I Believe Change is Possible

I’m locked into my way of thinking.

You are locked into yours.

We’re enjoying the banter back and forth.

I’m convinced I’m going to change you and visa versa.

Of course, neither one of us changes our minds. The banter ends and we move on.

This seems to be the course most online conversations take today. If we’re really honest– it’s the way most adults seem to respond to a lot of things.

Conversations is amicable. But true change of actions or opinions seem rare.

Is Change Possible?

Yes! I believe in change absolutely. Core to being a Christian is that He is God and I am not, His ways are right and I sometimes I find myself in the wrong. Without the possibility of change, without an acknowledgement that my ways are insufficient… the Christian life is a joke.  

But what about life change? Is it possible to talk someone out of a firmly held position? Again, I believe the answer is yes.

The Pearl

Deep inside every firmly held belief is a pearl of doubt about that belief. Each of us have lots of pearls in our inward thoughts.

We believe in fiscal conservatism. We believe in the right to bear arms. We believe Tupac is still alive. We believe things are more dangerous today than yesterday. We believe in democracy. We believe GIF is pronounced with a hard G and not like the peanut butter. On and on are all of these beliefs make up who we are, some are firmly held while others we’re less sure of.

But behind each belief is a pearl of doubt. The key to changing someone’s firmly held belief is discovering what this pearl is. Here are two.

Pearl #1: Relationship

For most of human history being gay was a secret. Yet, in less than a generation, our society went from barely acknowledging the LGBT community even existed to seeing gay marriage become the law of the land. How did that happen? Relationship.

For centuries the narrative was that being gay was bad. But as it became more popular (and safer) for people to come out about their sexuality, all of a sudden the “bad narrative” fell apart. You would hear someone say being gay was bad and you’d think about your friends who are gay… You’d think to yourself, “Wait, they aren’t bad. They are my best friends.” And with that, the pearl of doubt that being gay is bad began to grow.  Then, with each new mention of the “gay = bad” narrative, you started to doubt the narrative itself because your relationships proved the narrative false.

Pearl #2: Personal security

Politicians and alarm companies have learned that personal security is a great access point to your wallet. The United States is overwhelmingly a safe place. We take our personal safety for granted. We believe that when we drive to work the road will be just as safe and secure as the last 200 times we did it. But security expands beyond safety. We expect our finances to be secure, too. Why is the unemployment rate an indicator that most Americans know about enough to know if it’s high or low? Personal security. Why do we fund the Food & Drug Administration? Food security. These measures and a thousand like them provide assurance that we are secure and can live our lives without thinking about our personal safety or security. We have come to expect that.

So if you want to change a persons opinion about something you need to make them uncomfortable when it comes to their security. You don’t even have to provide a direct threat! When we lived in Michigan we used to joke that the weather forecasters were paid off by the grocery stores. If they forecasted a big snow storm, this threatened personal security, and people made a run on gas and bread and milk and salt like it was the storm of the century… every month!

Why does this work? Because everyone has a personal security pearl. They’ll change if their job is threatened. They’ll change if their commute is slow. They’ll change if they find out their neighbors house was robbed. We all sit on a pearl of doubt when it comes to personal security.

Hmmm…

So why do I bring this up? I bring this up because over and over again I hear a new narrative emerging that you shouldn’t even bother talking to people about change because they simply won’t change.

And that narrative is a lie.

People change every day. You change every day.

And, as a Christian, to give up on the hope of personal change is to give up hope on God.

Published
Categorized as Culture

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

1 comment

  1. Adam, while I agree in principle with your post, the reality is not ALL beliefs carry that kernel of doubt. The great philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, posited that we all operate with a web of belief (think a spider web). The beliefs that are closer to the end are pretty loosely held beliefs, and can be easily changed with new information. However, the closer the belief comes ot the center of the web, the more firmly held it is, and thus the harder it is to change. While Ricouer himself doesn’t say this, the general interpretation of his work is that certain beliefs at the very center are so tightly held that to change them is more than just a change of belief, but a change of identity. Because of this, those beliefs aren’t dealt with in any substantial way because the pain of change is far greater than the desire to be “right.” As a result, people simply entrench in those beliefs.

    Ricouer also talks about the move from an uncritical faith to an examined one. It occurs in three stages.

    Stage one is Naivete. We have a simple, direct faith, we talk about God, Satan, angels, demons, etc. as though they carpooling with us. Between our language and emotions about the faith, and the realities for which they stand, we see no real distinction or problem. It’s immediate. W tend to see world in black and white. How do you know what to believe? What is right? The “authorities” tell us. Knowledge is absolute and unchanging–it is possessed by the authorities. Ordinary people can’t figure out stuff like this–we bow to those who know. Anyone who disagrees with the authority must be wrong. No compromise or negotiation. People raised in such an environment often grow up to be Stage 1 thinkers–authoritarian, dogmatic. However, when authorities disagree with each other (no matter what the area) it is deeply unsettling. How do you know which one to believe/follow? As soon as we have to explain why we believe one over the other, we have moved from Stage 1 thinking. Just as Adam and Eve couldn’t return to the garden, back to blind and uncritical acceptance of authority once they had tasted the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, so it is nearly impossible to return to Stage 1 after realizing its “oversimplifying inadequacies.”

    Stage Two is Critical Awareness. That’s when we start learning stuff. Greek, Hebrew, doctrine, philosophy, church history. We start realizing not all devoted believers say things the way we do, think the way we do. We realize, for example, that much in the Bible isn’t what we thought, that some important passages have major unresolved issues, many passages have 2 or 3 genuinely possible and mutually exclusive interpretations. The result is a pain like no other. We feel stripped of our faith, our certainty. And since that stripping happened through study, we blame study. At this point, we feel we have “lost our first love” or abandoned the “simplicity that is in Christ.” In Christian Education we call this the “liminal” phase. We are cut off from almost every community we have been a part of.

    Here there are only 3 options. One is to go back; to retreat back into the “first naivete” and resist any further learning, focusing on techniques and skills of ministry (except of course the skills of exegesis and theological analysis). We try to unscramble the egg and get it back into the shell. People responding this way always deny that their response is one of fear.

    The second is to become a cynic, a master of Christian learning and language, but remain detached from all of it; see it all as metaphors, images, nothing as certain or normative. Some scholars end up here, and assume you can’t have a profound and certain faith if you “really know the score.” Unlike the retreaters, people in this reaction always talk about their disillusionment and disappointment. They make no bones about their cynicism, and even come to enjoy shaking people up. If they are teachers, they often exploit the legitimate task of challenging students by using that need to bash them and ruin their faith. But there is a third option.

    Stage Three is a movement forward. We learn enough to become, once again, humble and small in our own sight. We laugh both at our early naive egotism (Satan, the prince of darkness and father of lies, is personally after ME, so I must be important!) and at our critical cynicism (I actually thought I was smart enough to overturn a consensus of Christian truth, teaching and experience). We realize that both naivete and cynicism are immature. This stage is called “second naivete.” We recover our simplicity, our directness in faith, but we realize that our outlook, however true, is at best provisional, certainly partial, and that God has a life beyond us. We are fearless in learning, but also fearless in our believing. Oddly enough, people who are authentically in the “second naivete” will typically decline to say so. They just see themselves as pilgrims, knowing what they know, wanting to learn more, and wanting to please God; but they leave the ultimate issue in God’s hands, confident that He is good on his word, even if we ourselves are not always sure the best way to interpret his word. We don’t shrink from faith, but we know that “we know in part.“

    So with that as background, the more I hear the discussion on gun control (from both sides), the more convinced I am that for some people, this is an issue of identity and thus resistant to actual change. I think the same could be said for people who advocate against women in ministry (NOT my position) or the issue of sexuality or gender issues. Similarly, for some people, they remain in Stage 1, because it is easier to keep listening to the same “authorities” as opposed to new possibilities. Having perhaps tried to engage the other and been burnt, they choose instead to retreat and remain firmly entrenched in their belief.

    Sorry for the long post. While I want to agree with you (I and my Wesleyan faith tribe believe strongly in the Optimism of Grace), the more I study this, the more convinced I am that for some people you won’t be able to change them. And that worries me greatly.

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