Monday, December 19, 2005

Thoughts on mistaken identity

You know, although most of my posts so far in this blog have been pretty random, I usually have an idea as to what I'm trying to say, but today ought to be interesting, my thought for the day is pretty much a random ramble. Not that it matters as nobody seems to be reading this or giving feedback. Hmmm...

Anyway, I had an odd moment this morning. I have a co-worker that for quite some time I had thought was a lesbian. Then somebody told me that she was a Christian. Then I overheard her saying something that seemed to confirm that she was indeed a lesbian. Then I overheard her talking about church. Back and forth, back and forth... I was confused, and to this day, I still don't know for sure whether she is a Christian or a lesbian.

The thing is, well, that "back and forth" thing I said above. In my mind, while I was trying to sort out her personal life without being pushy and outright asking her for personal information that I don't need in order to do my job properly, it did feel like a "back and forth" thing. Surely she was either a lesbian or a Christian, right? But I realized in specific this morning something that I knew in general already. It may be possible that she is both! I mean, why not?

In particular, I had an online friend a couple years ago that I had known for some time, and this young woman was, as far as I knew, a very good, upstanding and moral person who had a solid grasp on Christian theology. She was intelligent, well-versed in the Bible, and devoted to serving God in her life. Then I found out that she was a lesbian, too. Because I knew her as well as I did, my impression of who she was as a person was not really altered much by this revelation. (Unfortunately, I found out about it roughly the same time her parents did, and her parents, whom you'd think would have an even better grasp on who she really was in her heart of hearts, had a much less favorable reaction to her coming out of the closet.) While I do tend to be of the understanding that the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, it's not something I have a personal problem with, nor is it a sticking point in my personal grasp of Christian doctrine. I'm much more inclined to believe I'm mistaken about that point than about 90% of the rest of my doctrine.

My friend was a good person, and a good Christian, and even if same-sex sexual relations indeed are a sin, I did not, and still do not believe that her attraction to people of the same gender makes her any less so. Yet at the same time, because of my understanding of doctrine, it's hard for me to accept someone as being a Christian from the get-go if they have certain characteristics. Why is that?

I suppose it's a form of prejudice, even though in this case it stems from a doctrinal issue. There are probably a lot of things that are characteristic of myself that would make other Christians question the status of my salvation and/or devotion. I'm a registered Democrat, have long hair and tattoos, listen almost exclusively to secular music, and enjoy reading the Harry Potter books. Sheesh, I might as well be a Satan worshipper as well as some of that!

The Christian life is hard enough on its own that it doesn't need the complications of trying to do God's work of sorting out the saved and the unsaved. Trying to relate to other Christians can be a tricky thing. As much as there is a good amount of agreement over the main points of Christian doctrine among the majority of believers, sometimes there can be a bit of discomfort to be discussing some matter or another with a fellow Christian, and they happen to mention something concerning their personal beliefs that makes for an awkward moment. Maybe they stress the importance of being "born again" (a term only found once in the entire Bible, if I'm not mistaken) while you yourself don't commonly use the term. Maybe you find out that they are a member of a Christian denomination that you consider to be doctrinally questionable, or the reverse: they believe the denomination you belong to is questionable! Maybe they engage in behaviors you find morally questionable, or even outright wrong.

Of course, even non-Christians can probably go through this, as we all have expectations that the people around us are like us to some extent. But you find out that a close friend is a racist, or they have a drug habit, or there's some strange secret in their past, and it throws you for a loop. Perhaps Christians just expect more similarity within the family of God, but why should we? There's probably not much similarity within a regular sort of family. I remember a time when I was a kid and a bunch of my cousins were all bored, so we started sharing secrets about things we'd done that nobody knew about. It was shocking, no doubt about it, but sometimes the most shocking secrets are the ones that are hidden in plain sight. I have a cousin on my mother's side of the family who is also Jewish, and although I've known her all of my life, I didn't know she was Jewish until I was about twenty. She didn't hide her identity, but she also didn't talk about it enough that it was widely known. Finding out didn't change my estimation of her at all, but it threw me for a loop, because I felt that I should have known.

But is there any singular given "flag" that marks one as being Jewish? (I mean, not in the official sense that an Orthodox Rabbi would use, but in a more general cultural/genetic sense.) While there are certain characteristics that are associated with being Jewish, it is far from the truth that all Jews look the same, act the same, and believe the same things. How about being gay? As far as I have known, there is nothing at all that homosexuals have in common across the continuum, despite stereotypes one sees portrayed on "Will & Grace".

The truth is, we as human beings living in a society will categorize and stereotype people as a matter of course, because it makes life easier to get a handle on. While we know intellectually that every person in the world is an individual, our brains can't handle the concept of six billion individuals, so we make clumps of people and think consciously or subconsciously, "These people are all like this..." While it's not wrong per se, it can be jarring at times when we find our categories break down. No Christian could possibly vote Democrat. No member of my family could possibly be a drug addict. No lesbian could possibly be a regular churchgoer.

I don't know what my point in all of this is, nor quite what the theological significance might be, except for the obvious that it's best to keep an open mind, perhaps.

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