Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mixed Bags

Many of my students, when they write, default to outrageous fundamentalist party-line thinking. One student, for instance, wrote about how evangelical marriages are astronomically more successful than the marriages of "atheists" and "agnostics." Of course, that is patently false. Ironically, the source she cited for this statistic actually points to something the opposite being the case (citation). In addition to being an example of careless research, this student's writing betrays several moral faults bequeathed to her by her wider social context: arrogance and judgmentalism. Many of us share these same faults to greater or lesser degrees (for instance, just see how much easier it is for me to see the faults in this student rather than in myself!). Apparently, as George Barna has found out, "Faith has had a limited affect on people’s behavior . . ." (same citation). These faults--and that statement by Barna--are things for us to mull over. But that's not my point here.

The point is this. My students are mixed bags. In the very same paper, this student wrote:
It is a crazy idea to think that perfect love dwells in every living soul on earth. That even atheists and agnostics have the same perfect love settled in them as any other religious individual, including Christians, Muslims, Buddhist, etc. Now this off the wall proposal may have your mind boggled, but its so true. Lets first look at this thesis from a Biblical standpoint. The Bible clearly defines in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love.”
This is not arrogant or judgmental but beautiful, not the party line but a spiritual insight. This shows me that my students are mixed bags, which--and this is what I'm getting at--gives me hope because I realize that I too am a mixed bag. We all are. When that part of myself manifests which is not any better than the arrogance of the party line, whatever the party, I may have the grace of knowing that that is not all of who I am. Our selves--the selves we live as day to day--are heterogeneous mixtures of good stuff and not so good stuff. We will continue to be this way until we are fully reconciled with God who is already within us, until we are no longer divided. As long as I'm not perfect, I am grateful to God that I'm not all bad.

Thomas Merton says, the person "who hates the division in himself [or herself] is already beginning to be free.” St. Paul says:
And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. (The Message)


living stones said...

I wouldn't have admitted this a year or so ago, but I think I'm finally ready...I too am a mixed bag. I, like Paul, (the New Testament Paul that is) "do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do" (Romans 7:15). I have more questions than I have answers, often say too little, or even worse, too much, and do in fact live a life of contradiction, or even fragmentation at times. Despite all of this, “inwardly [I am] being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).
I really liked the other verse you chose from 2 Corinthians and of course, the quote by Merton. Thanks for reminding me that a mixed bag like myself is not alone!


Bill said...

This morning during centering some thoughts that are somewhat along these same lines of defining boundaries came to me. To enter into life we each are to nurture, respect and engage our unique individuality. At the same time we are to nurture, respect and engage others. The author, C.S. Lewis, wrote mainly to set foundations for Jesus followers but he specifically added that after the grand entry room of faith there were many smaller rooms. Those smaller rooms include Roman Catholics, Orthodox (various varieties), Presbyterians, Methodists, etc. Each of us then needs to find a smaller room that uniquely fits us and enter that area.

While there are important either/or areas of life, this may be a both/and. Somehow, at the same time each of us is unique, is part of larger groups, part of all of humanity and to some extent part of all creation. As an example breathing came to me. Working from the largest commonality - all of creation breathes the same atmosphere – plants, animals, humans. Within that framework all humans share the common function of breathing. Then there is the uniqueness of Jesus followers who recognize pneuma (breathe) as the Holy Spirit, one of the Trinitarian aspects of God. Then within that there are those who pay more attention to the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as Charismatics or Pentecostals.

As I continue to reflect on these three frameworks of humanity, I find that instead of initially arguing with someone’s perspective I can first of all clarify for myself which level of commonality they are engaging at that moment (Humanity, Jesus follower, theological uniqueness within the Jesus followers). I can then respond to the person with that in mind and not be as concerned about making sure they have all their jots and tittles correct. This frees me to engage with others where they are and to pursue my own unique calling within the scope and sphere of all of humanity.

RC said...

I love this post by Paul, and I love the comments above by Jennica and Bill. It means a lot to me to be journeying together into God with this kind of humility and wisdom being shared among us. I am encouraged, strengthened, and excited.

Rehoboth said...

Paul, I can really relate to the difficulty the students have in deprogramming themselves from the fundamentalist way of thinking. It is beautiful, though, when we can clearly see those glimpses of truth - the work of the Holy Spirit - coming to the top like cream. What a cause for rejoicing!


living stones said...

"Mixed Bags" you say. Yes,I say and nod my head. Even today my own "mixed bagness" reminds me God is in no hurry. The best part is "...our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him." I'm encouraged and hopeful. Thank you--Anna

Matt said...

I bow my head to all of you knowing that you are all bodhisattva.
What you have brought u Paul is why I appreciate St. Augustine so much--we are squirrly creatures... But what this advent Season should recall to us is that we are mixed bags--But God came to live with us, and be with us. Finally, Jesus returned to the father and took something of what it means to be human/creaturly back to God. So, for some reason our mixed-ness (if you like) is something that even God draws unto himself with all of creation. What a great gift to be clay.

Philip Gilbert said...

Would you agree that Paul was gay?

Matt said...

That's an interesting question, but one that I think has little or no historical basis. Certainly one might take the words from 2 Cor. 4:16 and read some "closeted code language." However, one must understand that the question of sexuality was less of a cultural taboo in Greco-Roman culture, so I believe that it would be far less advantageous for St. Paul to either be evasive about his sexuality, or so out-spoken against it if he were homosexual (especially as one who is preaching to Gentiles). Also, I think if we are looking for historical evidence of St. Paul's sexuality, one could not truly use 2 Corinthians because most scholars understand it to be a compilation of more than one Pauline letter. This leaves us without enough strong evidence to base a claim such as yours, Philip, without a clear resource. Interesting point, though.

Joy said...

Professor Corrigan,

Thank you for this beautiful and encouraging post. We are all mixed bags, fragmented pieces of glory intermingled with filth. But this does not negate the presence of God within each one of us. Until we can find peace within ourselves in light of our internal division, we will not be able to allow God’s image within us to do His redemptive work.

Learning to accept the paradox of being a sinner and the bride of Christ is a challenge, especially to a recovering perfectionist like me. Since I’ve been practicing (or at least, trying to practice) centering prayer, I’ve been learning to accept my own futility. Thoughts and distractions barrage my mind; I’m constantly re-focusing on my prayer word, can hardly get beyond the word. But instead of getting sideswiped by my incessant mind and beating myself up, I’m learning to let it go. To move on. To forgive myself, accept His peace, and be fully present in the newness of each second, pregnant with God’s being. As Paul says, “I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 The Message).

In His love,

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