Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sacred Life Sunday: No "Mean" Theology!

I attended the tail end of another class this morning.

First, let me say what I liked. It was very diverse with all sorts of people. Men, women, Black, white, young, old. Second, although I disagreed with the teacher on many things, she was a darned good teacher! Thorough, well-spoken, never rambling. Her research was very, very good!

It may seem odd to some that I am taking all these Christian classes when I am a declared Buddhist. Actually, there is no inconsistency. Buddhism doesn't address the issue of the existence of God. That is for each individual to decide herself/himself. My desire is to study as much as I can in as many traditions as possible. Even though I did this years ago in college, the courses are far more sophisticated and thorough now, so it's worth doing again.

I like the church offering the classes. I like their approach to community which is very proactive. They offer all sorts of classes, have a lending library and even have a pastor devoted to answering individual questions and offering guidance. There is nothing ostentatious or pretentious about it. It's very welcoming and the thing I like best is that they never, ever, talk about money.

This morning's class was about the second book of Thessalonians, 3rd chapter - in which I found a lot of what Olivia calls "mean theology". This was perhaps one of the "meaner" books I've read in the Bible and found the need to "soften" it. The instructor guided us through the literal words without interpreting them for us.

In the middle of the class, I asked her "aren't we talking about reciprocity here, about participation in community?" To her credit, she was willing to discuss this at length and to respond to not only me but others in the class who had similar questions. The passage sounds heartless and completely lacks compassion if there is no explanation or extrapolation. We all come to this planet with different capabilities. I believe work can take many forms. It doesn't have to mean "employment" in the typical sense of that. It can't be quantified in the way she was presenting it. We debated it and I was glad to get the opportunity to present an alternative interpretation.

I was sensitive to the fact that there were two women in the class who are disabled and that doesn't include me. Does that mean they have no value as human beings and should be left to starve? Hardly! Yet the presentation being given without challenge was "mean theology". It was a way of using God's word to diminish, demean or minimize another person. It was based on fear and judgement. Very distasteful, all in all.

Don't get me wrong. I don't believe anyone should be free to just sit on their butts and take from others. I believe a major component of spiritual maturity is figuring out where and how we can contribute. It is important is to recognize all the different ways we can give to each other and embrace that. It doesn't have to look any particular way.

If someone is not contributing anything - and I mean anything - then we have an issue to address. Sometimes someone is not aware of it, might not be aware of how they are not reciprocating. Perhaps they haven't been made aware of a way to reciprocate. We owe it to them to bring the issue up in a gentle, loving way and hear what they have to say. And to offer something they can do.

Long, long ago - when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I was exhorted by a coworker on a social justice project. He told me I was always late and never stuck around at the end of the meeting to help. He was right. I did do those things. Last one in and first one out.

On yet another occasion, more recently, I was exhorted by someone with whom I share a recovery group, saying that I was too harshly judgemental and that I made her uncomfortable. She got to a point where she no longer wanted to talk in front of me because she could sense my judgement about her choices, her values and her cultural alignment.

Both of those people were right to bring me to consciousness and my behavior changed as a result. It wasn't easy to hear. None of us like to be confronted with our faults but by bringing it to my attention, they helped me grow.

That is community.

The way this lesson was presented seemed to be saying "reject all those who do not live to our standards and whose lives don't look exactly the way we want them to look." I don't see that as something from a loving God. I believe God calls us to compassion, first and foremost. I also believe God calls us to be involved with each other, to teach each other, to encourage each other and to help each other grow.



slouchy said...

What is there to say but yes? I'll add: I agree with you. Everyone has something of value to give back to the community. Everyone. Determining what that thing is is not always easy, but it is, in all cases, possible.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I agree with you. Everyone is deserving of provision and inclusion. I'm really sorry the instructor didn't balance the Thessalonians chpater with passages talking about the need to provide for others. That method of Bible study . . . pulling out little pieces without a larger context . . . does so often lead to mean theology. I love that phrase, by the way, and hope to remember it.

AngelP said...

Hi Chani,

You are where you are supposed to be - in classes. That's what "floats your boat." I've read your entire blog and you always remember classes so fondly. Keep on keeping on. The subject doesn't matter.

I'll introduce myself to you on Facebook. You befriended me today. Please do not replace your blog with social sites. It would be a terrible cyber loss!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Like you, I like to study many traditions and ideas and keep walking on my journey - wherever it takes me.

I'm delighted you found a place that helps you along your path.

It's always good when community helps us to grow.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I believe that we are in this world mainly to learn to care for one another, no matter how we may interpret that. I am not "religious" in that I do not follow any particular discipline, but I have always been a religion junkie - fascinated with all the ways people interpret the idea of "God."

The passage from Thessalonians sounds a bit like a parent threatening to do serious harm to a child who refuses to go with the program, and I also find that inappropriate in a God or a parent.

As for your class, I don't believe the idea of learning is to accept like baby pap whatever the teacher dishes out, but to use it as a springboard to think more deeply and make up our own minds about a topic. And you are doing that.

Carla said...

Lot's of food for thought here, as always. Thank you.

Leann said...

And above all else is Love.

Anonymous said...

I don't have anything deep or enlightening to add, I just wanted to tell you that I liked this post. :)

Anvilcloud said...

You get good blog fodder from these sessions.

Olivia said...

I agree with the commenters above who said this was a great post, but then I feel that way about each one!

People who engage in mean theology don't even realize it most of the time. They think they're being "loving". They really do. Even when what they believe is really obviously mean, there is a workaround.

Like the belief, which I hate, that homosexuals are going to hell. They will say that this is really loving because...well, because it keeps people from "turning" that way when they shouldn't, or it keeps people celibate who are that way and won't or can't change. Everyone always believes they're loving.

They just need to be "truthful" too, which is loving. Lying to people can never be loving, they reason.

Or "the Bible says it and I just believe it"--as in, I'm just being a good, loving, and faithful-to-the-Bible-Christian. As in "God is love and I'm just simply following Him".

The worst thing about it is that when you hear this stuff over and over again--these hateful interpretations--and don't walk away, but keep listening, you lose perspective. It's so easy to get sucked in. I have been, many times. I always wake up (so far), but it is very, very seductive.

I am glad they got to hear someone else' s interpretation, because it often doesn't even occur to them. Over time you lose the ability to think outside the box. Or to even think, eventually.

It's a scary thing, mean theology.

Wishing you continued loving theology,


Anonymous said...

I can't elaborate on the wisdom you share here other than to say I agree. As for giving contributing, whatever you wish to call it, I believe I didn't attain real growth in my life or maturity until I learned and understood the virtue of giving back.

Maggie May said...

I don't believe in God but I believe in the last two sentences of this essay with all my heart.

Whitemist said...

I am glad I found your writing.
Your perspective is interesting coming from a Buddhist background looking in at Christianity.
Of course Christianity is so varied that in some points it is hard to tell what is Christianity.
I took a different approach - I became part of a Christian community and most of us find the Buddhist thought very comparable to what we believe and try to live.
Thank you for sharing.

painted maypole said...


Catherine said...

Good post, Chani. With verses like that its so important to consider context. This "book" is actually a letter that someone wrote to a group of people thousands of years ago, and he even mentions in the verse that there was a previous conversation (with context). Given all that we don't know, it sounds like a "rule of thumb" - like the story of the Little Red Hen (who ate the food herself since no one would help her make it out of laziness).

I'm glad you were able to bring it to discussion.