“Pick and Choose” Rhetoric

Over the past few weeks I have reflected on some of the things that pushed me away from faith for a number of years, some of which came to light when thinking about shame culture (see Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly) and getting the Gospel broken down for me in a powerful new way I wish I had seen so many years before. One statement in particular rang through my ears for a long time. Tonight, I’ve got(way more than)5onit…


“You can’t just pick and choose what you believe and call yourself a Christian” he said, as we discussed variouos religious/spirtual beliefs. He was right. Inasmuch as it’s silly to call a sea star a star fish, when it lacks the defining characteristics of a fish, to label oneself as belonging to a group and not believing in the same values as that group is a miss in integrity.

So why does the title of this post include a relatively nasty term in our world… “rhetoric”? Rhetoric isn’t really so nasty… but it’s got that connotation as words thrown around to convince others of a view. My issue with “pick and choose rhetoric” is that it seeks to exclude if the rhetoric is not accepted. It seeks to squash questioning and alternate views. It seeks unchecked faith and blind acceptance. It closes minds. It shames. It is a control device.

Certainly there are some things that must be agreed upon to label oneself, and sometimes I prefer not to for that simple fact, but the rhetoric is damaging and pushes people away… It divides when it should unite…

***I knew 5 minutes wouldn’t be enough!***

I (and millions of others) read a truly beautiful piece from Momastery, where Glennon writes a letter to her young son for the future… just in case he’s gay. That even be that the case, she loves and accepts him and celebrates him, despite what her christian friends might think about it. They might apply what I call pick and choose rhetoric, but she fires back with how they pick and choose what rules from the Bible to follow too.

Sometimes what we believe (or choose to believe) we understand and sense about the world and our situations and what’s Written has the potential to be inaccurate. Can we stop and savor the humility of that for just a moment?

Sometimes what we “know” turns out to be incorrect.
Sometimes someone we “knew” would never betray us, does.
Sometimes “evidence” belies truth.
Sometimes we “prove” someone is guilty, only to find out later they were innocent.
Sometimes we believe the world is flat only to discover it is round.
Sometimes we find out we’re just plain wrong.

Why with our history of fallibility do we still insist with such fierce resoluteness that we “know” God’s will, His messages, His intent for our lives… and to such an extent that we are willing to shame and alienate people who see things differently?

I believe we each need to be able to listen to the depths of our hearts, where His messages for each of us are truly spoken… to ask questions and sometimes even let go of what doesn’t make sense…

But that brings us back to Integrity, doesn’t it…

There’s an awfully big difference between questioning something that doesn’t make sense because it conflicts with what your heart and conscience tell you versus something that just isn’t convenient for you to believe. Deep levels of integrity and humility and self-awareness are needed to tell the difference. If we’re being honest with ourselves, sometimes those things are in short supply. And certainly we have witnessed denial in others and can expect that kind of thing of ourselves, yes? Try as we might to fight it… sometimes an outside perspective, a constructive discussion, bathed in a glow of humility might get us closer to “truth” than we can get on our own.

We have all heard the proverb begging us to “lean not on [our] own understanding.” I have at many times felt this too has been used as rhetoric, empowering churches to proclaim special knowledge and power to guide the masses… to keep people from determining their own beliefs and understandings that challenge the collectively accepted truths and morals and instructions for life and salvation (not the intent of the passage).

Today I ponder a potential different interpretation of those words. Suppose God’s inspired message was to say that under no circumstances is a book of books written by strangers (even with the best of intentions) of another place, time, and culture about a history, an eternity, and a love so vast and unfathomable to be contemplated and understood by one mind on it’s own… that we might unlock more and more of the story and God’s intent and our potential to partner with him to fix this broken world by leaning on each other and sharing what God inspires us to consider and share…

Imagine for just one moment that God has inspired messages of more prophets than just those we hear about in the Bible… Imagine even non-religious inspirational speakers are inspired by God (whether they know and/or believe it or not) to bring us messages. Imagine even people who have brought forth the worst messages in our history actually were inspired by God with messages that they just grossly contorted and misconstrued…

What arrogance to so boldly declare we have interpreted God’s messages as he intended.

What arrogance to so boldy declare we understand the meaning and relevance of God’s messages to men we have never met.

And what arrogance to threaten each other’s belonging based on the truths and beliefs they question… to condemn, to judge, to attempt to control…

With every ounce of my being, I choose to believe that those who cry out against “picking and choosing” what to believe do so with basically good intentions. If we’re all on the same page… what solidarity, unity, and momentum we might have to do God’s work. There are certainly moral virtues the vast vast majority of us (christian or not) agree are not negotiable.

The problem that strikes my heart is the use of rhetoric as a control mechanism over open conversation, sharing, and leaning on our collectively received messages for understanding.

Rhetoric binds us tightly to those we have counted as “in” and creates barriers to belonging that our Father likely never intended.

Rhetoric builds walls and leaves no room for open discussion and sharing of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.

Rhetoric deceives faith and honest thought and defeats love and invitation with arrogance, fear, and exclusion.

By no means do I mean to sound judgemental or appear to condemn anyone who has leaned on rhetoric to make a point… I am surely guilty of it myself. But I propose that we spend some moments purposefully basking in humility and grace… that we look more for ways we agree than disagree… that we lean on each other – and yes, even those with whom we disagree – for understanding, and that we try to catch ourselves using devices like rhetoric and bravely, boldy, and humbly open our hearts that we might invite others in.

I’ll close with a quote I stumbled upon by “coincidence”* as I looked to find the links for this post…

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ” – Pema Chödrön

Best wishes to you and yours… and that those who are not yours become yours…


*On “coincidence”

I went to Momastery’s page today to find the links to her letter and discovered 2 posts from this week.
Adding to the many reasons I wish she would move into my neighborhood, she chose to write about this: http://momastery.com/blog/2013/07/18/you-do-not-have-to-agree-with-me-to-love-me/ and begged the question of why do we make getting people to agree with us our goal. Great question, isn’t it?

Additionally she posted a goodbye note to her readers as she takes a 40 day hiatus from blogging, social media, and internet in general which included a quote from her new “shero” which led me to google quotes of this shero who may become another of my own. The first quote that came up was “coincidentally” very relevant and hence the closer for this post…

Funny how that works… isn’t it? 🙂


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