A Change Would Do You Good
Approximately once a day my morbid curiosity wins an arm-wrestling match with my better judgment.
Exhausted yet exhilarated, I sit outside the door of someone’s Facebook thread, taking in the sights and sounds as they trade punches with another person over matters of politics, religion, or culture.
Talking points repeat themselves. Emotional appeals echo in emptiness. Statistics—some questionable, some legitimate—wither on the vine. The thread ends a few dozen replies later with “agree to disagree,” and all I hear is the sound of cement pouring in, swirling around the feet of those involved, the stuff drying faster than anyone remembers.
These moments of bearing lukewarm witness leave me with a headache in the form of a question: Who will I give permission to change my mind?
Sift through our culture’s version of a record-store dollar bin. Run your fingers over the dead languages. Check the liner notes to see who played a few lost arts. Flip through whole stacks of abandoned disciplines. With enough time, you find an unsung, unscratched gem, possessed of perfect clarity if you’re willing to set up the hi-fi.
The practice of changing your mind changed shapes somewhere on the timeline of cultural history. Now it stands as a sign of weakness instead of a sign of evolution. Something to be avoided, not something to be desired.
We willingly sit at the feet of so many teachers, rarely asking to see their resumes. We repeat the large catechism of cable news, recite our political party’s creed, flip to our favorite pages in a book of common grievance. But ask us to change our minds—to even entertain the notion—and we recoil. The nerve.
This lack of flexibility matters in both the personal and political and everything between. Someone in our spiritual community suggests we examine a position from another angle—or that the matter has more than one viewpoint—and we say a terse, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Encountering perspectives other than our own, we explain away experiences and accuse others of identity politics.
Old friends. Trusted teachers. Actual experts. All become easy to dismiss when overconfidence and indifference set up storefronts in our hearts.
I even feel my will calcify at times when my wife, the person who knows and loves me best, exercises the audacity to suggest I might sin or see through a veil. If I won’t grant her the right to change my mind, who else will I listen to?
Proud of our steadfastness, we stick to fixed points on a map drawn by our own hands. Trouble is, immovable objects never make progress. Their stillness leaves them weather-beaten and chiseled by life as it happens all around them.
Repenting and reversing course is a tricky business. Travel too far in the opposite direction and a boulder becomes a windsock. The faithful mind instead resembles steel, able to be refined by fire and bent into new and wondrous shapes.
Changing our minds never shows up in the letter of the law or lists of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” We understand it, then, not as a command, but as compliance to a Spirit revealed in Scripture.
Loving your neighbor as yourself means letting your neighbor weigh in and truly considering the merit of their words. In Proverbs, half the battle comes in identifying wise company. We only become wise, however, by listening to those walking alongside us. “Agree to disagree” sounds like tragedy when we hear the wise but retreat to the safety of living our own truths.
A flexible mind comes with contours and confines. Not just anyone deserves permission to lead us to fresh water and new pastures. We overcorrect when we find ourselves blown back and forth, never landing anywhere for longer than it takes to make a counter-argument. Don’t give me a politician with a finger in the wind but instead one with his or her hands placed palms up, willing to lead from positions which change by degrees over a matter of years.
Rather we bestow trust—both a gift and something to be earned—on those with grace’s deep pockets. People of investment and intimate knowledge, whose miles with us show up on the soles of their shoes. Close companions don’t always know best—read the entry for “Job, friends of”—but the sensitive and observant deserve fair hearing.
Our minds bloom when they fully open to people with wider and wiser experiences. As a fairly typical white man in his late thirties, I grow in the presence of women, people of color and Christians outside my theological bent, who daily and faithfully wrestle with objects and ideas I only encounter in my peripheral vision.
Respect, rightly handled, rarely remains content to be an intellectual exercise. To claim respect for a person, yet never absorb the effects of their way of life, seems foolish and not like respect at all. How many people pledged their affection to Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, perhaps even quoting him, yet have never let him change their mind? How many of us look at loved ones and trusted teachers with glazed eyes and go about our business?
If we will start anywhere, let it be with the God who speaks strong, strange, mind-bending words from within the Scriptures. He reveals himself in ways that change everything. The wise build their house upon the rock of what God says, not the sands of what sounds “right to me.”
Christians often bemoan the distance a truth must travel, south from the head to the wilds of the heart. Having traveled that road more than once, I know every pothole, curve, and roadside distraction along the way.
But the journey to changing our minds begins somewhere other than our heads. A mind only changes when the heart commits itself to take in whatever good it finds.