I had lunch with a friend last week, with whom I talked about how hard it is to shake loose your cultural upbringing as it relates to religion and really focus on the real message of the gospel. I mentioned how helpful it is to hear perspectives from others whose upbringings were very different from our own. I know that for me, even though I frequently take a step back and try to see things from others’ points of view, I still struggle to understand how others think (or to be honest, how they could possibly think what they do).
One of my favorite manga is Silver Spoon, a series I recently picked up after watching the anime with my wife. There are a lot of strong themes running through the series, but perhaps none more strongly than the idea that when we open ourselves up to other points of view, we’re able to grow. Hachiken, the distressed city boy, experiences change almost immediately as he adjusts to life at an agricultural high school. By the end of the anime run and into where the manga is now, he’s transformed even further. By embracing different perspectives, he’s found himself.
The series also gives many asides from minor characters who comment on how Hachiken has changed them, too.
It’s not so much Hachiken’s experience, though, that moves the student body toward transformation – it’s Hachiken himself. His earnestness, intelligence, and compassion leads his friends and staff and others to think outside the box. The greatest example is Mikage, who is given the courage to stand up for her dream and is motivated to put in the seemingly impossible task of working toward it.
Perhaps Christianity could learn a lesson from this manga. For a religion that began with a Messiah whose every word was outside the box, it’s distressing how rule-centered and confined Christianity has become in the west. As a reaction, perhaps, against easy beliefism and wrong theology, many of us have unwittingly become modern-day Pharisees who miss the forest for the trees. We speak of mercy, but show ungrace. The hypocrisy can sometimes be unbearable.
When we’re too much among like-minded folks, we often find our thoughts reinforced – that’s human nature, and it’s not always a good thing. But when a different voice enters, there arrives, too, an opportunity to consider things from a different viewpoint. Our convictions, then, can grow or change based on new information. And even if the other person’s view is vastly different from ours, especially in regards to religion, we perhaps get to see people and the world a little more from God’s broader perspective of what individuals are like and what they believe, and not from our narrow view, and that in turn might increase our love for the world.
We are inevitably changed as we develop relationships with others. That’s a mechanism through which God works in our lives and that’s ultimately the way through which real, genuine change can occur – by relationship.
But such change has to begin by opening ourselves to others and how they think. And when we do that, who knows? We might both better ourselves and find that others might change as well.