Uncertainty

Few of us are fans of unbridled uncertainty.

Oh sure, there are exceptions. Game Seven. Jon Snow: Dead or aliveTonight’s winning numbers.² But the impact of those gambles on our own lives are generally quite limited. Whether a team wins or loses, whether a fictional character lives or dies, most likely won’t impact the next days. It’s manageable chaos. Most of us appreciate having our affairs in order, know how the day will probably turn out, and look forward to that bit of manageable chaos with our kids’ sports or binge-watching.

"In gratitude I present you this offering of cookies and milk. If you want me to eat them for you, give me no sign. [Very short pause] Thy will be done." No uncertainty for Homer -- he knows what God wants, right?
“In gratitude I present you this offering of cookies and milk. If you want me to eat them for you, give me no sign. [Very short pause] Thy will be done.”
Chaos, uncertainty, and I have had a rough relationship over the last few years, and this week was marked by an hour of horrific uncertainty. At 10:50 Wednesday morning, my cellphone rang with a call from the school district my kids attend. It was a robocall, but it was flagged as an emergency phone call. They were informing us the high school was in lockdown and that the other schools had locked the doors and weren’t letting anybody in. That was all they could tell us. Uncertainty.

I quickly texted my sophomore son, “You guys are on lockdown?” An uncomfortable amount of time passed before he responded, “Yup.” I read that as nonchalant. I read that as “can’t say much right now.” I read that in the mindset of a parent in the post-Columbine days, and my pulse shot up. Uncertainty.

Once a journalist, always a journalist. I understood why the school district couldn’t tell us more — they believed they had an active threat and were working the problem, and sometimes too much information can be problematic in an investigation. But I immediately jumped on social media to see what the scuttlebutt was, knowing full well that the information had a high chance of being unreliable. What was true? Unknowable.

Damn the uncertainty.

For an hour I sat at my desk, reloading the district’s social media feeds, looking at local news websites, hoping for the best. Two more calls came from the district telling us they didn’t have much to tell us. Finally, almost an hour later, they tweeted that the lockdown was over and that the school day was resuming as usual. I exhaled, a bit, relieved that whatever had triggered the lockdown hadn’t come to a violent manifestations. My son and I talked about it that evening, and his biggest complaint was the boredom of being in a dark classroom for an hour. May he never feel the anxiety I felt this morning.

The uncertainty in life. It kills us slowly sometimes, and we want it to end as quickly as possible. Rip off the bandage. Tell me the bad news first. Text me when you get there so I know you’re OK. A terrible side effect of the Information Age is when we find ourselves cut off from information. We are alone, abandoned, forgotten.

Here’s the catch: As a Progressive Christian, my faith lives in the uncertainty. Living this life means accepting ambiguity, appreciating the gray patches that fills our lives, and frequently admitting to ourselves and those with the courage to ask that we don’t know the answer — and that we may never know the answer.

Yet despite which choice we make, there’s always somebody saying there’s only one way to read scripture. Funny how that person usually disagrees with us, isn’t it? Chaos versus order, ambiguity versus certain, my way or the highway.

Must be nice, having the answers to the quiz. Except there’s not necessarily one answer.

At Chalice Press, we get our fair share of criticism from the conservative side of the church. Despite our feisty tendencies, usually we let it roll off our backs, chuckle amongst ourselves “he didn’t read our Company Profile,” and move on. But we approach our books and our ministry this way: We strive to ask the right question, then to give our response an option, a suggestion — but not an answer. We don’t dare claim we speak for God.

We Progressive Christians look at scripture and read between the lines, discovering the layers of interpretations in the words translated over the centuries and presented to us in the writing style we find most engaging. We see the morals established by Jesus and try to apply those to our own lives and our own society. We try to live out those morals even when there is a tremendous amount of ambiguity. God is very good most of the time at not giving us any firm signs whether we’re making the right choice or the wrong choice, at letting us make our own decisions and deal with the consequences.

Sometimes, uncertainty is the correct choice. Sometimes, it’s the only choice.

¹ Re Jon Snow: Be honest — we knew all along what the answer would be, right?

² Re the lottery: Be honest — we knew all along what the answer would be, right?

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.