to convictions should not prevent us from being open-minded
Dale Turner, Seattle Times columnist: June 12, 2004
Thousands of men and women are walking across platforms these early days of June to receive diplomas symbolizing the completion of academic work. Each year as I watch this ritual, I find myself hoping their learning process does not stop with that walk.
I hope the graduates will realize the entire universe is God's classroom and that we are all called to be continual learners. I hope, too, that if they have not already included it they will not miss opportunities for spiritual growth.
As Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote about 180 A.D.: "It's a shameful thing for the soul to faint in the race of life while the body still perseveres."
Whatever else we learn in life, it remains true that life's greatest treasure is the possession of a religious faith that will undergird and give direction to our lives - a faith that is emotionally satisfying and intellectually defensible.
It is never an easy assignment to build a sound theology or way of thinking about God and life. Although there are many fine and reliable teachers and preachers, there are also charlatans who indoctrinate with conclusions that are not easily substantiated by the best scholarship.
Because this is true, many adults have an infantile theology. They are in spiritual rompers, holding fast to childish ideas that should have been discarded long ago. There are people who find more shame in shabby clothes and shoddy furniture than they find in their shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies.
It is never easy to discard deeply entrenched convictions. It is both humble and courageous to be willing to let go what has long been believed when something new has been discovered. No one leaves school completely equipped with the best view of every conceivable subject.
Just as new or different conditions often make it necessary for us to change the focus of our cameras to get a good picture, new inventions or discoveries also often make it necessary to change our mental focus if we are to get an accurate picture of what we are trying to see.
Generally speaking, a cock-sure opinion is evidence of a limited horizon. And to have the courage of your convictions is not necessarily a compliment. Both bigots and fanatics are usually very sure of their convictions. The bigger question is whether we are willing to reassess our convictions periodically and change our minds in the presence of more compelling logic and common sense.
“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves, otherwise we harden," said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German philosopher and playwright.
Two common ailments of our day are the premature formation of conclusions and a reluctance to grow. A little girl, when asked the condition of her ill grandmother, told her pastor, "Grandma is very sick. She just passed into a coma." Too often this is true of many – those whose lives have not come to a full stop but have merely gone into a state of coma, where everything has been stricken with paralysis.
Why is it that when we grow older we are reluctant to grow and change? It is not that new ideas are painful, for they are not. It is that old ideas are seldom entirely false and have great truth in them.
The justification of conservatism is the desire to retain the truth that does exist and the values that are good.
Its danger, of which we are seldom aware, is that in preserving these values, we can miss the infinitely greater riches that He hidden in the future. As the well known hymn states (written more than 100 years ago by James Russell Lowell):
occasions teach new duties
Time makes ancient good uncouth
We must upward still and onward
Who would keep abreast of truth.
The borders of the empire of truth are not fixed for all time. Each generation
must face the adventure of the unknown. Each life must do some exploring of its
own. No one can live on borrowed faith, and life is a series of rebirths. It is
a pity to die before we are ever fully born.
Sometimes timidity or fear of the unknown encourages us to reject what could be a bold and noble venture. Religious institutions are not immune to the timidity and hesitancy that could forestall a larger day of justice.
Many Christians fail to realize they are part of one of the oldest and most radical revolutions in human history. It is so old that many have forgotten how radical it is. Some people are actually shocked to be told that Jesus was a rebel and a revolutionist. So long have they accepted that false picture of a gentle, meek Jesus that they have forgotten that he was an insurrectionist regarded as an agitator too dangerous to live and put to death as a public menace.
The vigorous pronouncements Jesus made on controversial social, political and religious issues were what sent him to the cross. Taking a position on vital issues today is still risky. Churches have been split asunder when their leaders or members have taken strong stands. Even so, a divided church that stands for something is better than a united church that stands for nothing. Morals are more important than morale.
It is always sad when an institution maintains its existence at the cost of its essence, and it is not a foregone conclusion that strong stands mean divisiveness. A person can be conscientious without being contentious, determined without being dictatorial, and dedicated without being demanding. Certainly, a difference of opinion is not a valid reason for animosity or alienation.
The greatest need of our day is for a combination of open-mindedness with loyalty to convictions that conserve the best contributions of the past. We must have a union of clear thinking with devotion to worthy and enduring values. We can easily understand and forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, but the real tragedy is the adult who is afraid of the light.
The Rev. Turner's column appears Saturdays in The Seattle Times. A recent booklet of Turner's columns is available. The 64-page booklet, “The Lessons of Life," includes 31 of Turner's best columns published in The Seattle Times. Copies are $4.30 if picked up at The Seattle Times, 1120 Fairview Ave. N. Lobby hours are 8 am. - 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, To order by mail, send a check for $6.05 to The Seattle Times, The Lessons of Life, P.O. Box 1735, Seattle, WA 98111. To order with a credit card, call 206-464-3113 during regular business hours.