America Doesn’t Need Unity. It Needs Marriage Counseling.

Has anyone else listened to the current political debates playing out on social media and feel that it all seems familiar? Not as is “this argument happened last time,” but some thing even closer to home than that? Am I the only one that thinks the two sides are beginning to resemble a couple in the midst of a divorce going at each other? And I’m not talking about the “oh, they are just drifting apart” kind, but the “should we get the police here before we have to call an ambulance” kind?

Yeah, America needs marriage counseling pronto.  And I say marriage counseling for a reason. When two people don’t get along, you don’t just tell them they need unity… they are already united whether they want to be or not (just like we are in America). You don’t let them blame external forces for dividing them. You tell them one thing: they need to sit down and listen to each other. And not just listen, but learn to practice what is called active listening:

According to experts in the field of communication, active listening means that you possess and have developed a specific kind of communication skill that allows you to fully hear what another person is trying to say.

There are many ways to do this, but the article that I quoted above lists five good places where America (aka “you reading this”) could start:

  1. Let your partner speak”This simply means that you should refrain from arguing your case until your partner finishes stating her or his position.”
  2. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes”During times of conflict, you should enter the conversation with specific goals of what you would like to learn from your mate – and not your talking points.”
  3. Don’t jump to conclusions”Even when folks are trying to listen, they sometimes assume that they know what their mate will say before the words can escape their mouth.”
  4. Ask questions”Avoid asking questions disguised as accusations. Instead, focus on knowledge that you truly need in order to better understand your partner’s position.
  5. Paraphrase what your partner says”Be aware there is a big difference between paraphrasing and parroting. In other words, don’t engage in a verbatim account or take on a litigious tone.”

Notice what this advice doesn’t say: “Quote Bible verses that say you should listen more than speak to the one you need to listen to” “Tell them that other factors are dividing you and there are the reasons why you can’t get along.” “Minimize their point of view by saying your point of view is just as important or more so than theirs.”

Look, I believe in unity. I believe in speaking in love and not hate. But too many times we use the ideas of unity, speaking in love, letting no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, we are all the same on the inside, the world is changed by your example and not your opinion, the media is dividing us so turn it off, etc to silence the other “side” rather than to actively listen to them.

To put this another way, even good responses can be the wrong responses when utilized at the wrong time or with the wrong intentions.

I hate to have to bring it up, but those in power usually use the concept of “unity” to force their political stance on those that they have power over. And even if you don’t buy that, any concept like “unity” has to be defined, and different people will have different definitions. If the goal is unity, then one definitive version of what that means will have to win out. And everyone else will be forced to follow the winner.

metamodern-faith-avatarTherefore, unity is not really a great goal at this point. Maybe someday, but not now. Besides, we have had unity forced upon us in America already. It hasn’t been working all that great, especially in recent years. We don’t need to ignore our differences, or even acknowledge them and then gloss over them in pursuit of one side’s view of unity. We need marriage counseling. We need to understand each other. We need to see each other as humans and not as sides to be opposed. To some reading this, that is unity. But to those that haven’t benefited from the majority’s view of “unity” so far in America, it is actually a much higher goal. Equality.

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Narcigesis (and other obscure big words used to attack progressives) are all Relative

An older term (“narcigesis”) has popped up again – from the root word narcissus mixed with eisegesis. Typically, any word ending in -egesis usually just boils down to “you believe something I don’t, so you are wrong because BIG WORD says so!” That is also the case with narcigesis, which I will copy this definition here for those that don’t want to click over to the link:

  1. The reading of one’s own life experiences and/or that of another’s life experience into the text of Scripture; the need to make the Bible all about themselves.
  2. An interpretation of Scripture based on the interpreter’s self-authority, particularly driven by self-esteem, self-actualization, mystical experiences and/or the interpreter’s “felt needs.” (See Sola Experientia.)
  3. A personal and/or mystical interpretation of Scripture based on the interpreter’s own ideas, biases, opinions, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, experiences, impressions, dreams, revelations, or the like, rather than based upon the plain meaning of the text.
  4. The reading of one’s own doctrinal theories into Scripture (as opposed to exegesis, which is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text or portion of biblical text), particularly as a result of personal experience. (See Sola Experientia.)
  5. Self-centered, self-defined and self-authenticating biblical interpretation, application and counsel.
  6. The reading of one’s own interpretation into Scripture based upon the egotistic belief that all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; and that only the learned, the elect, or the leadership elite (of which the interpreter considers himself), may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (See Plura Scriptura.)
  7. The egotistical drive to invent new theologies, doctrines, revelations, applications and philosophies about Scripture, often manifested in self-aggrandizement activities such as book publishing, conferences, setting up organizations and websites, money-making schemes and publicity drives.

As a very conservative Assembly of God Bible teacher once said, “anyone that claims that there is a ‘plain meaning of the text’ is not being intellectually honest about the complexities of translation.” Now, to be clear, It is not about having to be “learned, the elect, or the leadership elite” to understand, it is just that everyone that is not fluent in Greek and Hebrew has to rely on translators to know what scripture says, and those translators frequently disagree with each other even on key passages. And therefore, even if you know the languages, you still have to pick which of the various sides of these debates to go with on many scriptures.

In reality, what that means is 1 – 7 above are all relative. For instance, after college I took #4 seriously and set aside all the things the evangelical church had taught me, took a long, hard, exegesis / critical examination of the whole Bible, and ended up rejecting several evangelical teachings because of it. I had no desire to go that way, but exegesis led me to those positions. Yet many of my church friends from that time claim that I am reading my own experiences, stroking my self-esteem, self-centered, inventing new theories, etc. Current church friends of mine disagree – they think I am following the clear text. We usually label what we agree with as clear, and reject anything else as narcigesis or heresy or what have you.

In other words, Christians usually have to rely on their own feelings, their own understandings, their own theories, their own ego, etc in order to claim that others are doing the same. In order to prove that someone else is doing so, one has to pick a translation of the Bible first – one that is going to reflect the bias and ego of its translators and the side of various linguistic arguments those translators chose to follow. Then you are going to filter that translation through your own bias and feelings. Its pretty naive to say that we can get through all of these barriers and claim “plain meaning” as if all of these choices don’t exist and we speak as a direct conduit straight from God’s mouth.

metamodern-faith-avatarIn many ways, this link is like an organized list of how many of us have been judged, misunderstood, and ostracized for thinking critically about and ultimately leaving the realm of evangelicalism. Narcigesis is not the word we are looking for, it is a word that represents the last bits of modernism left in churches trying to judge postmodernist scripture interpretation even though it sorely misses the mark in doing so.