Are these even the only two options that we have? Some would argue that. For the sake of argument, I’m going to say no, these aren’t the only two options.
I think there’s a whole range of options. Maybe a spectrum that we all fall on.
I know that sometimes we are more concerned with being right about something. Maybe it’s about religion, or politics, or something related to a job, or money, or something more mundane – like which way the toilet paper roll goes. People have left church over really stupid things – yes, stupid things, like the color of the carpet. At least it seems stupid to an outside observer. Of course the argument was never really over the color of the carpet, was it? No, not really. It was most likely about something else entirely, completely unrelated to carpet color. Old grudges that were never resolved. Or maybe control and power issues and fights. How funny that we fight about who is in control in our churches when we turn around and claim that to worship Jesus and say that we’re not in control.
Yes, sometimes our greatest concern is being right! I hear it on the radio. Everyone once in a while I’ll turn on talk radio just to see what is being preached at people for three hours a day, five days a week. The folks on the radio are pretty good preachers after all – none of their congregants complain that their sermons are too long (as much as I can tell). And no one seems to complain about the asking for money either – it happens throughout the three-hour long service each day on their programs. What? You think the proclamation of set an ideological beliefs that offers “salvation” to a nation isn’t pseudo-religious? Really? It’s got all the elements of a religion. There’s music, a preacher, a message, sins, sacraments, holy scriptures, an origin story, holy people (saints/heroes), bad people (demons/the enemy), a promised land, savior figures, sacrifice language, etc.
Anyway, back to my point – when I tuned it the other day for just a few minutes (about all I can handle), I heard the proclaimers of the message talking with certainty about the Chinese spy balloon and what they would have done about it. They were right! Because they knew. And oh how easy it is to know for certain when you are sitting in a radio studio and can talk about something like that without any consequence for your proclamations. You get to just be right.
But what about other options? Being right is the easy option frankly. It’s the lazy option really. Just make some statements, be certain, blame the other side, push people away and be done. Being right is all about a relationship with ideas. Supposedly. Although, not really.
There’s a difference between being right in math, and being right with ideas.
Being right in math is verifiable. You can check it and see if it adds up. You can test it. Others can run the problem and see that it works or doesn’t. It’s really void of emotion, it’s just fact based. 2 + 2 = 4. It’s either right or wrong.
Being right with ideas is much harder though. Especially after something happens. After something happens you can’t go back and test another option. For example – the Chinese spy balloon. The only thing that exists is what actually happened. Everything else that anyone else says about it is conjecture. Conjecture is defined as “Opinion or judgment based on inconclusive or incomplete evidence; guesswork.” (Source). In other words, we don’t know for sure. We could be right, but not necessarily. Once something happens, other events have taken place. You can’t go back and change it.
So much of politics, religion, relationships, and more live in conjecture. Because we’re dealing with people. Yet so many people make absolute statements about these things. They don’t match up.
Which is why I would argue that it is far more valuable for us to focus on concern for others, relationship, the building of community, than to focus on being right. Too often we confuse things. We think we should focus on being right with people, when we should focus on relationship instead.
Instead of the focus of being in relationship with ideas, our focus should be on relationship with people. Ideas should serve people, not the other way around. When our main concern is being right then we have made people the servant of ideas. We have made people the slave of ideas. We dehumanize people so that they can serve an idea.
Ah, but you may argue – isn’t Christianity an idea? No. It’s not. Not at its core anyway. Sure, there are plenty who practice Christianity as a set of ideas. And there are whole groups of people who concern themselves with who is right and who is wrong. But they miss the whole point. Christianity is the lived practice of following Jesus – the personification of God. Jesus took on flesh to become human. He was the Word made flesh. He wasn’t concerned with being right as the primary goal. He was first concerned with relationship with creation – all of creation. He was concerned with being in community with people, and setting relationships right between people and God and with one another (righteousness and justice – shalom).
It’s easy to be concerned with being right. Anyone can do that. Just make some statements and sound really certain about what you are talking about. But the hard work is being in relationship with people because people are messy and complicated and uncertain. Humans aren’t certain for the most part. And most of the world isn’t either. There’s more we don’t know than we do. We need each other. And that’s hard work.