Why are the best church sermons often lessons to help us unlearn previous church sermons? Why is the most compelling religious talk usually a refutation of previous religious talk?
Maybe we’ve all said way too much about God.
I’ve found that as I admit my doubts and open up to questions, I’m not as interested in hashing them out as I was interested in hashing out other people’s doubts and questions when I had all the answers.
As a very young child, I learned that God loved me. I was taught to love God and neighbor, and that “neighbor” was everybody everywhere. I learned “God is love” (1 John 4:16) as a Bible memory verse.
As I grew older, I was taught qualifications upon qualifications to help me unlearn this initial lesson. Yes, God loved me, so much so that he sent his son to die for me, and all I needed to do was to accept the free gift of that executed son. (Otherwise, in spite of God’s love, I would burn forever yet never die.)
I should love others, yes, but some people needed tough love – especially anyone different from me and my kind. Tough love doesn’t allow a sinner to wallow in their sin. Tough love is preferable to “sloppy agape” (testify, sisters and brothers, if you grew up with this phrase too!). And although the Bible says that God is love, songs like “All You Need is Love” or “What the World Needs Now is Love” were clearly examples of the liberal or communist or humanist agenda.
Grown-up theologians know that the simple “God is love, and we should love one another” religious teaching given to three-year-olds is a good way to teach toddlers not to hit one another, but hardly enough to base a religion (or a war, a political agenda, a bestseller, or any other money-making scheme) upon.
So naturally, much religion is about unlearning – or at least qualifying – the simple instruction to love.
Some religious people who have been schooled in unlearning love are then further challenged and moved when they encounter religious think-tanks who skillfully dismantle the love-unlearning paradigms of much religious thought.
In other words, when a religious leader says that it’s okay to love my neighbor as myself (even if my neighbor is gay or a Muslim), and whips out some fancy theological explanation for this countercultural idea, I call his or her ideas “progressive.”
I’m with John Lennon these days. Worn out on God-talk. Imagining a world where we all live in love and peace. I’m with Jesus too, because I think he also imagined and tried to live out the reality of a world like that.
Progressive religious people call this re-imagined world “the kingdom of God” or sometimes less-patriarchal renderings of the same idea. Okay. I just want to submit that God – aka Love – maybe is just as (or more?) interested in our working towards that new world order than in all the words we have to say about it.
*“I Don’t Wanna Talk About it Now” is a song from Emmylou Harris’s amazing album Red Dirt Girl. The song itself bears no connection to the content of this blog post, but the title is a perfect fit. And you should definitely check out the album.