Monday, January 29, 2007

Generational Blind Spots

Today's entry is a guest column by Rev. Bob Thompson, President of Faithful & Welcoming Churches, a renewal movement in the United Church of Christ, and pastor of Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory, North Carolina.

The generational blind spots of history increasingly baffle me.

How could Jews of Jesus' day conspire to reject and condemn God's Son?

How could Christians in the Thirteenth Century conduct the Crusades?

How could Martin Luther and generations of German Christians after him justify anti-semitism, ultimately leading to the Holocaust?

How could white Southerners believe that first slavery and then segregation were consistent with their faith in Jesus Christ?

Another question haunts me even more. What blind spots of my generation do I harbor, reinforce, and perpetuate? I wonder where you and I are making unfounded assumptions about what God thinks that will prove indefensible in his eternal presence or even a few years
down the road.

Isaiah was right when he said, "We have turned every one to his own way." Human beings have an amazing capacity for justifying our own thoughts and actions. Our sinful nature, our political views and alliances, and even our religious gatherings all conspire to feed our sense of self-righteousness and self-rightness.

"Freedom of choice" encourages us to gather with others who think and act like we do. We separate ourselves into churches full of people who share not only our passions (thereby allowing us to get something done!) but also our blind spots. We remain unchallenged in our assumptions because we congregate with only those most like ourselves.

So what shall we do? We must learn to listen better. God is speaking to us, but our hearing is selective. We tend to listen only to that which reinforces what we already know to be true. How can we pay better attention to God?

First, we must listen to Scripture. Not only is the Bible God's authoritative and trustworthy self-revelation, the very fact that it was written by and to believers at a different time and place frees it from captivity to our generational blind spots.

Second, we must listen to other Christians. This is certainly true within our congregations, but we must also allow ourselves to hear God's Word through believers of other races, cultures, and denominations. Otherwise our reading of the Bible becomes only another way to reinforce our preconceived ideas.

Then we must listen to our spiritual ancestors. G. K. Chesterton said that true democracy gives voice and vote to tradition alongside those who are still living. When we hear our egos declaring that we are the first generation to get everything right, we only demonstrate our spiritual poverty.

We must also listen to our critics. While it is convenient to dismiss them or counterattack, more than likely there is at least some truth to what they say. We will ignore them to our peril.

Finally, we must listen to God's still, small voice. While conscience is subjective and can be seared or blocked, most of the time God is still trying to get through.

Together perhaps we can avoid the worst blunders of the past. Or maybe we can't – time and God will tell. But we can certainly try harder to listen.

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