Friday, April 28, 2006


So this morning, I made my kids some scrambled eggs for breakfast. My wife had been working on some personal projects most of the night before, and was napping on the couch while I sat with my kids eating a bowl of cereal. One of my kids looked at my cereal, turned toward my sleeping wife, and said, "Mommy, I want some of that!"

"What do you want, sweetie?" I asked, but she ignored me, shouting her request louder to my wife.

"Mommy! I want some of that!!"

It's an annoying problem that I don't want to go too far in depth in explaining, as it will likely fill the whole post before I get to making any actual point, but my daughter is simply going through an odd phase where she virtually refuses to talk to me, and directs all her verbal skills toward her mother, apparently likewise only listening to her as well. She'll only interact with me when Mommy is not around. There's something familiar about it.

When I grew up, I didn't get along with my stepfather. I would occasionally do things that annoyed him, and his response was usually to start an argument with my mother about my behavior. I always thought this was strange and obnoxious; if I'm the one causing a problem, shouldn't someone be arguing with me, or at least outright telling me to change my behavior? Because of this, I tended to strongly dislike my stepfather, and I assumed he strongly disliked me.

Then, when I was in high school, my mother took a multi-week trip to Russia, leaving me alone with him. I thought it would be awful, and you know what? It wasn't. My stepfather and I had a great time! For that time we were alone, we were like best buddies. We had barbecues, watched movies, and I'm not sure, but I seem to vaguely recall going to a sporting event of some sort. I wondered, have I reached some sort of level of maturity that is allowing me to get along with my dad in some way? Then, the very day my mother returned, they were back to arguing about my behavior.

I love my mom. I assume my mom loved my stepdad, since she married him and stayed with him for an awfully long time (and although divorced today, they're still friends). I found out within that short amount of time that my stepdad apparently loved me. Why could the three of us never get along together?

I found out recently that psychologists call this phenomenon "triangulation". It's the invisible social force that sometimes makes any three people able to get along very well in pairs, but miserable when all together. My wife does fine with our kids on her own, I do fine with them on my own, and when my wife and I can find the time to slip away alone, we greatly enjoy each other's company. Put us all together, and everybody is prone to losing their temper and committing antisocial acts all of a sudden. Apparently some close relationships strengthen each other, while others grate on each other in an odd way.

Well, the above is a well-known phenomenon, or at least I assume so if it's been named by psychologists. What interests me about this, and why I include it in my blog here about religion, is that it's been my experience from my early days of being a Christian that some people experience triangulation with God.

One of my closest friends in the early days of my being a Christian was a guy who considered himself to be a Zen Buddhist. It was always fascinating to me the way it was often easier to discuss theology with a Buddhist than with a fellow Christian. It's part and parcel of the phenomenon I noted in the first post of my other blog. Christians sometimes collectively nod their heads and say, "Isn't it great we all agree?" and move on, but if someone sticks their neck out and says, "but I don't agree," or sometimes even just, "I'm not sure I agree," then trouble can ensue. When I discuss theology with a Buddhist, I run virtually no risk of offending him, because we already understand we don't agree before we uncover the full nature of our disagreements.

Isn't this a matter, as I said above, of "triangulation with God?" Person A says, "I have such a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ." Person B says, "Me, too!" Then they find out that A is a Catholic and B is a Methodist or something along those lines, and everything unravels. Mathematically/logically, we understand that if A is close to C and B is close to C, then A ought to be close to B.

But how could someone possibly believe that infants should be baptized? How could one possibly not baptize infants? Jesus' mother was an eternal virgin? Preposterous! But it's always been believed to be so; how could one go against centuries of tradition? You mean you believe in the Bible, but don't go to a formalized church with a big, fancy building?! Why does your minister wear those funny clothes, does he think he's better than everyone else? And on and on...

It's funny, but a few years ago, I was taking a computer programming class from a Muslim instructor, and over the course of various class breaks, we discovered to our mutual delight how many beliefs Christians and Muslims share. Sure, both of us know that we are of two separate religions, neither of which will accept the truth of the other, at least in full; but because of the distance that we know exists between our faiths, finding common ground of any sort was almost cause for celebration. When you're talking with someone you assume to have the same position as you, it's the discovery of differences that's notable. I wonder if it happens among atheists as well? (There was a time that I considered myself an "atheist", but probably my beliefs would have been better labeled "deist". Would such a revelation to an atheist friend have been cause for shock?)

My kids are only two years old. They don't have the maturity to do better than they are, and I understand that. My stepfather probably had some maturity problems, and honestly, some of my current situation is probably caused by my own shortcomings in various ways that I'm never fully aware of. Yes, adults aren't immune from maturity issues, probably especially those of us who so strongly deny that it's possible in ourselves.

Can Christians and other religions learn to be mature enough to live together in peace, despite our smaller differences? I don't know. Certainly, from what I gather in the news about Iraq, one of the biggest problem is not between Iraqis and Americans (although there's no denying there's quite a bit of tension there), but between differing Muslim sects.

At least in America, we're not blowing up each other's churches for our disagreements (at least, not to the degree it's happening there). Still, I'd tend to think Jesus expects more of us than simply not killing each other. My own church split in two this last year, not due to theological differences, but administrative staffing issues. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:47, "And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" Maybe pagans are doing better than us, Lord. What kind of witness is that?

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