A year and a half ago, having been living in Hiroshima, Japan for six months, I had a terribly hard time not laughing out loud when I realized the two mid-afternoon visitors to my apartment were in fact Jehovah’s Witnesses... We had pieced together a primarily Japanese (meaning primarily gibberish to me at the time) “conversation”, and when they finally produced a booklet, the “Watchtower” logo was brazened proudly across the top. A year and a half later, I was sitting in their living room eating Brazilian food while one of my band’s CDs that they bought from us played in the background (there’s a “this can’t be real?” experience for you).
From the very beginning, they had been nothing but generous, kind, and open-minded about our religious differences. My wife and I had the opportunity to watch their English skills grow through their desire to share more with us. They showed up practically every week for tea, often with some kind of gift, from Japanese slippers to handwritten verses to encourage us in case of homesickness.
One week I missed their visit, and heard from my wife that the dreaded “Trinity” question had finally been fielded. I tentatively asked for more details before deciding to arm myself for battle in the next week. On their return, the wife of the couple began the conversation by reading a clearly thought out paragraph that made it clear I had brandished my sword in vain. In broken, but impressive English she said, in a nut shell, that she nor her husband wished in any way to threaten our faith, and merely wanted to discuss their beliefs and hear about ours. By the time they left, I felt closer to them that many of my Christian friends with whom I have had…”spirited debates.”
As more weeks passed, the topic of the cross came up. They came researched and prepared as usual, and showed how the Greek word for “cross” and the predominant methods of the Romans did not really point towards a cross of two beams, but to simply an upright post. The cross, as most of us know it, was most likely a pagan symbol introduced much later in history.
I smiled the humble smile that I wear for much of our discussions, and debated emailing my current master’s seminary program to ask for a refund. Then it occurred to me…so what? What if I’m wrong?
This is not the sense in which Damien Rice penned his song, but both senses of the phrase have challenged me in ways I can’t begin to cram into a single blog post. And as I don’t primarily write this for a non-believing audience, I point to a conclusion that is much more poignant to those who believe as I do.
Besides making two millenniums of religious art erroneous, and ruining millions of already ill-conceived tattoos, does the image of the cross as only an upright beam prove the Bible is a lie? Does evidence of a world much older than 6000 years prove Christianity is false and scientifically ignorant, or work in harmony with the beliefs of the vast number of Christians who don’t subscribe to a young earth theory anyway?
Obviously if Jesus is proven to be anything but a tall, handsome, Caucasian with blonde hair and blue eyes then all is lost, but is whether or not instruments should be used in worship really a primary, doctrinal matter? Is it possible that this highly intellectualized, apologetics-based, logical, Western form of Christianity has something to learn from (dare I say it) Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism?
One of the most fantastic ideas I have heard in a while was from a friend who was raised in Islam. His parents taught him that he couldn’t really call himself a Muslim until he knew about all the other religions. As I listened, I realized something about how I was raised, and many of you as well. It was never stated this plainly, but somewhere along the line…
Being opposed to everything else made you a better Christian.
The louder you shouted at the “heretical” teachings of the (pitifully and regrettably) less-informed, unenlightened unbelievers (or other lost souls who were deceived enough to think they WERE believers), the stronger your faith must be. Don’t you dare question the way the church does things or why…that will send you heading down a slippery slope to apostasy.
I have encountered such strange forms of Christianity here in Japan. For a time, I helped lead a Bible study that contained people from all over the map denominationally. And I remember five of us sitting there one day as a Pentecostal sister prayed for another sister’s healing in a way that would’ve made my Southern Baptist blood curl two years ago. But I felt something in that prayer that to this day I will defend as the presence of God. And I felt something as we had tea with our Jehovah’s Witness friends as another older JW woman that they invited shared with me her reasoning for beliefs that I just cannot hold, despite how she supported them logically and felt them emotionally.
Dang it, something of the Lord was there. The friendship, the human brother and sisterhood, the sincere longing, were more of God and a search for truth than some of the most devout Christians (including myself) display.
God is so much bigger than Southern Baptists or any other denomination, and just as Jesus during His ministry on earth was often found in places Jews would have never ventured before, God can be found in places our rigid minds and doctrines refuse to allow.
So what if I’m wrong? Rejoice in it, welcome it, question it, so that when I do say, “no, you are wrong and I am right”, it is the truth of God and not a tradition, or out of fear of losing something I held dear.
And I hope that I’m never dumb/arrogant/self-righteous/callous enough to use those exact words.