Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Open to Correction

"...do not harden your hearts."  -- Hebrews 3:15, echoing Psalm 95:8

When Jesus began his ministry, according to Matthew, he told people to, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."   According to Miriam-Webster, "repent" means, "to dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life...to feel contrition."  When Jesus asked people to repent, he was asking them to turn to God with an open, pliable heart.  This has always been the first step on the road to God's kingdom.  Why?

The world can only change one person at a time.  In order for the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, to become a reality, we need to be in a deep and lasting relationship with God, as individuals.  For only then can God teach us what we need to learn.  The only way for us to be in a deep and lasting relationship with God is if we open our hearts and minds to God, completely.  We cannot open our hearts and minds to God and hope to keep some things secret, as if God does not already know everything about us.  Thinking that we need only acknowledge the good parts merely delays the kingdom of heaven from becoming a reality to us.  We must acknowledge all the negative stuff, as well.  This is difficult.  For, once we acknowledge the negative stuff, we know we will have to change.  Being open to correction and changing our ways are both  extremely difficult.  So, even though heaven is within reach, we sometimes harden our hearts, instead.

It seems to me that maintaining an open, pliable heart is the key to living in relationship not only with God, but with other people, as well.

We are all called by God to live in community with one another, to love our neighbor as ourselves. But, we often live among people who are very different from us, even complete opposites to us in their thinking.   This is true in our casual relationships, our working relationships, and our most intimate, familial relationships.  Conflict is the natural, and necessary, result.

Now we can turn away from those who think differently than we do.  We can even refuse to communicate with such people.  But this is classic heart-hardening behavior.  And, unfortunately, whenever we harden our hearts, we are in the wrong.  Always. 

God made us all different for a reason.  No one person gets it completely right.  No one person gets it completely wrong.  Within each of us there is some truth.  Those who think differently from us, especially at the opposite end of the spectrum from us, provide a necessary balance to us.  As we provide a necessary balance to them. The problem comes when we refuse to stay in community, when we refuse to listen to that which is so different from us, or when we think that there is no common ground between us.  There is always common ground for our most important disagreements, though finding it may be difficult, and will take time.  That common ground is where the truth is found.  As I once read, I think from Confucius:  If right were truly right, there would be no reason for argument. 

In order to find that most important common ground, the truth, we have to be willing to listen to the person who is so different from ourselves.  And we have to be willing to express our truth to that person as well.  This kind of dialogue can only happen when we respect one another as equals, when we are certain that some common ground exists between us, and when both parties are open to correction.  All too often, however, our response is to walk away, to think that we alone have the truth, to isolate ourselves from that which is in opposition to us.  To do this, or think this way, we harden our hearts.

Jesus, and God, however, always show us the way, the truth, and the life.   The Bible contains stories of both Jesus and God speaking words of correction, and being open to correction.  Just think of the way the Syro-Phoenician woman changed Jesus' thinking.  Just think of the way Moses, and many others, changed God's thinking.  We, too, must also be willing to stay in community with those who think differently from us, always respecting one another as equals before God, and always open to correction and to correcting, .

So, next time you find yourself in a disagreement with another person, patiently stay in community with them.  Keep talking.  Keep listening.  Keep seeking the common ground between you.  Do not be afraid of correction, or of correcting.  Keep your heart pliable.  Do not give up, though it is extremely difficult.   This is the path of love. 

Dear God, keep my heart open and pliable to your word so that I may hear in it the correction I need.  And give me the courage to speak your word, as well, to all those whom you want to hear.


Doug said...

Oh boy, have you ever opened up a delicate subject. We chatted a bit about this matter at men's breakfast this morning. My struggle is this. My close knit group of friends discuss politics often. Their idea of a discussion is centered on negative comments and criticism. I often remain silent until asked for comment. When I speak I work hard at avoiding criticism, generalisms, and negative comments. This usually shuts the dicussion down. Plus my non-critical comments are often seen by them as disagreement which they then try to justify their position. I listen but do not engage in argument as my desire is not to argue or prove anything. Many of these friends are faith based, strong believers, good people, yet it befuddles me why they feel the need to be so critical and judgemental of others. I guess to a certain degree it should make me feel good to close down discussions filled with negativity, criticism, and generalities but it doesn't. I would feel better if my friends understood I accept their opinions, even though I wish the comments were without criticism, and wish they could accept mine at face value as well. Sheesh.

Pamela Keane said...

Dear Doug,

You raise a very specific case which is exactly where these kinds of decisions have to be made: how do we become examples of Christ in our relationships with people who are so different from us? The most difficult part is not judging or criticizing, which you seemed to have grasped. Probably the second thing to learn is how to ask questions that probe another person's understanding. When we seek to understand another person's thinking, we may discover that they have some measure of truth. In turn, they may seek to understand us better, as well.