Do You Speak Grey?

I know that at least 10 times in the last 5 years, my Christian friends have responded with the same exact quote when they discover I don’t believe in the inerrancy of scripture, that I believe the Bible was written by fallible human beings and thus subject to error. Here it is…are you ready? “So you hate the Bible now?” Wow. It comes so far out of left field, they may as well ask, “So you’ve taken up winter pole vaulting?” What a leap! At first, I was stunned at the aberration. I’m no longer surprised by it, but I am curious. Why is it assumed that I must either love or hate the Bible? Why is it unthinkable that I can still be inspired by the text? Still find divine wisdom and guidance for my life? Even see God’s metaphorical breath as its source in places? ‘Hate it? No! Of course not’, I respond. But my denial seems to bring them no relief. It’s as if they don’t hear it or I am speaking a foreign language. All my talk about the Bible being simultaneously inspired AND flawed doesn’t compute. It’s Grey Language—the language of “both/and”. To someone who is conditioned to think and speak in “either/or” language, communication can be difficult. Therefore, it is imperative that today’s religions, especially those that foster binary worldviews, learn to hear and speak Grey Language if they want to communicate with the world.
The tendency to think in polarities is very common. In politics, an Independent Presidential candidate is not considered a legitimate contender. In sports, tie games leave us suspended; someone has to win or lose. In most Christian traditions one is either lost or saved, going to heaven or hell, Calvinist or Arian. We’re told that even God hates lukewarmness—it makes him vomit, in fact.
A disdain for mixing things is found in the ancient traditions of Judaism and Christianity law. The blending of two fabrics in the same garment, the sowing of different seeds in the same field, inter-racial marriage—all forbidden. Today’s genetic Melting Pot would probably make some ancient Hebrews very nervous. One thing is certain, the fear of Grey has been around a long time.
Any yet Grey is everywhere. History is laden with gaps that only speculation can fill. Science, while constantly searching for empirical evidence, creates as many questions as answers. Words mean different things depending on their context. The big questions of Philosophy will always be debated with little or no resolve. But no subject is more infected with Grey than theology. After all, we’re all just making stuff up. Ideas, speculations, revelations, epiphanies—all rise out of the creative imagination of humankind. Some claim that their ideas are right and other’s ideas are wrong, but how will we ever know? We might even claim divine revelation but their remains no way to prove it.
What is our aversion to Grey? What is our attraction to black and white? Perhaps we feel secure and in control by organizing everything in two boxes—a black one and white one. When the boxes break and the colors bleed into Grey we panic. One of the favorite metaphors of black & white thinkers is “slippery slope”. They say, “If we start questioning scripture, how do we know what’s right and wrong? Next thing you know everyone’s believing something different—what a mess! If we endorse homosexuality, what’s next? Bestiality? Pedophilia?” Surely it’s possible to navigate the Grey and still maintain some common sense.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, two of the basest needs are survival and safety. We, along with the animal kingdom, need to feel safe; we need to know everything’s alright. Our base nature shrinks back from the unknown, from risk. We’re afraid of the dark. We’re afraid of Grey.
What threatens our safety and security? Perhaps change itself is what we fear? The fear of the unknown is in our DNA. We like to have things figured out. Some people love mystery and the twisting plot of novella with a shocking ending, but the key word here is “ending”; it comes to end. It’s OK if it’s a moment of entertainment or recreation, but it’s no way to live. When we leave the movie theater or put down the book, our love for the comfort of our predictable lives is actually enforced by contrasting it against the endangered journey and indefinite outcome of our fictional heroes. We vicariously live our risky fantasies through these narratives, but we avoid them in our real lives.
Yet Jesus lauded those who risked losing their talents to gain more and condemned the one who played it safe. Without risk, we’ve no skin in the game. We simplify the world by minimizing our options. In fact, the best case scenario is when the decision is made for us. We look for an authoritative voice to think for us. We love when this happens so much that we’re apt to grant such authority to the first nuance that might pass for God. Dr. Kaisa Puhakka observes, “When the need to understand is satisfied by an authority we can believe in…the mind settles into a position.” This “settling” locks our minds into narrow thinking, possibly preventing us from learning. It’s possible for us to settle on a resolve so stubbornly that God itself can’t tell us otherwise.
So we like the easy way—this is not news. Nor is it incriminating to want to minimize difficulty in our lives. It only becomes problematic when we over-simplify the complex in order to pacify our fears and mistake it for faith. Secondly, our staunch commitment to the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ position means we’re only talking, not listening, and thus cut off from true dialogue. A religious tradition that prides itself as truth-seekers cannot maintain this reputation if they’re most known for burying their heads in the sand.
In her article entitled Transformation, Kaisa Puhakka notices two trends in America on a collision course: one position clings to black and white thinking, “with no confusing grey area in between.” The other position questions faith and regards religious dogma as objective with lots of room for Grey. We are need of solutions to this impending disparity.
Beverly Lanzetta writes about this tension. “For centuries, especially in Western theologies, a tension has existed between orthodoxy and mystical spirituality. In addition, a strong cultural prohibition is exerted against “the mystical” and against whatever probes beneath the façade of things to peer into what is more authentic and real. However, what may have served as a preserving or guarding function over the centuries now is in danger of standing in the way of the urgent necessity in our time for a shared spiritual vision sustainable not just for our souls, but for the flourishing of life itself.”
Psychiatrists Aaron Beck and David Burns say black and white thinking is one aspect of what they call “Cognitive Distortion” . Other examples include Overgeneralization, Jumping to Conclusions, Catastrophizing (perpetually expecting disaster), Shoulds (highly conscious of rules and a strong expectation of self and others to uphold them), Always Being Right, and Heaven’s Reward Fallacy (expecting benefits for self-sacrifice). I have observed each one of these Cognitive Distortions in myself and others, especially in religious contexts. Getting comfortable with Grey may lead to greater emotional health.
Gandhi seemed very comfortable with Grey when he said, “I came to the conclusion long ago…that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism.”
Imagine the courage required the first time a religious person, after decades of “knowing” a truth, first peeks their head out of the sand, begins to look squarely into the Grey, and entertains the possibility that “truth” is a much more colorful spectrum than black and white. This is how a new journey begins. They find that they need to read more, talk with friends more, pray more, and over time they move out of fear into awe and wonder. Mystery becomes beautiful. Doubt is no longer a negative—it fuels their pilgrimage. They’re learning to understand Grey.
With the bifurcating habit broken, the 21st century explodes upon us with new possibilities and high ideals—many we stopped believing in. Grey invites us into dialogue with our neighbor. We might have to step out of what we “know” and listen to others in order to meet somewhere in between. Even this arouses a fear of compromise and thoughts of disappointing God. As we enter the Grey, we’re truly hoping that God is good—perhaps better than we’ve ever required God to be. We’re out on a limb, but that’s’ where the fruit is. Perhaps love does cast out all fear? At the beginning, I posed the question, “Do you speak Grey?” Well, I’ve been speaking Grey this whole time so if you understood anything I’ve said, you speak Grey. Welcome to the real world.

3 thoughts on “Do You Speak Grey?

  1. Jim Wehde says:

    Beautiful, Cass. Even if you hold that the Bible was completely from God, but some of Paul’s stuff God allowed there to show he was still human (no women over men, etc.), and you’re STILL a hater of the Bible. : ) Thanks for posting this.

  2. Katharine Buffy says:

    It is ironic that you use ‘language’ as your metaphor for “both/and”… since language itself is a primary source of discrimination between ‘this’ and ‘that’. It’s definitely time for a reboot: Language 2.0. Well said, well done : )

  3. Carol says:

    Well-written, Bro.

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