What Belongs in the House? (142)

In this episode John and Gregg discuss an introspection on “where John is at,” touching on John’s views about God, his career, and life generally.

John opens with his concern of being being misunderstood by listeners, and specifically not wanting to regret being “nailed down” to what he offers today while sharing personally and honestly. Gregg notes that he finds it strange to hear John being unclear about his (John’s) own views or how John wants to describe his position.

John acknowledges that he holds his personal views about Christianity much more tentatively than his views about other topics that the two discuss, and so even with a “gun to his head” he would likely still be unable to offer a clear, definite answer about what he believes. This strikes John as problematic, both in that it is contrary to what John’s background taught him (which is that one is supposed to know what one believes) and it runs counter to the general, societal “norm” (which assumes that by a particular age one is again supposed to have things figured out).

In other words, in both John’s church and academic experiences, doubts were not present. It was a foundational assumption that Christianity was true and that everyone else (in the church or academy) believed it. John connects this with his L’Abri experience, where he effectively “threw out” those parts of his Christian beliefs that were really not Christian without replacing it with very many new thing. And after a time he re-started the process of “throwing things out” while doing this podcast (Untangling Christianity). Likening his beliefs about God to a house, John explains how his house is almost empty from all the purging, yet Christian culture dictates that the house needs furnishings.

John then discusses how his sense of “where he is at” with Christianity contrast with his perspectives on his coaching career.

John explains how he has become passionate about coachingsharpening a skill that is also a natural ability (although an ability that he did not know that he had). Thus while coaching requires hard work John’s investment in coaching is both enjoyable and satisfying in many ways. This offers a clear contrast to the results of John’s investigations about Christianity.

Gregg wonders about John’s participation in the Christian “tribe.” John responds that he wants to be in a tribe, but one where he can not only agree to the bylaws but believes them enough to want to promote that tribe to others. From Gregg’s perspective he wonders how much of the issue for John about being part of the tribe must be based on understanding how well the tribe’s bylaws “test drive.”

Gregg also wonders whether John’s analogy of his beliefs as a “house” may actually fit into other paradigms, such as the tiny house movement. Stated differently, Gregg wonders to what degree not only the content of John’s “belief house” but its very nature—its size, the expectations of how full it should be, etc.—is a product of terms and expectations set by John’s (former) tribe?

So Gregg considers that re-structuring the house might be better than demolishing it, yet restructuring would also seem to require understanding the bylaws and the foundations upon which it was built. This seems also to be more commensurate with John’s willingness to continue considering Christianity, but to do so on John’s terms (i.e., Christianity must reconcile with John’s lived experience—it must integrate with real life).

John answers by contrasting coaching and counseling, while also proposing it might be easier to “level” the “house” and start over instead of continuing to work with what he’s collected so far.

Gregg offers two reasons to be cautious about demolition. First, if the “house” is demolished one still needs someplace to live. How will that work out? Second, without understanding enough about the foundations and bylaws (i.e., one’s past and the background of one’s beliefs) it can be all too easy once having created a new “house” to resist the temptation to adopt whatever new perspective comes along!

John notes that, on the one hand, he was taught that one can only have the best life possible if that life involves God. Yet John is surrounded by people who appear to be living very integrated, satisfying lives without God. Yet on the other hand people come in large numbers to many churches—and keep coming—so something must be working. So John see these opposing situation and finds this confusing.

Gregg agrees. In fact, this is the tension of which Christians should be aware. Gregg also sees that John has made a fundamental shift in what counts as the baseline for bylaws, whereas John sees this as trading in the bylaws for anarchy. Gregg demurs: John seems to have taken a global approach, so that any bylaw (regardless of its origin).

So Gregg wagers that John’s standards are both much higher and more consistent, such that most Christians display very little intellectual consistency or rigor in assessing their lives or their beliefs, whereas John has taken (and continues to take) significant strides in these regards. John sees this as potentially arrogant.

Yet Gregg again demurs: in removing so much of the contents of his “faith house” John actually has already made judgments and acted on them decisively, and John’s consistent action in this regard shows integrity. Thus Gregg emphasizes that John has displayed judgment in the sense of a willingness to make decisions and act upon them, in accord with one’s values (such as valuing the integration of faith and life).

John wonders, “So what are the next steps?”

Gregg asks several questions, by way of answer. First, What would it be like for John if re-modelling the house were as compelling as coaching? Second, if John is seeking a proper integration of faith and life and John has already spent considerable time and effort evaluating the “faith side” of this equation, why is it not fair for John to be spending more time now developing (and evaluating) the “life side” of the equation? Third, when considering coaching—especially John’s passion, natural skill, and benefit to others—how better of an analogy could one wish to have from one’s life of what one would like one’s faith to be like!

This Gregg sees as reflecting the necessary reciprocity between faith and life, such that it is not only the Bible that informs Christians about life but valuable aspects of our lived existence inform our faith. So could John not read the Bible “through the lens” of coaching? What might John learn?

Overall, Gregg argues that a house that is “the right size” with furniture that is comfortable yet elegant, with an entryway that is accessible yet secure, and with views that are striking and yet without the house being so exposed as to be concerned for its safety—all this takes time to create. And, problematically, the very people that claim to give us the blueprints, sell us the furniture and instruct us on how to put it all together are misguided in key ways.

Thus while Gregg agrees with some of the non-negotiables of evangelical Christianity—such as having a roof that does not leak or a foundation that does not shift—yet there are many ways of doing this, whereas most of the ways modeled by evangelical Christianity, if they work, will leave us with a house with very high walls around it or with entryways that only allow people to enter in exactly the way that we dictate.

Instead Gregg wants his “house” to be ready to welcome many different types of people in many different ways (which does not mean that Gregg’s house does not have a door and that that door does not have a lock—it does, and the door is strong).  But Gregg wants to ensure that it is easy for anyone to find that door.  And the need to think “outside the standard blueprints and models” may means that we are no longer buying our furniture but actually making it ourselves.

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