Being Open-Minded Isn't An Empty-Headed Thing

The other day, I read a fantastic quote from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I have been thinking about it ever since. 

People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for...

Like me, many of you nodded in agreement as you read that line and probably thought of people in your own life who live markedly myopic and unexamined lives. 

These types of people can be confronted with the truth and will still find a way to deny it or dismiss it.  They also tend to be so set in their beliefs and opinions that nothing you say or do will convince them that they might be wrong about them. 

By now, most of you are probably smiling grimly as you begin to list the folks you know who fit that description.  

Or you're listing groups of people you assume (based on what you've seen on social media or cable TV) have those nasty characteristics- the kinds of folks you want nothing to do with. 

The funny thing is that when making our lists and deciding who belongs, we never really think that our name might be on someone else's list.  It never occurs to us that we would be the kind of person who would "see what they look for" or "hear what they listen for." 

And by "funny," I don't mean "ha-ha" funny; I mean odd, strange, or ironic.  

Here's the thing: most of us never look in the mirror when making broad, sweeping statements about people we disagree with.  We seldom account for the possibility that we can become what we say we despise.  

Far too many of us walk around with a dire case of confirmation bias regarding what we look for and hear.  We don't want to see evidence to the contrary regarding our beliefs and opinions, and we often close our ears to anything we hear that might change our minds. 

Not many of us want our minds changed. 

I've spent enough of my life in and around churches and church folks to know that other than politics, religion is the one topic around which people not only have deep disagreements but are also the most intractable in their beliefs and opinions. 

To be fair, in our current cultural climate, it's often hard to differentiate between people's political and religious beliefs.   So there's that. 

Many of us who call ourselves Christians can read the same Scripture and come to entirely different conclusions about what it says, depending on what we are looking for and want to hear. 

For example, the parable that Jesus tells in Matthew's Gospel about the sheep and the goats is read by many Christians as an example of how God sends some people to Hell while others get into Heaven.

Still, others see it as an example of what God values when living a faithful life.  They look to the words of Jesus as that example: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Depending on how you view God and the lens you use to view the world, you might see one or the other of those interpretations in the text.  

But suppose we want to get deeper into the meaning of Scripture. In that case, we must be willing to let go of our confirmation bias and dig into the context, the language, the scholarship, and the imagery surrounding the texts.  

Using all the resources at our disposal allows the text to speak to us rather than speaking into the text.  We let go of the need to see what we are looking for or hear what we want to hear.  We let the Spirit speak as we do the good work of discipleship that comes with a faith seeking understanding. 

This is why it is crucial for those who desire to follow Jesus to hold their beliefs and opinions more loosely.  We need to be willing to have the Spirit work on us as we diligently seek truth where we find it.  

When we impose our will on the Bible and narrow the information we take in daily, creating echo chambers of only what we agree with, it's easy to develop beliefs and opinions about God that become hardened in stone. 

If we continue on this trajectory, before we know it, the God we say that we believe in looks an awful lot like us, and our views on Jesus change dramatically as well.  

Instead of a Jesus who comes in peace, shows love and acceptance of everyone, even those on the margins, heals indiscriminately without demanding faith, and loves and forgives all the way to the Cross, we begin to fashion a figure that looks completely different. 

Far too many leaders in mainstream Christianity today have fashioned a Jesus that takes on the traits of toxic masculinity by minimizing the role of women in the Church, embracing a triumphalism that is based on a zero-sum game of winners and losers, and more. 

And all of this can be traced back to a narrow approach to Scripture and theology that seeks only to affirm what it already believes to be true.  

We can do better.  We have to do better.  

The Spirit of God has not stopped speaking, and the path of discipleship to Christ demands the full use of all the resources and guidance available to us as we seek to be moved by the Spirit. 

Having an open mind is not an empty-headed exercise.  It takes discipline, fortitude, and faith.  Holding our beliefs and opinions more loosely will eventually lead us in the Way of Christ and to a fuller understanding of what that means for us and the world. 

May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.  


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