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“Experience teaches only the teachable” — Aldous Huxley

Ideas have a habit of crawling into our minds and setting up shop. Once there, they make themselves comfortable and even with the best of our intentions, they refuse to leave. Case in point, when I was a kid, I got an idea in my head and for nearly forty years it has stayed stuck there. It has inhibited my ability to do more than a few things. It caused me to change majors in college for fear of failing at what I wanted to do. Even now, I still struggle with it and avoid dealing with it as much as possible. 

I can’t do math.

That’s not entirely true. I can do some basic elementary things but begin to delve deeply into algebra or trigonometry and I’m lost. I once walked out of a pre-calculus class in college because the teacher put a bunch of equations and proofs on the board and said they were ‘review material’. I marched my happy little self to the registrar and got a day one refund. I never took another math class in college. 

My wife has proven to me that this is untrue. On more than one occasion she has walked me through various equations and proofs to show me I could in fact learn functions, equations, and the like. I walk through the steps with her and arrive at the correct solution. And once I walk away from it, the mental block comes back. Even though I just finish proving to myself how capable I am of learning, my cognitive default kicks in and I once again convince myself that I can’t do math.

“Experience teaches only the teachable.”

I thought about my struggles with math when I read this quote a day or two ago. I am perfectly capable of learn higher math concepts. As I said, my wife has proven it to me. My problem is I have convinced myself I can’t. I have decided I am not teachable in this discipline we call math. 

I grew up hearing experience is the best teacher. But if we are unwilling to learn, experience has nothing to offer us. I think this shows up in the faith community when we come to a place of comfort. We know that we know what we know. We have accepted a way of thinking and being. It is the fabric of our communal relationships, binding us together with those we love and trust. 

The problem comes when we want others to be a part of that community, when we want the community to grow. Growth means change. Change creates conflict. Not necessarily conflict in the sense of fighting with others (although that happens) but conflict within our individual self. Writer and philosopher Umberto Eco wrote, 

Having an enemy is important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth. So when there is no enemy, we have to invent one.[1]

Umberto Eco

When our way of thinking and being becomes a fortress rather than a refuge, we find ourselves creating these enemies. New people with new and different ideas clash with what we know that we know. These new ideas, new beliefs, cause conflict within us and we blame the other. They become the enemy. These things we don’t know are bad things because they conflict with what we know and we have created an enemy, a straw man who we must defend ourselves from.

But this really isn’t so. We don’t have to defend anything. The whole concept of defending our faith in the modern sense is ludicrous. Defend from what? From Whom? No one is trying to take anything from us. We have been fed a stream of lies by certain religious powerbrokers who seek control over their individual religious domains. We are simply experiencing cognitive dissonance—the clash within our minds of trying to reconcile conflicting information. 

Perhaps there is another way to look at this. If we consider our relationship with God as a journey, something moving and evolving rather than static, we can look at our beliefs and other beliefs differently and without any sense of fear or animosity. Let’s say God is a dot in the center of a page. Around the page are other smaller dots. Each of the smaller dots has lines that project out of them. Some lines are straighter than others and some look like insane squiggles. All the lines measure movement either toward God or away from. 

This movement is the individual’s journey, their relationship to and with God. It is a journey from brokenness to healing to wholeness. None of these movements starts or moves in the exact same way. They may overlap at times, but each is distinct, unique. Therefore, none of us can judge the journey of another much less define another as enemy. All of us, even those who seem to have lives incredibly like another, have a unique interior relationship with God. There are no enemies. There are only people who are traveling toward God. We are all trying to work toward wholeness, a meaning for the New Testament Greek word soteria which is often translated as salvation. The journey of wholeness is an individual journey taken alongside, around, and sometimes in contrast to others. It is the healing they need to reach the wholeness of God and may look different from the healing we need.  

To quote the song from Dave Mason, “There ain’t no good guys / There ain’t no bad guys / There’s only you and me and we just disagree.”[2] We are all on a journey to see the brokenness we have experienced in life healed so we can move on toward wholeness of heart and mind. We need to learn to be teachable, open to new ideas, new experiences, new people. Will they all connect with us? No. Will they all join us or travel with us? No. But as John Wesley said, 

Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.[3]

John Wesley

At the least, we can encourage those around us to travel well, in a spirit of love, and trust that the God who guides our journey guides theirs as well. 

[1] Umberto Eco. Inventing the Enemy. © 2013 Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Boston/New York. p.2

[2] Kreuger, Jim. We Just Disagree. Columbia Records. 1977

[3] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/606920-though-we-cannot-think-alike-may-we-not-love-alike