In 1937 in Moscow Province, at a district Party conference a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for.

Immediately everyone in attendance leaped to their feet and began to applaud. This was what was to happen at every mention of his name. The small hall echoed with enthusiastic applause. But then something interesting happened. For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the exuberant applause continued. Palms began getting sore and raised arms were aching. Older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop?! Even the man leading the meeting on stage became afraid and increasingly aware of those who were observing to see who would quit first. And so, he the leader, continued to lead the applause with the crowded hall for six, seven, eight minutes!

Would it take someone having a heart attack to end this madness? At the back of the hall was the director of the local paper factory—just an ordinary man, but an independent and strong-minded man. He became increasingly aware that this enthusiasm was make-believe, and fear driven but still he kept on applauding. Nine minutes. Ten! Everyone was looking to the leaders, but no one dared stop. They’d sooner be carried out on stretchers than be the first to stop. Then, after eleven minutes the paper factory worker stopped clapping and sat down. And a miracle took place. The indescribable enthusiasm stopped, and every other person also stopped clapping and sat down.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night that factory worker was arrested and given ten years in prison! In the final document of his interrogation his interrogator reminded him “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!”

Ok. Now what’s that got to do with anything? You and I aren’t likely going to be arrested for standing out, are we? Yet in my experience, thinking differently is enough to drive people into secrecy, fear and conformity.

It may be ok to think separately from the group, but letting it be known, that’s where it gets real.

Often times I am contacted privately by people, some Christian, some not, sometimes it’s pastors from different parts of our beautiful country who have secret uncertainties—questions, concerns, but are afraid to voice them out of fear that they might be rejected by their faith group, their family, their church.

I get it. We want to belong. Nobody wants to be ousted for having questions and so many times the questions are internalised and have a sense of fear attached to them leaving people feeling isolated and secretive.

I think Brene Brown said it so well when she said “Fitting in is the opposite of belonging.”

If you are honest, do you find yourself truly belonging or fitting in? Maybe it’s not one or the other but perhaps it alternates and maybe that’s normal.

And here’s the thing. Having questions is normal. Even after years. Searching and curiosity is how we grow. Once the curiosity is gone because we think we know it all, we stop learning. Its exactly the same in any relationship. If we think we know everything there is about a person the relationship can’t go any further, or any deeper. It’s the intrigue that leads us to pursue further.

Life seems simpler when you’ve got it all figured out and it’s just smooth sailing. No more having to wrestle through complexities. Just believe the things you’ve heard and stop questioning. Stop doubting. If only it was that easy. And for some it is. There’s no doubt there are plenty of people who’d rather not think deeply, either because they don’t want to face the possibilities of further questions deep thinking might bring, or they are just wired that way where they’d rather go with the flow. I’m not saying that people who avoid thinking or aren’t interested in deep thinking are bad people. They’re not. In some ways that kind of simplicity is desirable. But I can’t do that. Well, I guess I won’t.

And it’s not so much a need to be right. I’m not quite so arrogant to think I’m right about everything, even though like most people I want to be right. Rather, I’m interested in practicing a way of life that’s honest and actually matters. One that notices the lonely and hurting and engages. But even to ask the simple question “does what we’re doing really matter?” can be risky within a group because it may lead to change in the status quo and that can be both scary and threatening to the current state of your surroundings. But wasn’t that also what every prophet did—challenging the current way of being and urging people to grow and change (often while being hated for suggesting so)?

Curiosity and intrigue disappear in the presence of certainty. And choosing to remain curious takes courage.

Just know, that if you are one of those people who have questions you’re afraid to ask—if you’re aware that your uncertainties make you feel isolated, you aren’t alone. You’re not. You’re in a process of growth that’s both positive and important.

After all it’s not once we’ve finished seeking that we find (like a math equation) but rather it’s in the continual seeking that we continually find. Find life. Find meaning. Find honesty.

Stay curious. Keep growing. Keep asking questions. Doubt is just the searching that leads to finding.


Before you go, if you like this and get something out of it please share it.

And if you missed it, check out my previous posts Accepting The Tension Between Decay And Repair and If The Bible Says It, Does That Settle It?

Thanks for being part of the ongoing conversation.

Talk soon.