Thursday, May 12, 2011

Lesson(s) From Divinity School: Love, God, and Self

Despite the various classes I've taken during my four and a half years in divinity school, I've only learned about three things: love, God, and self.

Love may have been the hardest lesson I've had to learn. And, let's face it, I'm still learning it. Many people make a fuss over how English speakers use the word "love," condemning much usage as flippant. I love my dog. I love justice. I love pizza. I love my friends. I love my parents. I love my partner. I love my neighbor. I love God.

In each of these situations, love is a little different. Nobody loves pizza the same way they love their partner, at least, I hope not. And nobody loves their pet the same way they love God. If I were giving a sermon, this would be the part where I talk about the different kinds of love in biblical Greek and you all groan, because you've heard that sermon numerous times before.

Since this isn't a sermon, I want to let you in on a secret. Ancient Greek doesn't have a word for love, let alone three or four words for it. Greek has four different concepts that we translate as love, which is very different from saying Greek has four different loves. Instead, Greek saw agape, philia, eros, and storge as four different emotions. English, however, sees them as one.

Love is bigger than any of the four Greek loves, because it captures the similarities between my love for pizza and my love for God. And what beautiful similarities they are. How spectacular that we can express and mix our love through actions like the Eucharist, where we love God and food. Through times when we are good samaritans, loving God and neighbor.

Loves mix well together. In fact, I dare say it is an essentialist perspective that heuristically delineates types of love, when it is all one thing. One thing with various permutations. Variations on a theme. Love of God is love of neighbor and love of creation and love of self.

"Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. The one that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love."

And thus my lesson about love turned into a lesson about God.

"The one that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love." This lesson just keeps getting more and more difficult. As it turns out, knowing God has less to do with the ellusive, illusory line between orthodoxy and heresy and more to do with love, with relationship. And according to 1 John 4, it isn't about loving God, about singing hymns and praise songs about and to God, about going to Sunday school, about evangelism, about listening to Christian speakers and Christian music, about going into church buildings.

It--knowing God--is about loving that which and those whom God loves, which will include church and songs and school for some of us. But individuals tend to express love differently, which is why I make more trips to the recycling center than to church, why I don't read my Bible daily, and why I would rather listen about another person's faith than convince them to think like me.

Well, that last one wasn't completely true, which is why this lesson hasn't completely taken root in my life just yet. There are a few people, OK, a lot of people from whom I have no desire to hear. I want them to think like me and shut their mouths. Or, even if they weren't to think like me, I desire them to think a lot less like they do now.

As some of you may now, the PC-USA denomination recently paved the way for individual presbyteries to ordain homosexuals. I started reading Albert Mohler's thoughts, but I stopped, because I have no clue how to love that man. Loving someone you don't know is always a tricky matter, anyways. I could always pull the ol' "love-the-sinnner-hate-the-sin" trick out of the bag, but that isn't love, that is just something we say to make us feel better about our judgment.

But I don't always know how to love without judgment, no matter how much I praise love and deride judgment. In the face of my advocacy, in the center of my pursuit of God, love, equality, and social justice, I'm a judger. The person I want to be and the person I think I am is deconstructed by the person I am, my ego-ideal deconstructs my ideal-ego.

And thus my lesson about God has turned into a bit of navel-gazing, which isn't surprising to me anymore. When I search myself, I end up seeing and seeking God. When I look for God, my theology turns introspection. Maybe I'm a little ADD or maybe God carries the scars of humanity just as much as humanity carries the image of God.

1 Corinthians left us with faith, hope, and love. I leave you with Love, God, and Self. I'm not sure which is the greatest, because this trinity of lessons exist separately in my mind and in language, but they bleed into each other so much in reality that I cannot separate them systematically, not even enough to create a hierarchy. Perhaps they aren't all that different in the panentheistic interconnectivity that is our existence.

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