We’re Getting Schooled to Relate without Jesus

We’re getting schooled — but nicely and in the name of being nice, protecting the rights of others and being inclusive. But are people actually being nice to me? protecting my so-called rights? including me? More important, are they being nice to Jesus? protecting his rights? including the Lord?

I ran across this statement during my research the other day and I feel a bit obsessed with it. It revealed that the discomfort I have been feeling with the way people talk to me about various subjects has a philosophical underpinning. We are being taught to relate in a certain way that may be right in line with Jesus in some ways, but may sell the farm completely in other ways. I think we need to talk back to our teachers.  Check it out:

Only if “you respond to me” in a way sensitive to the “relations” between your and my actions, can “we” act together as a “collective we”; and if I sense you as not being sensitive in that way, then I feel immediately offended, ethically offended. – Shotter & Katz (1999, p.152).

Let’s not run the whole intellectual nine yards with this. Let’s skip right to the popular application.

If you run me over I will be offended.
If you run me over I will be offended.

First of all, there is a relational rule that begins with: “Only if.” For some reason, it just dawned on me that any number of people begin their relationship with me with an “only if.” They have this rule that kicks in when they meet me: I will relate to this person only if they agree with my assumed standards for relating. I have a way of life that must be accepted at any cost — if they don’t “get” that, no relationship. For instance, a young man recently reported he would not be back to our public meeting because we seemed to assume he was a Christian, since the meeting was all about being a Christian. He did not feel accepted for who he was so he was immediately offended (at least in a philosophical way — everyone can still exchange pleasantries). We did not pass the “only if” assessment.

DM_I_Feel_YouSecond, there is a definition of what relating means. Basically, the rule for relating begins with: We need to feel each other out. (Isn’t that why it became popular in the 90’s to say “I feel you?”). I need to sense you being sensitive. In the new school there are no individuals who have innate meaning or value. Any “meaning” is all about how our actions intersect, all about how we are feeling things out. The only meaning we share is what happens in our “collective we.” So sensitivity to how we talk and act is crucial.

Most people don’t get to this step of relating and it is even harder to get through it. There is a lot of wariness and circling around one another, seeing if one can connect. For instance, a man was talking last night about how difficult it was for him to make any relationships within a church whose meetings he had been sporadically attending for years. But he sensed he might fit into Circle of Hope because we dress more like he dresses and talk like he talks. He felt enough shared meaning to let himself connect. Someone else probably sniffed around last night and said, “My kind are not present. I’m out of here.”

Third, there is a consequence for violating the rules and not agreeing on the definitions. People are surprisingly judgmental these days, in spite of saying they hate people who are judgmental! They are surprisingly legalistic for saying they are so accepting! They have seemingly nice conversations that come with a hidden barb, something like:  If you don’t accept my rule and act according to my standards, I have a right to be ethically offended, and I will be so immediately. I was talking to one of the cell leaders yesterday and she was having a problem deciding what to do with certain people who were kind of gumming up the works with their bad behavior. The leader was so sensitive to the possibility that she might “get a time out” for offending the person in question that she was making all sorts of excuses for their bad behavior — pre-excusing before she was asked for grace! She was essentially taking care of the “we” for both sides of the relationship. She was predicting how she would be offensive, even before a person accused her of anything, and adjusting her behavior to keep things smooth, even though she felt personally hurt and frustrated. She was quite afraid she would be judged according to the new standards and get thrown out of the “we.”

We are all getting schooled and most of us did not even go to the class yet. The school turns out people who say (at least this is my application of the quote above): If you don’t respond to me in a way that makes me comfortable I am out of here. Or worse, I have a right to be me no matter how bad that is for you; deal with it or I will make sure you know how condemnable you are. We’re afraid to be sent to the “office” if we don’t get the rules right. It is ironic that in the name of inclusion people have set up a power struggle among all of us for the right to decide who is worthy of inclusion!  I am glad the person who would act in such a way is not God (we’re not, even when we act in god-like ways!). If they were actually God, I would be in outer darkness quickly. I would never really have gotten into light at all! I would not have passed the first “only if” rule!

Like I said, I am clueing in to all this might mean philosophically. And I am lamenting that the society is quickly being reorganized around the core ideas that are rendered in the quote. But I am trying to skip to the application.

We will run into someone this week who is doing their best to fit in and be nice. They have been taught this new school basis for relating. They bump into a Christian and it can be jarring. They meet up with a person who believes they have innate meaning as an individual and are also part of a “we” — not based solely on the meaning created by becoming a “we” but because God has made them a “we.” We’re still creating meaningfully by our process of dialogue, but it is inspired. And we are not assessing one another according to how inoffensively we do that, since we assume we will need to love others who can’t seem to stop sinning, just like God loves us. It has become an odd way to look at things.

I think we should keep being odd and not get schooled. Some of the new narrative is wise. But I don’t think the new nice is all that nice. I really don’t think it protects my rights to follow Jesus very well at all, instead it offers a new narrative that eradicates the possibility of Jesus. Everyone gets included except for Jesus, since his “only-ness” violates the “only if” of the new regime. I don’t want to go there, even if the new conformity police judge me harshly.

It is not enough to just ignore the new schoolmasters. They are making a difference. We’ve all been divided up into mutually offended identities — “being a Christian” is just one more of them. And most Christians seem to believe that about themselves — their faith is another one of the many identities competing for market share among discriminating consumers. Let’s keep telling the truth about Jesus — in love, as ourselves in Christ, in community, even if we get a time out.


Shottner, J. & Katz, A. (1999). Creating relational realities: Responsible responding to poetic “movements” and “moments.” In S. Mcnamee & K. Gergen (Eds.) Relational responsibility: Resources for sustainable dialogue (pp. 151-160). London: Sage.

No endorsements, just curiosity:

3 thoughts on “We’re Getting Schooled to Relate without Jesus

  1. Hmm. Thanks for putting some thought into describing some really pervasive and trendy relating (non-relating) patterns. Sounds kinda like preemptive relating. Also sounds kinda lonely. Just right for Jesus to get in front of all that.

Leave a Reply