Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why I'm bad at making decisions

I just got back from the Wild Goose Festival, or what I've been endearingly calling "the Christian hippie fest." It's an inspiring three-day festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina, with the goal of  providing "a space for courageous, imaginative, and participative social justice work, creative expression, spiritual practice, and astonishing music."  Perhaps most "astonishing" was my attempt to join in on the free-spirited dancing to Native American flute music. I managed only a very subtle wobble as I self-consciously watched people around me flail joyously like puppets on strings.

At the heart of who I am, I'm someone who wants other people to understand each other and to find some way to get along. I want the hippies and the conservatives to dance together even if it is uncomfortably awkward.  My parents have always said I would make a good judge or college president because I like to fairly weigh the opinions of every side. The problem with this seemingly nice trait is that it takes me forever to form my own opinion (e.g. who to vote for, what I believe) or to make any type of decision at all (my college roommate used to make me practice being decisive by holding up different brands of toothpaste to choose from).


I've learned that indecisiveness is not exactly a virtue valued by our society. Once, I was out to dinner with a group of Harvard psychology PhD students and our professor, and we were discussing the upcoming election between McCain and Obama. One student exclaimed that he couldn't understand how some people still hadn't made up their minds one month prior to the election. As if grasping for some explanation he finally said, 

"They must just be less intelligent!" 

Stunned and feeling a flash of courage I interjected and said, 

"Well I actually haven't decided yet." 

The professor, likely a little embarassed, tried to come to the rescue and fumbled, 

"Oh I'm sorry, we just assumed that since you were at Harvard you were a Democrat."  

For full disclosure, I did end up voting for Obama (I hope that doesn't keep my more Republican friends from reading the rest of this post), but the truth is I never did have very strong convictions, and I continued to resent the assumption that fence-sitters were somehow lesser than people with strong opinions. In fact, all through school and through church I've felt pushed to argue for a side, often before I was ready.

We grow up trained that strong thesis statements make for the best papers, and definitive hypotheses make for the best science experiments, and deep convictions make for the best evangelists. I can't help but wonder if this societal pressure to have a firm and consistent stand is part of the reason why we struggle so much to have dialogue, why we can feel so easily threatened by other viewpoints, why we sometimes stuff opposing evidence under the rug, and squirm uncomfortably in the presence of uncertainty and the unknown. 

I find this bias toward certainty most difficult when it comes to faith and religion. At the Wild Good Festival during a Q&A session, I went up to Frank Schaeffer, the son of a well-known now deceased evangelical, Francis Schaeffer, and I asked him the following: 

"The last few years I've been going through a time of great questioning of my faith. And during this time I've found it very hard to go to church. The rituals at church are centered around affirming belief whether it's through reciting creeds, singing songs, prayer, or communion.

What are the rituals I can do as a seeker that reflect searching and mystery rather than certainty and defending?"

As someone who has also struggled deeply with his faith, he responded by encouraging me to keep trying, to keep saying the words and doing the rituals even if at times I felt like an atheist.

While I do think there is a time for persistence, a time to keep saying I love you to your wife when you don't feel like it, and a time to keep exercising when it hurts, I also think there is a time to sit in painful silence while your lips don't move and your head doesn't bow. Maybe you begin to see this silence as necessary, like a rest in a song, not to be rushed through, filled, or fixed, but just experienced as part of the music. Maybe you begin to see doubts not as a disease to be quickly cured but as a pruning tool and your beliefs not as brick and mortar but as temporary scaffolding that we continually re-position as we catch glimpses of reality. And maybe you even let go for a little bit, unclasping your grip on certainty, shifting from defending to discovery, and you dangle, now untethered, finally fully trusting that God will still hold you as you flail awkwardly and dance through life as best as you can.


A Glimpse of the Wild Goose Festival

We gathered... 

We camped...

   We brought diverse viewpoints... 


  We listened to wonderful speakers like Philip Yancy and Phyllis Tickle...

 We were inspired in various ways...

We made cool art...

We were curiously provoked (?) ...

We partied to fabulous bluegrass music...
And we were hippies...

 All in all, a good time :)

1 comment:

  1. as I told you in person--but shall leave the comment...i just loved the whole paragraph this quote is from--it really resonated with me. disillusionment and re-configuring can be one of the HEALTHIEST things for our faith--uncomfortable for sure, but still good.

    "Maybe you begin to see doubts not as a disease to be quickly cured but as a pruning tool and your beliefs not as brick and mortar but as temporary scaffolding that we continually re-position as we catch glimpses of reality"

    SO ON POINT!!!!! :)