Tension, Dialectics of Thinking and Philip Yancey

Tension. Lately, my heart has been overwhelmed with the intricacies of human thought, motivation and behavior. People perceive situations and process information and experiences so differently, it’s a wonder the world hasn’t yet exploded (or imploded) from the chaos and pain this tension creates.

I discovered the dialectics of thinking my freshman year of college. In an oversimplified explanation, this is the general concept: For every idea (thesis) there is an opposite idea (antithesis). A reconciliation of these two ideas in a paradox creates a new idea (synthesis). For all of the dialectical theory’s flaws when applied to economics, political systems, philosophy and everything else, I do see this kind of thinking played out in the mechanics of faith, introspection and relationship.

Over coffee with a friend the other evening, she drew attention to one of my quirks: I tend to explore ideas from every facet, embracing the extremes and truly contemplating them, trying to reconcile the validity of two opposing arguments. This makes me come across as remarkably inconsistent and indecisive, as I am always adapting when new thoughts or opinions are introduced.

Open-mindedness to a fault.

I’ve been wrestling with this aspect of myself more and more recently, trying to understand and expose both the pitfalls and glory of such a mindset.

I am a firm believer that for every Truth or Value, there is not one but TWO opposites. That every value is the mean of two opposites. This tension plays out beautifully in the story of the gospel. Faith and works. Grace and freedom. Jesus, both God and Man. God, Three yet One. Kingdom, both here and not yet.

It plays out in relationships: logic and emotion. alone time and community. Vulnerability and boundaries.

We are constantly living in a state of tension, trying to reconcile opposite ends of the same paradox.

I tested nearly 100% N on the Myers-Briggs test. Meaning, in my own thoughts and in my relationships with people, I’m usually [constantly] unraveling meaning and dissecting motives and searching for underlying patterns in everything. It can be exhausting. And it can get me into trouble, especially if I began to perceive things that are not really there. I think I’ve toned down in this a lot in the past couple of years and have been able to just let go and live in the moment and not be so concerned with unraveling other people’s motives or reading into people’s reactions. Other people–friends past and present–have graciously [but brutally] shown me that the reality I perceive may not be the same as the reality they perceive. Or more importantly, reality as it is. It’s been hard, it’s been challenging, but extremely necessary.

But the extremity of this tendency of mine does resurface.

And I’m realizing more and more: we’re all approaching True Reality from opposing perspectives and trying to meet each other on some common ground.

I’m in the middle of reading “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” by Philip Yancey. I’m moving through the pages slowly than I typically do, trying to savor the words and wrap my mind around the truth. As much as I have thought about [and experienced] grace over the years, I do not believe I have contemplated it to this intense degree. It’s really kind of earth-shattering to me, how the patterns of grace are so contrary to the patterns of ungrace that are ingrained in the DNA of the world. Yancey talks about the “atrocious mathematics of grace,” explaining this as someone giving up something that costs them everything to someone who deserves absolutely nothing. And how unnaturally far and removed that seems to be from our own day-to-day experience in the economics of being human. I’ve understood that idea theoretically, maybe even theologically, but translating the atrocious mathematics of grace into every day relationships and attitude is a bit staggering to me.

I’m still processing. The implications are overwhelming.

So far, 2009 has been this crash course in communication and perception, revisiting and reworking the validity of intuition. 2008 was a wonderful year in which this tendency of mine learned rest and restraint.

It’ll be interesting to see where this leads in the upcoming year…


5 thoughts on “Tension, Dialectics of Thinking and Philip Yancey

  1. I’ve never heard of dialectics. It’s almost common sense, but put very eloquently. I honestly don’t think you come across as inconsistent and indecisive. Maybe that is because, at least logically, I think I have a similar tendency to be able to understand both ends of the spectrum. Emotionally, not true. But logically, I can usually argue either side.So it makes sense to me that you should embrace and truly contemplate the extremes, and then settle in the middle.So, what exactly are the pitfalls of this mindset? I feel like you brushed over them, but I’m curious of the detail. And if this isn’t the right venue, we’ll talk later.Growth, dear one. Adaptation is a good thing. So is stillness.

  2. It’s funny that you say your almost 100% N on Myers-Brigg because I am too. And I experience the exact same thing; noticing things and relationships that others may miss and also seeing things that really aren’t there. It’s gotten me into alot of trouble too.

  3. *ahem* this is a classic INTP trait. the INTP knows that there are data they will never know, (t+p) and so feel very uncomfortable seeing just one side or even making definitive statements. *grin*

  4. Oh, social media. I’m reading a blog post over a year old because I laughed at your Ingrid Bergman reference. And it doesn’t help that I am compulsively attracted to anything Hegel, who I believe would have been happy with your dialectic application.

    The “atrocious mathematics of grace” is one of few things that keeps me from disavowing the faith. The mysterious beauty, the unnaturalness of it stands, for lack of a better word, unique. It is my belief that the type of grace we’re talking about rarely happens. How often are we in a situation that “will cost us everything? Hardly ever. Christians seem obsessed with assigning concepts of grace to everyday events, ultimately cheapening the earth-shattering nature of it. Going to the despised coworker’s birthday/baby shower/etc when nobody wants to, giving money to homeless, this is just being a nice person. The power and beauty of grace come from the total rejection of economy in a situation that will forever alter your life. Maybe these everyday events can serve to train us for those rare moments in life when our chance at grace will cost everything, but we cannot confuse the two. You know, maybe the greater point is that we should be finding ourselves in all compromising positions more often than not. I’ll have to think more about this.

    Hope you’re doing well!

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