Our Defining Irony
“But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (Luke 7:35) As a member, and now pastor, of such a gifted faith community, I am grateful for the many and diverse sources of wisdom among us. Today’s blog post is by Paige Weston, who has been an ambassador of listening and peace-making within NCF for many years. Her thoughtful reflections have been treasured by pastors before me, and we continue to welcome her voice and actions that encourage our journeys toward God and toward each other.
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My spouse brought to my attention the cover article from a New York Times Book Review last January, by Leon Wieseltier, because it’s an exploration of “humanism” and “technologism,” which are things that mattered to me at my (former) day job. What caught my attention, though, was the part of his essay about how we define a culture (or, I would say, a community or Fellowship). It made me think about NCF; our process of intentional, continuing transition; the “dynamic tension” in which we hold our doctrinal certainties; and peacemaking.
Here’s an excerpt:
No culture is philosophically monolithic, or promotes a single conception of the human. A culture is an internecine contest between alternative conceptions of the human. Which culture is free of contradictions between first principles? This is no less true of religious cultures than of secular ones, of closed societies than of open ones. . . . A culture may be regarded as the sum of all the philosophies, all the reflective approaches to living, that are manifestly or latently expressed in a society. It is a gorgeous anarchy, even if it contains illusions and errors. There are worse things than being wrong.
Within a culture, however, some views may come to prevail over others, for intellectual or social reasons. The war between the worldviews has winners and losers, though none of the worldviews are ever erased and there is honor also in loss.
So I can’t help noticing (which is not to say “I am struck by”) the violence of Wieseltier’s figures of speech (“internecine contest,” “war between the worldviews”). If you know me, you know how much I think this matters. I suggest that New Covenant’s project, our distinctive role in the world, is to restate what Wieseltier says in peaceful language and then to live it out. As a way to collaborate with God on the building of the Kingdom, our job is to nurture a culture of diversity that anyone would describe only with peaceful metaphors.
Where we have “contradictions between first principles,” we live with them. They are our defining irony. NCF’s Future Planning Team’s alumni may remember me talking about defining ironies. I contend (and guess Wieseltier would agree with me, for what that’s worth) that every community has one, and that it’s what makes them a community. The example I usually use is librarians: we will reject any form of censorship except on the issue of censorship itself, about which there is only one right way to think.
In New Covenant Fellowship our defining irony is that we are open and welcoming to any who seek God, except to any who are not open and welcoming to any who seek God. To those we say, as kindly as we can, “You probably won’t be happy here; we hope you find another place.” As Wieseltier says, “It is a melancholy fact of history that there has never been a universalism that did not exclude. . . . Asking universalism to keep faith with its own principles is a perennial activity of moral life.”
So, within our ironically-defined community, what can we accomplish? Rather than stage a contest from which there will be winners and losers, rather than go to war, how do we explore, nurture, lean in to, grab on to, test, and build upon our “alternative conceptions of the human”? I don’t have an answer. But I think the answer is going to require us to invite peace into every aspect of our lives, so that even the language of violence feels to us as uncomfortable as shaping our mouths around a foreign tongue.