I reflected on the variety of response to my last post over a few cups of coffee this morning. A few brave souls posted their perspectives publicly (thank you, Old Marine and Melanie!), and several others shared through emails and in private conversations. Each perspective was marked by vulnerability and honesty, and was unique in the way they used words to give color to something that ultimately is much more broad, deep and all-encompasing than words are able to paint. It was awesome.
It was awesome because each perspective reflected a piece of the greater truth of the character of God. When we start to put all those pieces together, the result is a more clear understanding of God.
Like I said, awesome.
I noticed, though, that our sharing created a paradox of sorts, an unspoken tension. Some of the ways we understand aspects of God, if taken to an extreme, can appear to contradict other parts. Can we actually hold several different aspects of God together, at the same time? I found myself marveling at the challenge of fully aknowledging our not-enoughness and need for Jesus without devolving into complete self-loathing, demeaning messes.
It was in this state of reflection I found myself as I prepared a mid-morning snack of sweet potatoes for the kids.
My kids and sweet potatoes.
If I say we’re eating sweet potato fries, nary a bite will be taken—it’s as if the children are so offended I am trying to pass off the imposter vegetable as a “fry” they can’t bear to stomach more than a tiny taste. If I call them ‘sweet tater wedges’ to play up the natural sweetness, they are pushed around the plate pityingly before being cast aside altogether. Simply calling them sweet potatoes has no better result, and I might as well be calling them boogers for all they’ll be consumed. (Though, if I’m painfully honest, boogers would probably be eaten much sooner by the discerning panel of my three littles.)
If, however, I slice the sweet potatoes in thick rounds and bake them so they are soft in the middle yet crispy on the edges (you know, exactly the same way as I prepare both the fries and wedges) and call them Leprechaun Gold Coins? They’re gobbled up in seconds. No matter how many I bake, they are gone in the blink of an eye.
It’s not as if the kids believe that the Leprechaun Gold Coins are materially different from the sweet potato fries or wedges. I don’t whip up a batch the night before and pull them out in the morning with a flourish as a surprise, or pull them from a bag or a box that’s been already processed and prepared. I just bring out sweet potatoes—plain, dirty, fresh-from-the-ground sweet potatoes. Then, the kids watch me wash and prepare the sweet potatoes, step by step. (Sometimes they even help.) There are NO surprises. Everytime, without fail, it’s how I talk about the sweet potatoes that guarantee that they’ll either be eaten or sit on the plate, untouched.
All of this made me wonder if what happens with kids and sweet potatoes is similar to what happens when Christians talk about “the main idea” of Jesus. Some of us more naturally connect with the aspects of God reflected in justice and holiness, while others more naturally connect with parts of God reflected in grace and love. (Even writing that feels a little funny, because I wonder if this is a false paradigm. I wonder if it’s not an either/or situation, but instead a both/and paradigm.) Both of these perspectives seem to give voice to an important part of the character of God. Neither one is more or less ‘God’, just as the Leprechaun Gold Coins and Wedges are no more or less ‘sweet potato’. They’re both the same thing, just presented differently.
To be clear, I’m not advocating changing what actually ‘makes up’ the message of who God is any more than I changed up what ‘made up’ the sweet potato dishes I served. (Which is not at all.) Instead, I’m wondering if increased awareness of how we approach conversation about who God is, together in the Church and with friends who may not hold the same beliefs, might bring about dramatically different results.
If this is true, as I suspect it might be, are we willing to set aside our own strong preference for Leprechaun Gold Coins and see value in the other ways of serving sweet potatoes? Can we work to create space for others to have Wedges without feeling like it devalues our own preference for how sweet potatoes are served? How can we better focus on the ‘sweet potato’ that ties us all together?
*This parable is not included in the canon of Scripture. 🙂