The Incompatibility Thesis

Living God's LoveThe Incompatibility Thesis

by Becky De Oliveira
I am writing this halfway through the month of August. One of my children started back at university in person this past week. The other starts high school online this week. He’s taking a welding class online. (Anyone care to place bets on how long my house will remain standing?) The wildfires are raging—the horizon impenetrable, the sun a foreboding red. It’s dark in the mornings and almost chilly, although the thermometer tops 90 degrees here in the Front Range by noon most days of the week. The shelves at the supermarket are beginning to stock Halloween candy. Costco is probably selling Christmas stuff. I’ve already designed our family card. 2020? It’s all over but the shouting.
Of course, we have many weeks to go, and so many outcomes are uncertain—and uncertain in different ways, depending on your context. Will things get better? Worse? In what ways?
Some of us are worried that life is returning to normal too quickly. Some are worried that it isn’t returning to normal quickly enough. Some desperately want their children back in school. Others would rather they stayed home. Depending on where you live, you may not have been affected much by the events of the past five to six months. I was in Wyoming last week and the prevailing attitude was, “Pandemic who?” People looked at me, masked, with bemusement and pity. 
For many Christians, these past few months may represent the longest time we’ve gone without regular in-person church services in our entire lives. Sabbath, August 15, marks the 22nd week of online services for Boulder Adventist Church, which I have attended for the past six years. At first, it was strange to have nowhere to go on a Saturday morning, to pass the time with long walks and good books and church on a laptop while dressed in pajamas. What will it be like when we finally go back? I often wonder. Is there any reason to go back? Will other people think there is a reason?
Most of all, these past months have challenged my ideas of what Christianity is and how it manifests in a single life, especially when you remove the trappings. What if I stopped going to church? What if I stopped being a believer? Would either of those things matter? Currently, of course, I am not going to church, and I’m not yet sure what difference this has made. I am less connected to the people of my church community than I was before. We text and email and Facebook, but it’s not the same. I have to remind myself of who exists, conjuring up their faces the way I might if I were locked away in a dark dungeon for years, desperate to hang onto some fine thread of connection to a world outside myself. I’ve never been overly convinced of the value of being a “believer.” I’m not an abstract person; what you do, as far as I’m concerned, is all there is. And what do I do? Lots of things. Nothing. Too much. Not enough. The wrong things. A few of the right things. Maybe. Sometimes.
The Incompatibility Thesis in research is an argument against using mixed methods, which combines both quantitative (statistical and numerical) and qualitative (story, experience, holistic) methods to achieve a more comprehensive view of a problem—the argument being that the two methods have philosophical origins that cannot be merged. Either you believe in objective—and measurable—reality, or you don’t. The words of just one proponent of the thesis sums it up: the paradigms preclude one another “just as surely as the belief in a round world precludes belief in a flat one” (Guba, 1987). I think about the Incompatibility Thesis often in relation to various parts of my life, as autumn descends and the things that divide us seem to loom ever more significant. I think about it particularly in terms of faith.
Which values, practices, actions of mine are incompatible with being a Christian? Which of yours? No fair cataloguing those of other people; that’s easy. I’m looking at me. You look at you. This is what Christians measure their values, practices, and actions against:
• Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).
• Feed the hungry, clothe the needy, visit the sick and those in prison (Matthew 25:35-36).
• Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44).
• Show forgiveness (Luke 6:37).
• Turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29).
• Pay special attention to the poor and the overlooked (Luke 14:13-14).
• Look for the kingdom of God before anything else (Matthew 6:33).
• Carry your cross (Matthew 10:38).
• The first will be last and the last will be first (Mark 10:31).
• Letting go of your life is what saves it (John 12:25).
• Every single person is precious (Matthew 10:29-31).
How is 2020 going for you? How can you live more fully into the will of God for your life?
Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student in research methodology working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

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