” Jesus did not sugar coat his message because the Jewish elite might be offended. He was not willing to change God’s message because some might feel left out.”
I can still remember when I entered college and had my first religious studies class. I was a naive young “cradle Catholic.” I had no idea that there was more than one way to see the Bible. The teacher asked us to reflect on the story of Jesus walking on the water. I thought it through and wrote eloquently about Jesus’ divinity as Son of God and all. The next class, the teacher, explained the water was a metaphor for chaos. Jesus’ walking on the water was symbolic of his control of chaos. Well, that burst my bubble! I was always quite sure that there was only one way for the Bible to be seen and explained. Now I had to incorporate this new information into my theology.
What do we do when we face the new and “politically correct” demands of our society. We can no longer “call a spade a spade.” It has to be filtered through a new set of lenses and the information polished so as not to offend anyone. As ministers how do we accomplish this task and remain faithful to the gospel message? Jesus did not sugar coat his message because the Jewish elite might be offended. He was not willing to change God’s message because some might feel left out. But we are in a different space and time. We have to consider these issues when we preach the Gospel. And if we do not consider them we risk our message falling on deaf ears. I know a priest who was raised in a segregated town in the south. His views of race relations are quite different from mine or, I am sure than many others. He is faced with the reality of working in the western U.S. and having to voice a message of equality, acceptance, and love which at times is opposed to his personal experience. What can he do to change his views, to catch-up with the world around him? What types of questions must he ask himself in order to alter his perceptions?
- What are those around me saying about race relations? Sexual orientation? Gender? What beliefs do I take exception to? Are my opinions based on my limited experience or view of the world? Are they a result of what someone else has told or taught me when growing-up?
Many of the convictions we hold are colored by our upbringing. We “buy the package” we have been presented as children. An example for me has always been the view my family and friends had that people of color were ”less than” we were. They were less intelligent, less careful of their property (“don’t let one move into my neighborhood”), less clean or less holy. I have asked myself many times; especially when confronted with people who are “more” holy, intelligent or clean than myself, “Where did I get that idea?” or “where did that come from?” These accepted notions have to be confronted in the light of and adult life experience. The demands on our time and “politically correct “ views of current society force a re-evaluation of these long held, and often unconscious, points of view.
- Does it make sense to continue to buy this or that concept? If I know better by experience, why am I still acting out of that out-dated belief system?
It is interesting to me that we continue to harbor the same beliefs even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Often in my life, I am faced with facts that do not match the situation in which I live. For example, the church treats women as different in that they do not have access to certain ministries in the church. Yet scripture clearly calls for no difference between “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.” (Galatians 3:28)
How do we reconcile these differences? We can accept the position of the hierarchy and explain away scripture or vis a versa. If we are to profess a mature adult faith, we must struggle with these inconsistencies in our experience. We must sort out the messages God is giving us and continually grow past old, out-dated information.
- Is our world still flat? Have we explored and found new ground in our faith lives?
Columbus expanded his horizons because he was looking outwardly. He had a vision that something more existed. We are often faced with the “flat” faith structure of many Catholic Christians. They were taught something in catechism 20 years ago and still uncritically hold those beliefs as adults. In our role as pastors and ministers, there may no longer be a clear “black and white.” Many issues now are shaded gray by the social and theological landscape. No longer are there Baltimore Catechism answers to every question. God may very well reveal her/himself to each Christian in many and varied ways. How do we allow for a plurality of options, a multitude of visions and a variety of roads to God?
Just as each of the original Apostles saw Jesus through diverse eyes, each present day disciple stresses differing aspects of God’s forgiveness and love. Without keen awareness of our blind spots, we will see the world as flat and never discover new territory.
Bryan Silva, OMI, PsyD is a psychologist and priest with over 25 years experience in counseling. He is currently professor of pastoral counseling at Oblate School of Theology.