What’s So Threatening About a Changed-Mind? (Resisting the Term “Flip-Flopper”)

“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I love words, and because I love words, I get defensive when they are misused. (And yes, I know how dorky this sounds.)

I don’t mean that I’m the type who gets all bent-out-of-shape when someone uses “who” instead of “whom,” or “can I” instead of “may I.” I get defensive when people use terms like “pro-abortion” rather than “pro-choice,” or “anti-family” instead of “pro-equality.” It irks me so much, I find myself defending groups I do not even associate or agree with, when they are mischaracterized by the willful abuse of language. Calling the pro-choice movement “pro-abortion,” for example, immediately creates a hostile environment in which to carry on a conversation. No one that I’ve ever met that identifies themselves as pro-choice has ever been pro-abortion, and to insinuate that they are is insulting, and is evidence of how disinterested one is in hearing the convictions of others. Just because we do not agree does not give me the right to characterize you as something that you’re not.

“Flip-Flopping”

So. When I hear the term “flip-flopping” being tossed around (in the context of political or moral convictions or beliefs), I usually become irritated. Because when people say so-and-so is a “flip-flopper,” the connotation is usually that the person in question is pandering to their audience, in an effort to remain likable by all involved parties. The connotation is that the person in question is a shill. Or a ideological whore. Whatever floats your boat. And sometimes that is genuinely the case, and in those circumstances, I’m all for “calling a spade, a spade.” But usually? Usually people throw out the term “flip-flopping” as a way of discounting the journey one has made to come to the conclusion one is at.

A personal example: I’ve often been called a flip-flopper because of my conversion from Atheism to Christianity. Those that label me a flip-flipper, in that regard, are looking to devalue the experiences that led me to a point of conversion. They are establishing security in their beliefs, by choosing not to acknowledge my experiences, and instead, insinuating that I haven’t thought the whole thing through entirely, or that I am weak-minded, because I changed my mind. It is much easier to label me as as weak-minded, spiritual flip-flopper, than to consider that I’ve actually changed my mind based off new information and experiences.

In the same way, I hear people calling politicians flip-floppers all the time. Yes, sometimes politicians are flip-floppers–in that they’re compromising themselves for the sake of winning votes–but often, they’re just changing their minds based off of new and better information. (The way any sane person should.)

What’s So Threatening About a Changed-Mind?

To acknowledge that someone weighed an issue thoroughly, and then changed their mind, is to acknowledge that you might change your mind also. And for many, many of us, the very idea that there is a possibility that we might someday change our mind, is all-out frightening, because so much of our identity is wrapped-up in the labels we stick on ourselves. So, as a preemptive defense, rather than asking someone how they came to a point where they changed their mind, we quickly call them a “flip-flopper,” and continue sheltering ourselves from new experiences and information. (And if you ask me, that’s no way to live.) And please understand that I am not pointing fingers here: just as many Christians do this as Atheists, and just as many Republicans do this as Democrats. We are all equally guilty of not listening to the stories and journeys of others, and considering their implications.

Seeing the Value in Others’ Experiences

This is all to ask that the next time you’re about to label someone as a “flip-flopper,” that you stop for a moment and consider what you’re saying. Do you really believe that the person in question is pandering to an audience, or is there a chance that the person actually changed their mind? And if there’s a chance that the person legitimately changed their mind, what makes their journey any less worthy or valid than your own? And, if you’re in a place to speak directly to the person in question, maybe ask them how they came to their decision, because I guarantee you there is a great story there. There is so much to be learned from the journeys of others, if we would only ask them. We will find ourselves much better able to communicate with others, if we simply make an effort to understand their story, rather than shutting them down, and moving on. We will find ourselves better able to love others if we would only listen to their journeys with open hearts.

When we humble ourselves, and open our ears to those that we do not typically align with, we’re venturing out into fertile ground, and that’s the first step to cultivating a non-adversarial relationship. And if there is anything this country needs, its fewer adversaries, and more allies.

When was the last time you listened to the journey of someone with an opposing perspective? Have you ever shared an unexpected connection with someone of an opposing perspective? What was that like? Share your stories in the comments below. 🙂

(I’ll be back tomorrow with a little bit more on Sincerity.)

xoxo,

mj

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Let’s be friends!

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So This is Love? (Follow-up to 50 Shades of Magic Mike)

I’m sitting here at my computer, collecting my thoughts, and on the surface, everything is exactly the same as it was yesterday. Same feeling of disapproval when I look at my face in the mirror (explanation). Same anxiety about leaning into the words that have been put on my heart. Heck, I’m even drinking from the same coffee cup (I washed it, don’t worry).

But below the surface, I’m overwhelmed. I’m completely humbled by the incredible outpouring of love and support I’ve received from strangers.

You know, when I first sat down to get that 50 Shades/Magic Mike post out, I’m going to be honest: it felt as if I was unloading a burden. I didn’t write it so much to please God, as to get him off of my back. (I wish I could say I had more righteous intentions.) I put off writing it for several days, but whenever I’d sit down to blog, or work on my book, or email a friend, I couldn’t write the words I wanted to write, because the whole 50 Shades/MM thing kept bubbling up. So late one night, annoyed that I couldn’t get any “real” work done, I finally addressed the issue that had been niggling at me for the past week. And I am so glad that I did.

God is Proving a Point

It is interesting, how even in the community of believers, one can feel so alone. At least, that’s my experience. I didn’t see much purpose in writing that post, beyond showing God that I was willing to let him interrupt my plans, even though I didn’t see a real point in it. (Though I’m well-known in my field, outside the tech-world, I’m nobody special, so the its not like anyone was going to read it anyway.) And in hindsight, I wonder if God’s purpose for me wasn’t necessarily just to address the 50 Shades/MM issue, but to show me that I’m not alone. That there are sisters (and brothers) all around me, and that I don’t have to feel so isolated.

So thank you. And “thank you” are pretty measly words, compared to how I feel. I am so grateful to each of you who has extended herself/himself in support, and has encouraged me to continue saying “yes” to God’s “interruptions.” You have blessed me immensely, and God is using you to prove a point to me: I can trust that I am not alone. I can find community and love in a group of people who used to intimidate me. A group that I used to openly despise. (Maybe sometime I’ll talk about my pre-Christian life a bit. What a change.) That I’ve been adopted by such a father, into such a family, moves me to tears. What a beautiful, beautiful gift that I absolutely do not deserve.

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This is not to say that there has not been resistance. I knew when I wrote it that it was not going to please everyone (and would probably upset some), but should pleasing people be my primary concern? Like so many people, I place too much value in how others regard me, and I often prioritize others’ comfort to a fault. Saying “yes” to the words that were placed on my heart was a way of willfully pushing myself out of my comfort zone, recognizing my error in allowing others’ opinions of me to dictate my identity, and deciding to place my security in the opinion of my Father alone. And it was hard. And just because I did it one time, doesn’t mean that it’s over. I’m afraid and excited that in this regard, my journey has only just begun.

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Feel-goods aside, I’ve learned a lot from the spectrum of responses I’ve received.

  • We can turn nasty when our earthly desires are threatened.
  • We are prone to justifying behaviors to satisfy our ideas of what is good, rather than God’s.
  • Many people have said that admonishment of wrong behavior is “why they left the church.”

“It’s people like you that caused me to leave the church.”

That third point, “Many people claim that admonishment of wrong behavior is “why they left the church,”” is an interesting one. I can see a lot of myself in that statement. Like I said earlier, even in the community of believers, I often feel alone. There is a lot that bugs me about Christians; some of it is vestigial frustration from my pre-Christian experiences, but some of it is rooted in legitimate concern. Probably the greatest factor that has influenced me to stay in the church over the past several years is that at one point I realized that authentic faith is not rooted in one’s feelings about Christians; deep, meaningful, authentic faith is rooted in one’s love for God their Father. 

If your faith is tied up in people-pleasing, and following rules in order to be accepted by people, your faith is in trouble. I used to resent Christians, because I didn’t feel like I needed to live a certain way in order for God to love me. And that’s the truth. God loves you, no matter what. But here’s the thing: if you believe that God, your Father, loves you, and only wants the best for you, it follows that you would, out of respect and love for Him, do your best to live in a way that honors Him, and brings glory to his name. It is IMPOSSIBLE to be happy living that life if you are looking to others for validation. So many of us have tried doing just that, and failed miserably.

So to those of you who would say that being admonished by other believers is pushing you away from God, I encourage you to reorganize your priorities, and begin making decisions through the lens of God your Father. If you love God, seek after Him, and his will, and his purpose for your life. It will follow naturally that you will make decisions based on His approval alone. (Though that doesn’t make those decisions easy.) Once that becomes your new normal, I believe you will have a whole new perspective on admonishment from other believers.

God, The Dictator

If you’re trying to live under God without loving him, or without knowing his love for you, you’re missing out entirely, and you’re going to feel like you’re beating your head against a wall. If you feel as if God your Father is demanding, and oppressive, and you’re constantly struggling to please him, you’re not getting it, and my prayer for you is that something will happen that will reveal God’s overwhelming love for you, because it will change your life.

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Thank you, again, for encouraging me, and for correcting me that sharing God’s truth doesn’t have to be “quick, like a bandaid,” (my words), but “loud, and clear, like a trumpet call” (words of a particularly inspiring commenter.

I love you. I really do. And that’s the first time I’ve ever felt that for our big, crazy, sometimes loud-mouthed family. (Even though there are a few of you that fall into the “crazy uncle” category, and a few of you who I’m SURE would argue with me about politics over the Thanksgiving turkey.) 🙂

So this is brotherly love, huh? It’s a whole new world.

Xoxo,

mj

What Christmas Means to Me

So, I got some interesting feedback about my “I’m failing at Christmas” video, and I thought I’d just address it here. Lots of people seem to think that I’m not aware of the history of Christmas, or the origin of many of our most popular christmas traditions. Rest assured that I’m aware. Nowadays, anyone with a computer can become privy to the details without investing too much time. So yes, I’m aware that a Christmas tree has nothing to do with Jesus. I’m also aware that Christians have co-opted many traditions that they themselves did not create.

I’m aware.

I’m educated.

This is not about that.

This is about what Christmas means to me, and before I get to that, I need to share some history with you.

This might come as a surprise to you, but I’m not perfect. (Shocker, right?) Actually, if we’re going to be totally honest, I used to be a pretty rotten person. So if you were unfortunate enough to know me (or perhaps date me) many years ago…I’m sorry. Basically, I was a bitter, cynical, mean, selfish jerk. I was manipulative, and took advantage of a lot of good people. But, because my misdeeds aren’t the point of this post, we can leave it at that.

I was incredibly judgmental, and I didn’t like most people. Christians, specifically, were probably my least favorite, but religious folk in general were intolerable to me. I thought they were stupid (belief in Creation), lazy (“God’ll keep forgiving me, so I can keep on sinning as much as I want!”), hypocritical (Christian marriages end in divorce as often as secular marriages), mean, judgmental (treating my tattooed/pierced friends like demons), intolerant (“It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”), and hateful (Westboro Baptist Church, etc). And guess what?

They are.

We all are.

Not just Christians, but people in general. People can be pretty wretched. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly have our shining moments, but in general, we all are very very far from perfect, Christians included. But that’s not the point. Perfection I mean. Perfection is not the point.

So, at some point, in the middle of all of my partying and raining on everybody’s parade, I met a few new friends who represented Christianity differently to me. They were way smarter than me for starters (Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering and Organic Chemistry, to be more specific), and more thoughtful, and just happier in general, and as much as I wanted to dislike them the way I disliked most other religious people, I couldn’t, because they were different. They didn’t pretend they were holy and above reproach, and I respected that. And I think that’s, in part, what made it possible for me to give God and the Bible a chance. (Like, a real chance.)

I already knew a lot about Christianity and God and the Bible, because I was the kind of person that would argue points of the Bible with Christians until they broke down and cried in front of their friends. I did that. (True story.)

Eventually I made the decision to give God a chance (which felt TERRIBLE, like, almost humiliating in some ways) and considered the question “what if what they say about God is true?” And slowly (v-e-r-y slowly), I began to see things differently. Opening my mind (and heart) to the idea that maybe, possibly, I didn’t “know” as much as I thought I did, kind of set a change in motion, and I haven’t been the same person since. Which is so totally cliché that I feel nauseous even writing that. I didn’t have some radical, in-the-moment conversion experience, and even if I had, I don’t think I would have believed it. (I’m still too cynical for that kind of thing.)

So my mind began to change about some things, and as I started to learn about God as a Father, my heart began to change, too. Growing up, I never had a Father, and my Mother was never really interested in me enough to set any kind of standards for my behavior, or an understanding of having healthy boundaries or anything. Basically, there was no one in my life offering any sort of guidance, and no one was really into me enough to care about who I was becoming or what kind of person I was. And I ended up engaging in a lot of behaviors that are totally embarrassing to look back on now.

Once I began to realize that I do have a Father in God, and that he created me intentionally, and that I’m accountable to Him, I naturally shifted away from my old lifestyle, and started living in a way that a child of God would live. And it felt (and feels) SO GOOD. I think a lot of people see living life with God as their father as restrictive, or boring or whatever, but it’s so totally the opposite. Even in my down times, I’ve never been happier, and I can say with complete honesty that every day gets better. Even when crummy things happen. If I seem happy at all, it’s because my deepest joy is totally unconnected from the events of the day.

So, nowadays, I call myself a Christian, albeit reluctantly, because I know first-hand what many people think about Christians. But now I know that being a Christian is about knowing God as my Father, and understanding that he loves me enough to trade all of my nastiness for a life with him, through the redemptive work of Jesus. It’s about knowing that even though I’m still not perfect, and never will be, that He will always be my Father, and will always want me as his child. He loves me enough to care, and that’s huge. For someone without a father, and with no contact with her mother, it’s a lifeline. Sure, the fact that I don’t have like, real physical parents makes me sad, but knowing that God is my father…that’s where all of my joy comes from. (And you can psychoanalyze my daddy-issues as much as you want, that’s fine. I sure have. You wouldn’t be the first to do so.) I’ll never be able to convince you of anything, but at the very least, you can trust that I’m being sincere.

So Christmas, to me, and to some other people, is a celebration of God’s love for us. That he loves each of us–you too even if you don’t know it–and desires us as his children. (Yes, even if you are a total Christian-hater like I was.)

He wants us to recognize and claim our role as his children, because here’s the thing: we’re all equally flawed. Knowing God as your father isn’t, like, limited to just the “good” people. Don’t let those holier-than-thou Christians keep you from experiencing life with God, just because you’re gay, or divorced, or have a prison record, or a substance addition, or have persecuted Christians to the point of tears, just for sport (that one’s all me). He made you and He loves you, regardless of whatever messed up stuff you’ve done. Christmas is a remembrance of the day that God turned his love into flesh and blood and revealed himself directly to the world, just like he promised he would. Christmas is a promise kept, and a promise of a future with God. For everyone. Equally.

I can’t convince you that anything that I said about God is true, but really, that’s not my goal. All I can do is share my story, and how I’ve changed, and what I believe, and listen to your stories and your perspectives. And I hope that you give as much value to me and my experiences as I give to you and yours. Chances are, I used to be in your shoes.

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays!

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