Being right vs. being in right relationship
I’ve mentioned before that I receive Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily emails. They are an inspiration and full of great wisdom and faith. I was especially touched by email from Sunday. I’m sharing with you what he wrote in his email and my response below that.
“Jesus said, “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. . . . As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.”
—John 15:4–5, 9
“I want you to be honest: Would you rather have a friend who is always right or one who is in right relationship with you? I think I know the answer: We’d rather have someone who’s in right relationship with us. In fact, someone who’s right all the time can be pretty obnoxious. Would we rather have a friend who’s always correct or a friend to whom we’re always connected? Of course, we’d rather have the second.
“So why did we in the West seemingly change the rules for God? Many of us grew up thinking God wanted us to be right, to be correct, even to be perfect. What this passage in John’s Gospel is saying is that God wants people who are in right relationship, which means that we are open, and that we can listen to others with understanding and compassion. It means that we can admit when we’re wrong, which is almost every day for most of us. It certainly is for me.
“And yet we keep condemning ourselves and others for not being perfect, for not being right, for not being correct. This parable, really one of the most beautiful in all the gospels, tells us what God desires—simply that we remain connected, a branch on the vine, which is the love of God.
“Everybody seems to be trying to prove that they are right. We have almost a collective incapacity to admit failure, to ever admit that we are wrong, which makes us liars most of the time. Jesus is calling forth a very different kind of human being.
“Jesus says people who live the vulnerable life of connection and relationship will bear much fruit. These are the people we trust, like, and admire. And yet so many of us are afraid to be the very thing that we admire the most. How foolish human beings are! But again, Jesus has told us the way: he is the vine. We are the branches. None of us can be or need to be correct, but we can always be connected.”
Here’s my response:
Rohr makes a key statement in the last paragraph – Many of us afraid of the very thing that we admire the most. The question we have to ask is why? I think Rohr is making a false assumption – that many of us want what it is that we admire. I don’t think most people actually do. Mostly out of fear and how obtaining what we admire would actually change us and transform us. And change and transformation means we wouldn’t know and we wouldn’t be in control any longer (not that we’re actually in control to begin with).
Also, I think many people prefer a God who is concerned with being right. Because if all that matters is right and wrong, then there is no mystery. There are set boundaries that we can know. Boundaries around God. And then God isn’t vulnerable or interested in right relationship. God is more the professor who gives exams and grades harshly. God is the general who gives orders and expects them to be followed. God is the boss who sets the expectations and the employees either bust their butts to get it done, or find themselves unemployed.
These are controlling relationships often without any empathy. There’s no gray areas. No humanity. No uncertainty. No loss of control. It’s a distant, arms length relationship at best. It’s a relationship in which we protect ourselves from the other because we’ve been hurt too many times before. We fear being vulnerable and don’t want a God who is vulnerable. When we prefer protection, then we get to know and feel like we are in control.
But that’s not how God works. No matter how we spin God. God is vulnerable. How else to express the incarnation – the most vulnerable act ever. God isn’t interested in grading papers to see who gets 100%. God isn’t interested in unquestioning soldiers who just follow orders. God isn’t interested in impersonal cogs just doing their jobs. God created humanity to be in relationship, to be vulnerable. It’s time to grow up and put away childish ideas about God.