Choosing a paint color is one thing; seeking the truth is another.
One of my favorite lines of Madeleine L’Engle’s is, not in quotations because I can’t remember where it was, that God does not need our protection, and welcomes as many questions as we can dream up.
And I’ve noticed in the meantime that we are at risk not only of taking other people’s answers for truth, but also of taking other people’s advice on what the questions are to be asking in the first place. When our questions are guided, we are of course lead to certain answers from certain narrowed voices.
When we narrow the voices, we weaken our ability to discern at all. In thinking throughout history of all the situations and all those power and all those in the church, even, who have been led in obedience because they trust that someone else is doing the discerning, it is horrifying. We mistake proclaimed expertise for due diligence, and we are left unthinkingly joining in protection of the status quo.
Stifled questions means stifled dialogue, and it is in dialogue that progress is born and we get a little closer to the truth we are all of us after. Dialogue requires broad voices rather than a single voice, and there is perhaps no doubt in the promise that where two or more are gathered, there is something more true and holy present and happening.
I’ve been reading, this time by choice, the book that we long ago read in high school by mandate: Fahrenheit 451. I remembered thinking at the time that how ridiculous the notion was that people would be told what to read and what not to read, and that reading and thinking off of an approved list could result in death.
Book burning followed driven by those in charge, under the guise of protecting humanity from dangerous thought. Children then came up into families never knowing the art of book reading, thinking, questioning, debating, creating and imagining.
I thought it foolish then, but it doesn’t seem so foolish now. In fear of discerning many voices, we seek to narrow them down to the ones we know, or the ones we have been told to agree with: the approved book list. To read past the first page of another voice becomes treacherous and intimidating, because we wont know what to do with another line of thought. And so, as encouraged, we don’t think anymore. We ask the questions we’ve been told to ask and take the answers we’ve been given.
If we idolize those speaking or writing, or simply take their words, we aren’t able to listen to multiple voices because we have challenged the ability for the spirit to work in community, and given authority to some single voice.
With broad voices, however, we learn the art of listening and asking, hearing and being heard. With broad voices we learn how experience shapes understanding, and how injustice and power breed certain lines of thought. We learn where we are blind, and where we are gifted. With broad voices, we think enough to welcome for dinner a Boo Radley or a Hester Prynne. With broad voices, the combination of these truly human acts yields compassion and humility.
I’ve been in meetings where a million voices made it impossible to choose a paint color, and it has indeed been a nightmare.
I’ve also been in meetings where power is used to beg discussion, criticism, thoughtfulness, ideas, questions, dreams and disagreement…none of which should be mistaken for disunity…and it has been a beautiful and community-affirming endeavor.
There’s a difference between choosing a paint color and seeking the truth.
And what have we to fear if it’s the truth we’re after together.