anywhere else, free from condemnation and full of love and acceptance. Every trip we lead to Mexico we invite people to ask those questions they usually wouldn’t ask anywhere else. We encourage them to doubt, question, offer a different perspective. We welcome everyone.
It is my hope and prayer that if your someone who has questions, doubts, or a different perspective you won’t give up seeking, asking, knocking. I pray that you will continue to plumb the depths of the mystery and love of God. I pray that you will find safe people where you can wrestle with the issues of our day free from condemnation and fear.
If you are one of those people, who cannot find a safe place to explore, wrestle, doubt, contact me. I’d love to hear from you.