Generous Orthodoxy

“Is It Possible for Christians to be Simultaneously Open-Minded and Committed to Tradition?”

John Weirick

The first time I heard the phrase “Generous Orthodoxy” was in a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell, on Revisionist History. The phrase immediately caught my attention. It was like strolling along the beach not really looking for anything in particular and then catching a glimpse of something out of the corner or your eye that steals your attention. Suddenly your simple stroll turns into a unexpected quest.

The phrase, ‘generous orthodoxy’ comes from a theologian named Hans Frei. It’s an oxymoron, of course. To be orthodox is to be committed to tradition. To be generous, as Frei defines it, is to be open to change.

But Frei thought the best way to live our lives was to find the middle ground.

Because orthodoxy without generosity leads to blindness.

And generosity without orthodoxy is shallow and empty.

One of the hardest things in the world is to find that balance — not just for those pursuing a life of faith, but for anyone interested in making their world better.

Malcolm Gladwell – Podcast – Generous Orthodoxy

In a comical way, Studio C shows the need to be mindful of our traditions and to think more deeply about why we do what we do. 

Think of the Savior’s interactions with the woman who was caught in adultery and shamed in front of her community. I want to know where the man was who was also caught in adultery? Why wasn’t he also dropped at the feet of Christ and publicly humiliated?

If Christ was to act in an orthodox way, in the way the culture, religion, traditions, and the laws of His time had dictated for Him to respond to this kind of situation, the woman would have been stoned to death. That was the way. But He did not allow the traditions and the culture of His days to dictate His actions. He did not allow His culture to define what was morally right and good and what was not. In fact, much of Christ’s actions and teachings contradicted the traditions of His time.  

And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?

Mark 2:23:-24

The power of Generous Orthodoxy is that love for others, caring about another person will push you to look more deeply at the things you believe in. It pushes you to look at the traditions around you. It pressures you to ask yourself what you believe is the most right things to do. It pushes you to think about why you do what you do and believe what you believe?

There is a legitimate struggle when our core beliefs contradict sharply with those we love. Do we hold to our beliefs and turn our back on those we love? Or do hold to our relationships and turn our back on our beliefs?

We don’t need to toss aside all our beliefs and our religion so that we can break free from turning into a self-abnegation acquiescing automaton follower. We don’t need to toss them aside so that we can be open-minded individuals who are respectful of other’s views and beliefs.

But we also don’t need to toss aside our relationships so that we can hold to and honor our beliefs.

Empathizing with someone you profoundly disagree with does not suddenly compromise your own deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs. It just means that [you’re] acknowledging the humanity of someone who was raised to think very differently from [you].

Dylan Marron

Generous Orthodoxy is the process understanding and respecting another’s beliefs. It’s the process of pushing yourself around your own beliefs and asking yourself hard questions like, “Why do I value this? What value does it bring into my life and the lives of others? Why is this important to me?”

Periodically I’ll have my kids spend with the task of going through their stuff and getting rid of things they no longer need or use. It’s funny, even things that have no real sentimental value and that have been buried in their drawers and have not seen the light of day in years, can be hard for them to let go of. Things that they did not even know that had until they were asked to thoroughly go through their belongings suddenly becomes a prized possession.

Things that were once a part of our life, even things that played an insignificant role in our life, are still sometimes hard to let go of even when logically we can see that it has no real value or purpose in our life anymore. Letting go of something that was once a part of your life is difficult.

Lately, I have been going through a spring cleaning with some of my beliefs. I’ve been taking a look at them one by one, so to speak, and asking myself, “Why do I have this and do I still want it?  Does it serve a purpose in my life? Is this something that creates goodness in my life?”

Spring cleaning your beliefs is about an honest evaluation to discern and judge what things bring goodness into your life and what things don’t.

My son loves trains. When he pulls out the train tracks and sets them up, it is an all-day process that results in taking over the front room – the entire front room. After one particularly successful day of playing with the trains, the time had come for him to clean them up. At this point, he told me that he was done with the trains and that we could get rid of them because he didn’t need them anymore.  Luckily I wasn’t in one of my “mommy moods” or else all of those trains would have ended up at the second-hand store within the hour. I saw through what he was saying and doing. Really, what he was expressing was that he didn’t want the responsibility to take care of the trains, he just wanted to play with them, not clean them up. This part of the trains was hard and inconvenient.  At that moment he didn’t want to deal with the inconvenience of something that truly held value and brought goodness into his life. That inconvenience almost pushed him to give up his trains completely for the wrong reasons.

So a word of caution. When you are spring cleaning your traditions, values, and beliefs, don’t just toss aside things because they are uncomfortable, hard, or inconvenient to deal with. Take the time to be honest with yourself and to recognize if that thing has value and goodness to offer.

Even after a “spring cleaning” of your traditions and beliefs, there may be no drastic changes. To an outsider, there may be no visible evidence that you have been going through spring cleaning of your beliefs. You may still go to the same Church and still participate in the same religious practices as you did before. There may be some things that you’ll decide to let go of and many things that you’ll decide to keep because of the value and goodness you see in them. 

The change that happens may not necessarily be visible upon a casual glance.

I recently “Marie Kondo” my shirt drawer. I think I got rid of one or two shirts, but the big change was the way I put the shirts in the drawer. I had always layered my shirts one on top of the other. Now they are in pretty organized row on their sides so I can see all of them at the same time when I open up my drawer. No more digging.

You may not get rid of a single thing during your “spring cleaning”. But if you go about it honestly, you may notice some notable changes, like switching from doing and believing what you think you’re supposed to be doing and believing to choosing into your beliefs and traditions because of the value and goodness you see in them.

photo credit from Graziame.com