Freedom to Change

I have certain religious and political/social justice ideas that I value. I can be caught trying to change other people to get them to agree with my point of view. I don’t think those efforts ever work.

Recently I had two experiences that resulted in openings. After the Charleston shootings I was talking with a white friend about racism. I caught myself trying to change him.   What I got was resistance and defensiveness. I was frustrated because if white people can’t talk about racism, how can blacks and whites make any progress in racial equality. So I backed off the arguing and somehow I invited his story. What he shared opened my eyes and changed me. No longer was I the one with superior ideas. We became equals. At that point, unexpectedly and freely, he suggested he could change.

On another occasion I was working on a committee trying to develop a statement about how a person becomes a member of the Religious Society of Friends. Friends in the yearly meeting had different ideas. One point of view was that a person becomes a member at birth if one’s parents are members. That understanding was very important to a number of Friends because it gave them such a deep feeling of long-term belonging and being valued. One such person helped us express the idea correctly. Although her “birthright” membership is in a meeting in another yearly meeting where she hasn’t lived for many years, our effort to include what mattered to her left her feeling very affirmed and valued by a yearly meeting to which she didn’t belong officially. Suddenly and unexpectedly she found herself re-thinking her feelings about her membership. A new decision became a possibility.

From these examples I see that we are not changed by arguments but rather by having our persons respected and our hearts touched. The power of God joins us soul to soul as one.

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Queries:

What is your experience of being in the midst of strongly-held different points of view?

What helps you be open to change? To feel free to change? To know that you are God’s beloved?

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Prayer:

Pray with Psalm 131, put it in your own words, until you can feel what it would feel like to be “calmed and quieted like a weaned child with its mother . . .”

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For further reflection:

“Not by strength of arguments or by a particular disquisition of each doctrine, and convincement of my understanding thereby, came I to receive and bear witness of the Truth, but by being secretly reached by the Life.”   –Robert Barclay, Apology, Proposition 11, section 7

“Beloved, let us love one another . . .” (See I John 4:7, 12-13).

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4 thoughts on “Freedom to Change

  1. I wonder what the role of the prophet is? I very much concur with the sense of your post. It is my experience. I also have the experience of being changed and challenged at times by voices and claims that are much more direct and critical. Maybe in some moments there is a calling for a prophetic voice, but most of the time for most of us we are called to listen and understand and see what God can do when we let go of judgment. I think I am most often called to the contemplative stance that you articulated above.

    It may also be that not everyone is ready or able to listen to the prophetic voice because it causes us to re-evaluate deeply held convictions. We can’t make people hear things that they are not ready to hear, so maybe both the prophetic and contemplative stances are needed.

    Just thinking and wondering in response to your very well articulated and seasoned essay.

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  2. I’ve come to believe that there is nothing more powerful than listening to one another’s stories and discovering how we are connected in the living of our lives.. I’ve heard this said for many years. Experience has shown me the truth of it.

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  3. Arguments easily just lead to counterarguments/ argumentation. Jesus as a teacher in the Beatitudes speaks of not judging others. Very difficult to do this, but the acceptance and equality mentioned are ways to move out of the judging place.

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  4. My father said many times, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” He demonstrated this resistance and I had to learn not to try to convince him. It helped me that I knew his history and why he thought as he did about so many things that seemed so wrongheaded to me.
    Carole Treadway

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