“Hello, my name is John and I am a (theological) jerk. I haven’t loved God or my neighbor with my words.”
In my first post of this series I talked about Alcoholics Anonymous and their steps towards dealing with an addiction. In that post I gave a moral inventory of myself, and confessed that I have a problem with being a jerk with my words. Just the other day I got into a slight debate about contraception, and can admit that at one point I was a little dismissive of the other person in my words. I stand by the conversation as something that needed to be said, but I could have done it in way that was less firm. It just goes to show you: I don’t want to be a theological jerk but I am.
My second post in this series again utilized A.A. to talk about recovering (but never curing) an addiction. We’re never really done with our addictions, even when we’re ready to talk about them with others, and maybe try and help them with theirs… in fact, that is part of the process of healing. In that post I also made sure to frame everyting in a positive motivation. I don’t just want to stop being a jerk, I also want to love my God and my neighbor with how I use my mouth. I’ve gotten into trouble in the past by opening it, and more and more I want to get “into love” when I speak.
Why not just stop?
Now, you might be saying, “Why try and change, why not just stop putting your opinion on things out there? Is your thought really that great that people should have to hear it?”
You’re right. Part of me being less of a jerk may mean shutting my mouth at times, even if I don’t really want to. It might mean that instead of giving my opinion I point people to resources, or ask questions or… there is more than one way to have a conversation (about theology). Life doesn’t always have to be a debate.
Seeing theology as debate
If theology is just a debate for me, if it is just a presentation of my ideas about God where I expect to be critiqued and to have to defend them from other ideas, then something is wrong with me.
Maybe dualism is a buzzword today, but seeing theology as a debate is dualistic. It chooses to picture theology as a matter of right vs. wrong, good vs. bad, well thought out vs. folky, etc. Theology as a debate creates an us vs. them situation, instead of what it really is… us, together as children of God, thinking about the mystery of the revelation of God. Revelation isn’t something we have, that we have to shove in everyone’s face, it’s something that comes to us, knocks us off our feet, and that we have to talk about together to “figure out what happened.”
Seeing theology as debate also removes the idea of growth, and ultimately, any mystery to theological reality. If theology is only ever a debate for me, then it must be something that I think I can know completely and that only is black and white. It must be something I think I have, and know in a way that is pretty clear. It’s a static object I possess.
But if theology is something I can constantly grow in, and something that I may not necessarily have a thought about because it is too astounding for me to get, then there are any numbers of ways to engage it other than as a debate. Let’s not look at the burning bush and think we can handle it.
Muteness =/= love of God or neighbor
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are certain things we can say about God. Whatever we’ve seen in Jesus, we know of God. When we proclaim the goodness of Christ, we are, through the Spirit, loving God. If I were to go completely mute (some people would love that), suddenly an enormous way of loving God would be removed from my life. (Oh may they burn my bones up at that point!)
My ability to love would also be diminished in relationship to my neighbor. There are times when, in order to love my neighbor, I absolutely need to speak out: I love my neighbor when I proclaim the goodness of God to them. I love my neighbor when I confess my own shortcomings to them. I love my neighbor when I ask for forgiveness. And I love my neighbor when I correct them, in truth and grace (without one or the other… not love!)
So yeah, I could stop talking and be less of a jerk… but I won’t completely, because my capacity for love would be diminished and that would be an even bigger jerk move.
Muteness =/= a changed heart
Let’s keep exploring this idea of muteness for a second. Say I were to stop talking about theology entirely, would I still be a jerk? My actions would have changed, but what of my heart? My heart! Oh that wretch thing! It would still be screaming at people when they make even the slightest error. Oh, my heart! That’s where the problem is.
At the core, being a theological jerk is a heart issue…
How do you change a heart?
How do you change your emotions?
How do you change your thought patterns?
How do you change your motivation?
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
[[For part 4 of the series, click here.]]