Weekend Assignment #54: Tell us all a single piece of wisdom you've learned from personal life experience. It can be a small thing, it can be a big thing, a simple tip or trick or the most important thing you've ever learned from life. But whatever it is, you should be able to state it in one sentence. That way people will remember it easier.
Extra Credit: Tell us: Would you have listened to your own bit of advice as a teenager? Be honest, now.
"Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not wrong in mine."
--the Doctor to his granddaughter Susan, "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," Doctor Who
Okay, I have a serious philosophical sentence, and a pet peeve one. So I'm going to do this assignment twice. This is the serious, potentially controversial one.
"I don't have all the answers--and I don't believe that you do, either."
Honestly, it drives me crazy that some people think that God used the Bible to lay out exactly what to believe, with no contradictions and no room for interpretation or discussion, and that the resulting Truth happens to be exactly what their pastor says. I usually agree with my pastor about most stuff, but that doesn't mean I think it's possible for any modern-day human to be a perfect conduit for the Truth, no matter how much that person studies or prays or both.
Back when I was a senior in high school, or maybe the following summer, I got a letter from my high school sweetheart, Dan Cheney. He'd just been to a Bible camp. He earnestly explained in the letter that he'd learned that there were no contradictions in the Bible, even in the minor question of how many times Peter denied Jesus and how many times the cock crowed afterward. The textual variations regarding this incident could all be explained away.
I was horrified that my friend, who used to idolize logical Spock from Star Trek, was now discarding logic to buy into this literalist view of the Bible. I now think I had a closed-minded, simplistic view of what was going on with Dan, but at the time I reacted as if he'd just joined a cult.
Now ordinarily, I enjoy wrangling with contradictions. Life is complex, and I agree with Walt Whitman:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
-- Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"
Life is complex, and people are inconsistent. They simultaneously believe in incompatible concepts, do things they know to be harmful to them, and change their minds in response to all sorts of things--or refuse to change their minds when reason requires it. It's only realistic to understand that people contain multitudes of contradictory impulses. This is probably a good thing, because it enables people to deal with paradox and ambiguity, and test contradictory ideas to see which ones pan out the best.
Dealing with contradictions can also be a lot of fun. As a continuity freak, I've been known to devise scenarios to explain away contradictions in Doctor Who (such as the three different origins of Atlantis) and Quantum Leap (when did Sam's dad die, exactly?). I've spent many hours thinking about such things, and become a bit of an authority on such fictional facts. But you know what? It's only a game, and it doesn't really matter.
For the big questions, where the answers matter, it must be acknowledged that learned people have studied the same information only to arrive at different conclusions. Who am I to say that Einstein, Luther, Calvin, Sagan, St. Teresa of Avila, Father Smith, Billy Graham, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Paul Little, St. Paul of Tarsus, Pope John Paul II, John Blocher, or anyone else got it exactly right, or even completely wrong? Yes, I agree with some of these people more than others, but I can only judge their ideas by my own knowledge and reason and experience and feelings and inspiration--or lack thereof.
So I don't believe you know exactly who or what God is or is not (who can comprehend the infinite?), exactly what the deal is with Heaven, Hell, reincarnation or any other posited afterlife, or whether that one really good Sermon with the Beatitudes in it took place On the Mount or On the Plain or both. I don't believe you know exactly why we're here, or exactly how your life will unfold. I have some ideas on all these subjects, and if you do too, that's great. If you're still seeking, still refining, that's even better. Either way, your beliefs don't have to match mine.
In case you're wondering, my beliefs are fairly conventional, at least for an Episcopalian; but they contain gaps and uncertainties. They probably always will. I'm okay with this, just as I don't mind your disagreeing with all or part of my world view. All we can do is use our minds and our hearts, and try to reach an informed opinion. The one thing I can't and won't believe is that God is going to say "Nyah-nyah, you guessed wrong. Now you're going to burn!"
And don't tell me that if I read the Bible I will finally know the Truth, and give up this heresy of mine. I do read the Bible, and I do go to church. But that doesn't confer infallibility, to you or to me. If you're completely satisfied that you're right and I'm wrong, that's fine. Just don't use that belief as an excuse to smugly assume that everyone who disagrees with you is going to Hell.
Would I have believed this as a teenager? Well, yes. Even during my Jesus Person period, I was pretty sure that nobody had it all figured out perfectly, including me. If they did, a classmate's parents wouldn't have tried to indoctrinate me against evolution, Fr. Winnewisser would not have left the priesthood, and that rally with Nicky Cruz at the War Memorial would have meant more to me than it did. It was obvious to me that none of them had it quite right.