Monday, January 14, 2008

Struggling for a Latent God

If I want to take a leap of faith and place my hope in our latent God, first I have to find God. Even if I am able to wade through the mucky uncertainties that faith creates, even if I am willing to overcome the hurdles that doubt presents, I still have to find God somewhere. If God is latent, is there any way to find God? Or am I doomed to be disappointed, with lots of faith to give but nowhere to put it?

Are we forced to find this God we want to believe in? If God is not readily evident, how does God become real to us? The God who is hidden from the world must somehow become visible if we are going to believe in God. If God is latent, is it up to us to make God manifest? Must we must struggle against the odds to bring God into our reality?

Perhaps in some way faith is how we find God. Perhaps faith is what makes God visible. This act of finding/revealing makes us into dramatic incarnations of God in the world. Through faith God becomes evident to us by becoming visible through us. The act of believing brings God into our world in a real way. Without faith, God is intangible. God is nowhere to be touched or seen or heard or felt. A God who is known only through hypothesis and conjecture is a shadow of hope, nothing more. But when we come to know God through faith, God becomes real and actual to us. As God lives in and through our lives, we become incarnations of God in the world.

If God is latent, existing as potential in the world, we must struggle to bring that latent God into our reality. Without faith, God remains distant and intangible, but by the act of believing God enters into our lives. It is through our struggle of faith that God becomes incarnate in us--and that is how God comes into our world.

Read my first three posts on this subject: "Acknowledging a Latent God," "Confronting a Latent God," and "Wrestling with a Latent God."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Revaluation of Values

I'm not sure when I first ran across Nietzsche's phrase "revaluation of values," but I want to co-opt it to describe my journey over the last few years. I have experienced a change in outlook and attitude that stems from changing values. Everything has been revalued--some things that used to seem essential have faded into the background and other things that didn't used to register on my radar have become of paramount importance to me. In a recent email to a friend I attempted to list (in no particular order) my old and new values. Here is what I came up with:

-conservatism for the sake of conservatism
-being visibly pious
-affirming the absolute, orthodox truths of Christianity
-identifying rules to live by
-living by those rules and telling others that they need to do the same
-fitting God into a unified, comprehensive theological system
-reaching others for Christ

-spending my time doing things that are worthwhile
-meeting people's needs
-showing people love
-being realistic
-giving the benefit of the doubt
-coming to working conclusions rather than final ones

It is strange to think about the changes I've undergone. If the old Matt were to meet my current self, he would be thoroughly disappointed. He would probably call me something like a "wishy-washy, postmodern, socially-active relativist" and mean it as an insult. Although it may be a bit silly, it's still a little uncomfortable for me to think about. I am so different than I was just a couple of years ago it makes me wonder what happened. While I can recount the progression, I can't really explain why it happened. I'd like to think that somewhere deep inside I've always held these "new" values, but I'm not sure that's the case.

I guess it doesn't really matter. The fact is that I have changed. I've undergone a revaluation of values, and I hope it's for the better....

Friday, January 11, 2008

Finding Identity in Pluralism

The following is an essay I wrote for one of my grad school applications:

To say that we live in a multifaith, multiethnic, multinational society is to recognize its complexity and its diversity. Our society is marked by many competing values and beliefs, each one making truth claims. Because of their significant variety, there is pressure to be tolerant and accepting of all of the different options. While it may be tempting to view such inclusiveness as an imperative for living in a pluralistic society, this is not true. There is nothing that requires us to downplay our own beliefs or to honor others’ values. Although politically incorrect, it is entirely possible to reject all but one’s own beliefs as misguided, errant, and evil. The only true imperative for living in a pluralistic society is that of developing an identity, both personal and corporate, in relation to others in society.

In order for us to live and interact meaningfully within society, we must have some starting point. There is very little that we can say or do if we do not know who we are in relation to those around us. Without the guides of identity, there is no possibility of intercourse because we will have nothing to say and no way of interpreting what we hear. For us to truly live in a pluralistic society, it is essential that we develop a balanced identity that is defined both independently of others and in relation to others.

The core of our identity is formed by the convictions and values that we have inherited or chosen from among our variety of options. It is forged independently of those outside our particular tradition. However, our identity is not complete without understanding how it is that we relate to those outside of ourselves. We must establish relationships with other groups and cultures in order to demarcate the boundaries of our identity. It is only from the starting point of identity that we can truly converse with society.

The formulation of identity is an on-going process because the relationships that help define it are fluid. Because the people we interact with help us to create our identity, they have a tremendous impact upon us. Our exchange with them alters the way we see the world and ourselves. As a result we move from merely acknowledging diversity to valuing it. It is because of this level of respect for those who are different from us that we are able to carry on honest and edifying conversations with them.

As we dialog with a pluralistic society there is a tendency to become increasingly accepting of its various values and beliefs. To a large extent this is healthy and helpful for continuing identity formation, but we can take it too far. One of the potential pitfalls that we face in such a diverse society is the temptation to become overly inclusive. Inclusiveness for its own sake leads only to a pale gray end, where there is no room for opinion, and the conversation becomes nothing more than an endless repetition of “yes.” Without the ability to distinguish ourselves from others, this extreme inclusiveness can lead to a dramatic loss of identity.

When we acknowledge that we live in a pluralistic society, we face the challenge of finding our identity. We must strike a balance between our convictions and others’ influence in order to create an identity that will allow us to interact meaningfully with society. If we are to engage society, we must be attentive enough to hear what others say and we must also be confident enough to have something to say back.