Why I’m Open

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”   Psalm 34:8

Dark clouds may hang on me sometimes /// But I’ll work it out /// And then I Look up at the sky /// My mouth is open wide lick and taste /// What’s the use in worrying, what’s the use in hurrying /// Turn turn we almost become dizzy.

Dave Matthews Band, “Dancing Nancies”

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A couple of months ago, I was cooking with my cooking club friends and offered my friends’ 7-year old daughter a bite of pickled beet (my contribution for the night being a pickled beet martini, a la Tyler Florence). She said, “ewww.”  Her mother said, “why don’t you not say ‘ewww,’ and just try it first?”

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The first time I heard Catholics pray to saints, I said “ewww.” I said it was foolish to pray to dead people. I said it bordered on idolatry. I puffed myself up with religious pride and declared my own enlightenment, that my way was better.

In my college years, I read a book by a famous fundamentalist preacher who wrote that Charismatic Christians (those who speak in tongues, prophecy, etc.) are either in the midst of a grand self-delusion or they are animated by demons. “Ewww.” That seemed reasonable to my young Baptist ears.

At least it was reasonable until I interacted with Catholics and Charismatics. And then I learned that they were lovely, reasonable people who believed things differently than I did for reasons that made good sense to them and their understanding of faith and the Bible. And when I chose to adopt a posture of openness to the world, to taste before saying “ewww,” I found that people weren’t as dumb and misguided as I had assumed in my arrogance.

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Over the last several months, we’ve been discussing the role LGBT people play in our church. In one of our recent leadership meetings, someone pointed out that rarely do people say to each other in the midst of differences, “Help me understand how you arrived at your position.”

Rather, we’re much more prone to express our opinion, to declare and defend our “rightness.” But a posture of openness means that I allow curiosity to lead. I often pray the prayer of St. Francis:

“O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love”

In fact, this idea of seeking to understand more than to be understood is so rare that, as the pastor of a church which people have left because of stances we’ve taken for LGBT Christians, I can’t remember a single person who has sat with me and said, “Help me understand your thinking on this topic.” (Okay, between the time of writing this piece and actually publishing it, one person asked.)

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Being open doesn’t mean I’m wishy-washy either. I’m still not Roman Catholic; I don’t pray to saints. Nor am I a Charismatic; I don’t speak in tongues, and I’ve never been “slain in the Spirit.” But I’m open. I’m open to the idea that my brothers and sisters in other faith traditions may have a way of knowing/experiencing God that is meaningful and rational to them, even if I don’t completely understand their way of seeing things. And I can affirm and celebrate their expressions of faith, even if I don’t adopt them as my own.

To me, being open isn’t about one particular issue, but rather it’s a posture towards the world. More specifically, it’s a posture towards other people. It’s about cultivating a humility that says, “even though I’m committed to my own way of seeing, even though I think I’ve thought it through, I’m willing to listen to you.”

Recently, I was recounting a story I heard of a guy who had been slain in the Spirit. And as I told the story, I said, “I don’t even know that I believe in that sort of thing. But I believe in this guy. I believe in his experience of faith, even if it isn’t mine.”

And while most of the time having a posture of openness doesn’t change my position on any particular issue, it softens me to people. Being open creates a space for me to embrace people and not feel like I have to convert, argue, judge or otherwise manipulate people into being someone other than who they actually are.

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But occasionally, it does change me.

Back to my friends’ daughter: she tried a bite of pickled beet. And she liked it. She opened herself up to a new experience and it changed her.

Who knows what new things, new ideas, new ways of being in the world, new friendships will come our way when we’re open?

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