Can You Be Challenged?

There is a humility in starting to understand that you may have been wrong about things. The things in question don’t have to be large, it doesn’t need to be about changing your political party, or your religion, but it begins to start a trend. A good trend, I think. When you realize you’ve been wrong about something, and then do a course correction… and then maybe realize you’ve been wrong about something else, maybe in a different category in life, and have to do a course correction there… and then maybe realize you’ve been wrong about still another thing, maybe in a totally different category of your life, and you do some shifting and changing there too… well, yes at that point a trend has begun. There’s that. But also, a creeping question starts to make itself known. What else have I been wrong about? And that’s one of those hard to ask, impossible to answer life questions because it’s essentially asking ‘what don’t I know?’ and the thing about that is you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s a tautology, but one worth pointing out.

What else have I been wrong about?

You might think it starts to be a downward spiral of uncontrollable self-questioning, and of course it can become a crisis of faith, or a crisis of conscience, or just your average all-purpose existential crisis. But it can also be an upward spiral, one slow careful step up a staircase bringing you further and further into the light. Because enough of this and a person is liable to start holding their beliefs rather gently.

Holding a belief (or a thought, or an ideology) gently is that act of saying, ‘yes, this is where I stand because I think it’s the right place to stand, but I may not be here permanently; I’m willing to upgrade if I find a better version because I deserve the best way.’

So, let’s take religion as an example, because I think this idea can be misunderstood. Holding your religious beliefs lightly doesn’t mean you’re ready to stop being Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim at the drop of a hat, because that’s generally the urge to throw out the baby with the bathwater. All religions have their beautiful, enlightened, perfect parts. And all religions have their toxic parts, too – I say this as someone who has practiced one religion her entire life and become a cleric in it, and led others in the formation and practice of it (and also curiously looked into the religions of others). What holding your religious beliefs lightly might entail is holding all those specific, granular, individual beliefs lightly – the list of a hundred different things you have to do in order to be loved by God, or the list of seventy miraculous things you are meant to believe happened. It also might mean shifting your internal filters for your religion. By this I mean what is the one foundational belief, or set of beliefs within your religion that you use to interpret every other part of your religion, or perhaps every other part of your life.

For me (to give you an example), that lens is a teaching of Jesus that goes like this: if you are confused about how to love God, love your neighbor as yourself and you’ll slip sideways into loving God. All other rules are commentary. 

So, I look at everything in my religion (and in my life) through that lens. If something doesn’t mesh with loving myself and loving my neighbors, I take it with a grain of salt. I don’t invest a whole lot of belief in it, and I don’t follow the people who do. 

Did I always look at my religion and my life through this lens? No, no I didn’t. But those days were filled with all kinds of wrong-headed and unhelpful beliefs. Do I hold even ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ lightly? I sure do. Because I’m willing to upgrade if I find something even better, even brighter, even more loving and beautiful comes along.

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