I woke up this a.m. at 3:36 with things on my mind. So many things, in fact, that I could not fall back to sleep and thought about them for a good hour before finally drifting off again. I found myself thinking about some of the opportunities I’ve had in the past couple of months to hear some great Christian speakers/artists/authors/activists talk about their passion and while I did not agree with everything that was said, they were nonetheless extremely inspiring.
Two professors (one in the Art Dept. and one in Psychology) at the school I work for (and take classes at) gave a session about Christian art, and one part of their presentation really struck me and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. The psych. professor introduced the idea of negativity dominance by using the analogy of a cheeseburger coming into contact with a piece of poop (yes, I did just use that word on my blog, and I’m a little disturbed). Negativity dominance is the idea that when these two things touch, the viewer automatically assumes that the “clean” thing (the cheeseburger) has now been contaminated by the “unclean” thing (the crap), and never the other way around. (“The cheeseburger does not transfer its properties and render the feces delicious,” is how the professor put it. Yeah, I’d say that’s right.) Anyway, they spoke about this in the context of Jesus, and how, throughout the Gospels, he is actually reverting this idea and introducing positivity dominance. There are numerous stories when Jesus (the “cheeseburger” in these scenarios) comes into contact with things labeled by his society as unclean (a dead man, a woman who has been hemorrhaging for years, etc.) and through his touch, he does not become unclean, but instead he makes them clean. Positivity dominance, which is such a foreign concept to us, is the new normal. It makes me think of the whole “salt and light” thing in an entirely new way.
I was also able to listen to Kathleen Norris (author of several best-selling books) talk a bit about her craft. However, her presentation of her material struck me less than her presentation of her self. She wore a nondescript maroon dress with a matching jacket over it and had large glasses that she kept adjusting with her long, elegant fingers. The reason her presence stayed with me so much was that she seemed so confident and so extremely indifferent to what anyone might think of her for not wearing any makeup, for not trying to impress in any way. She was, un-apologetically, who she was, and made me want to be that way, too.
I was also able, recently, to hear Shane Claiborne talk about some of his experiences. Shane is involved with The Simple Way, which, according to their website, is “a web of subversive friends, conspiring to spread the vision of ‘Loving God, Loving People, and Following Jesus’ in our neighborhoods and in our world.” He has also written a couple of books, which are very good, but very challenging. One thing about his presentation that was so inspiring to me was his absolute openness to everyone, even his worst critics. He mentioned something about even if 90% of what our critics tell us is hogwash (my word, not his – I don’t know if he’d use quite such a grandma term), there is still 10% that is true, and that is the part that we should focus on. Talk about challenging! I will be the first to say that I get very defensive if something I like/believe/understand is being attacked in any form (I should say I’ll be the first to say this unless I’m being attacked at that moment, then I’ll probably just get defensive), and the idea of really stopping to listen seems extremely difficult to me.
Derek Webb is a musician whose performance was inspiring to me, as well. Not only do I really like his voice and his compositions, but the lyrics of his songs are not “easy cheesy” in any way. He sings about hard things that come up in scripture, in relationships, and in life in general. He encourages listeners to truly look first at the plank in one’s own eye before worrying about the splinter in a neighbor’s eye.
At a luncheon (personally, I think that’s a strange word) a couple of weeks ago, Lauren Winner was the guest speaker. My first exposure to Lauren was reading a couple of her books while I was in college. A friend lent me a copy of Girl Meets God and I really enjoyed it. A couple of years later, I read Mudhouse Sabbath and loved it. It is still one of my favorite books (Lauren grew up as an Orthodox Jew and actually converted to Christianity in her college years, but this book is all about the beauty of the Jewish faith and its practices, and why Christians should not dismiss and can actually learn some amazing things from some of the deep and meaningful rituals that are part of Christians’ heritage).
Basically, the common denominator in all of these presentations is that they all were quick to say that nothing (especially faith) is black and white, which is something I have experienced personally for many years now. However, even though they acknowledged the difficult parts of sticking with faith in the midst of such a society, they also acknowledged the hope that they have about who Christ was (is) and why it is still so worthwhile to believe and to work for change. Their excitement and hopefulness is encoraging and contagious, so with all these wonderful things by which to be inspired, it’s no wonder my body doesn’t want to sleep and gets me up in the middle of the night to think. Now, if I could only turn that into action!