Toward a Communal Understanding of Life

Relational maturity sufficient to understand and respect others.  

Psychologists now talk of "emotional intelligence," or EQ, as a major factor in personal development. While the world has given much attention to IQ, EQ is just as important. Individuals who lack the ability to relate to others are destined to fail at some of life's most significant challenges and will not fulfill some of their most important responsibilities and roles.


By nature, many boys are inwardly directed. While girls learn how to read emotional signals and connect, many boys lack the capacity to do so, and seemingly fail to understand the absence of these skills. While a man is to demonstrate emotional strength, constancy and steadfastness, he must be able to relate to his wife, his children, his peers, his colleagues and a host of others in a way that demonstrates respect, understanding and appropriate empathy. This will not be learned by playing video games and by entering into the privatized world experienced by many male adolescents.


I actually agree with his first paragraph here a lot – as in, I could have written it myself, I agree with it that much.


For those of you who know me, you know that the center of the Christian faith is, for me, the Trinity, and the community that develops from that. In a short summary of this gigantic theological concept, the Trinity, composed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a perfect unity of love and grace and mercy, all created and creating, growing out and into each other – this perfect harmonious circle of God’s love emanating from Father and Son and creating Spirit, which is how we connect.


[caption id="attachment_475" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="This is a common representation of the Trinity."][/caption]


When we speak of being created in the image of God – the imago dei – this perfect harmony of community is what we are referring to, in my theology. Loving God shows us how to love our neighbor, and by loving our neighbor, we show how much we love God. It’s this perfect give and take. As a result – even though I am frequently divisive and controversial and certainly not perfect in creating community – my motivations for calling others out and for responding to bad theology (quite often bluntly and somewhat harshly) is out of a heart for the Christian community. Nothing pains me more than to see Christian brothers and sisters – our neighbors and those we are supposed to love to the point of sacrificing our own selves for them – trampled and oppressed and made to feel like less than human because of something a prominent voice in the church has said.


Which is why I find it so ironic and so hard to admit that I actually agree with the beginning of Mohler’s statement here. Because as much as I agree with the sentiment expressed – that relational and emotional intelligence is just as if not more important than normal smarts – I cannot help but feel that it rings hollow, in light of the oppressive theology he’s been espousing up to this point. Theology that propounds to edify the community of Christ while also marginalizing half of that same community is no theology I want to follow.


So, reluctantly, he has a point. Let’s see how he undermines it.


Ah. Damn. So so close to being good, Mohler. Shucks.


Here, we have a blatant contradiction between the first paragraph and second. In the first, he reminds us that emotional intelligence and being able to respect, understand, and love others is of utmost importance. And then, he ignores everything that makes each of his readers human and paints us with broad strokes according to our physical characteristics.


My own lived experience contradicts Mohler’s claim. One of the hardest things in the world for me to learn (and am definitely still learning) is to not have my immediate reaction to events and frustrations be one of selfishness.


I’m not alone in this.


David Foster Wallace, one of the great minds of our generation who we lost too soon (RIP, DFW), spoke in 2005 to the graduates of Kenyon College, saying:


And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the "rat race" -- the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.


(read the whole thing here)


This constant readjustment, this “EQ,” this ability to refocus our narratives to include the narratives of other people is the center of the Christian faith. Without refocusing and reimagining and readjusting every day – with the help of faithful study and a supportive, edifying community – we cannot call ourselves Christians. This is not a problem unique to men. This is not a goal that is somehow harder to accomplish because of a certain biological structure. This is a day-in-day-out struggle for every human being, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, rich, poor, middle class, extrovert, introvert, whatever.


To reduce us again to our biology, as Mohler does, destroys the recreated narrative, destroys the patterns of thinking that a Christian should be developing. Rather than seeing the world as “man and woman” and expecting people to behave in certain ways or reach for certain goals because of that biological fact, we, AS CHRISTIANS, are called to reform the narrative. Instead of seeing “man,” I see Collin, Clay, David, Josiah, Jim, Justin, Zack – all my different male friends who are all wonderful people in their own, different, myriad ways. Likewise, instead of seeing “woman,” I see Kim, Audrey, Mandy, Kimberley, Joanna, Caroline, Mikhaila, Eydie, Carrie, Melisa, Lydia – all wonderful female friends who are their own people, with their own life stories and their own narratives that I must listen to and attempt to understand in order to really, truly, love them as I should, as Christ does.


Mohler, here, fails miserably in the one great call on a Christian: to understand, foster, and grow community by recognizing, naming, and understanding our neighbors. This is the Great Story, the Good News: that you have a name, that you have an identity, that you are loved, and that you are called to turn around and do the same for each and every one of your neighbors, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or any other identifying labels.


And, frankly, "one who loves my neighbor" is the only role I am interested in having.