Obama in Fort Worth

I’ve removed this post. But I’ve kept a copy. If it is something you think you might want to read, write, and I might send you a copy 🙂

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More God

Many people are studying theology, it seems to me, rather than trying to understand- even a little bit- something about God.

Google “theology” and you’ll begin to see how people can get trapped in that bottomless subject: 39 million entries with more being written every day! I’m tempted to list some of the many theologian/bloggers I read frequently , but since they would probably disagree with me on most of the theological minutia they are so fond of over-analyzing, I will forego begging for such confrontations. I would, I admit, probably lose in a debate with any of them, because- I guarantee- I would lose interest long before they ran out of points to be made and verses to be quoted.

Those who believe that their particular sacred writings are the ending point of any discussion about God, love theology. Those who, like me, believe that sacred books are the beginning of knowledge about God, don’t. There is too much to do: there are too many people to see and schmooze with, too many fields to walk in, way too many shores to stand beside, too much about the universe to learn, and way too many children and dogs to play with, to spend more than an hour a month picking over the legalese of Augustine, Calvin, or one of the Niebuhrs.

It appears to me that the study of theology is a pretty ego-centric exercise, anyway. Most people seem (correct me if I’m wrong) to engage in it to 1. Justify their own already preciously owned beliefs, or 2. Exclude others from those same preciously owned beliefs. My attitude toward self-serving, God-belittling theological study is this Emo Phillips joke:

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said `Stop! don’t do it!’ `Why shouldn’t I?’ he said. I said, `Well, there’s so much to live for!’ He said, `Like what?’ I said, `Well…are you religious or atheist?’ He said, `Religious.’ I said, `Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?’ He said, `Christian.’ I said, `Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?’ He said, `Protestant.’ I said, `Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?’ He said, `Baptist!’ I said, `Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist church of god or Baptist church of the lord?’ He said, `Baptist church of god!’ I said, `Me too! Are you original Baptist church of god, or are you reformed Baptist church of god?’ He said, `Reformed Baptist church of god!’ I said, `Me too! Are you reformed Baptist church of god, reformation of 1879, or reformed Baptist church of god, reformation of 1915?’ He said, `Reformed Baptist church of god, reformation of 1915!’ I said, `Die, heretic scum,’ and pushed him off.

I told that joke in church one Sunday and it was the most responded to part of the day’s sermon- which says something about truth of the joke or the content of my sermons; I’m not sure which!

God is out there, in here, over there; God is near, far, around, through, above, below, and in. We can confine God to the written Word, or to words written about the Word, and easily miss the Word made flesh that dwells among us! We can argue over meaningless nuances in ancient Greek, exegetical exposes of what “is” is in the books of I Corinthians, II Kings, and III John, or whether the book of Revelation has happened, is happening, or will be happening, imminently or a thousand years from now.

Or, we can consider the lilies of the field. (Matthew 6:28)

Or, we can go to the county jail and see Jesus. He said he’d meet us there. (Matthew 25:36) And amazingly (he also said) when we’ve seen him, we’ve seen his Daddy! (John 14:9)

Simple.

Maybe too simple for some.

God

If I give in to my first and oldest thoughts on the subject, here’s what I believe about God:

1. He’s vaguely shaped like me- he walked around in the Garden of Eden, after all. (Genesis 3:8) And Moses got a glimpse of his backside. (Exodus 33:23)

2. He is a he.

3. He is jealous, easily angered, arbitrary, vengeful, violent, and holds grudges. But..

4. God is love.

That’s enough to begin. These thoughts were all formed early on, during my childhood, from numerous Sunday School handouts, a voracious appetite for every tract, magazine, and some bizarre little books I would find at my grandparent’s home. (I wish I remembered what they were; I only remember the covers on them would often have pictures of beautiful angels and lascivious devils. Yes, I was weird.) I also, even as a kid, would watch TV preachers. This was the mid- 50s, so it was Oral Roberts on a folding chair in a tent at noon on Sundays, and, at 6 p.m. everyday, just after “The Little Rascals,” “Suppertime,” a locally produced show starring the lesser known brother of Rex Humbard, Clement, and his family. (wife Priscilla, and daughters Rebecca and Delilah.  See? I told you I was weird!)

Together, all of that data ran together in my 7 to 12 year old mind, and God the walking, talking, prissy and pissed god, emerged. But he loved me, somehow. I can’t make that elementary version of him go away, not completely, no matter how hard I try. It is one of those childhood-formed chunks of misinformation that has concretized in my mind to the point that I will still, incredibly, default to it at times. (Here’s another example of that kind of information which I apparently hold dear, because it won’t leave me: somewhere along that time, I got the idea in my head that goats and sheep were the same species. All the goats were male, and all the sheep were female. On first glance at either kind of animal, that is still my first thought.)

I mention all of this because, I have found, many adults also carry with them some anthropomorphic ideas about God that were forged in the halcyon days of childhood, when new information about the world was flooding our minds, and the cognitive means of evaluating/rejecting/accepting that information were not yet fully formed. It doesn’t matter, at that age, that the information doesn’t fit together that we are absorbing; it finds a place to take up (apparently) a permanent lodging place  in our minds, anyway.

When that information, right or wrong, is an ingrained part of the culture we grow up in, it becomes important and life-affecting. When it concerns goats and sheep, it is only a minor and very occasional irritation. It is easy to see, therefore, that the God of my childhood still enjoys a well-tended residence in the minds of many, many people. It is an idea that is nurtured and fertilized, and so satisfying (again, apparently) to so many people that it affects how they vote, how they say it’s important for other people to believe, and how they raise their children.

Thinking critically about God- rather, about that image of God I’ve had in my head for waaaay too long- is a never  ending process. I don’t want God to be as small as my imagination, and I sure don’t want God  to be as small as the authors and artists of those tracts and books tried to make God out to be. I want to both understand the metaphors for God used by the biblical writers in the context of their time, and to think about new metaphors for God in the context of our time. I want to reconcile the stories of God’s bloody and horrific vengeance on persons other than Jews (Deut 20:16-18, et.al., et.al.) with the statement, “God is love.” (1John 4: 8), if they can be reconciled. I want to get by the saccharine nonsense that God dusted the heavens with stars for human pleasure, and the maudlin idea that God allows babies to die because of God’s selfish need for flowers in heavenly gardens.

I want to know God better, even as I know I will not even come close to knowing God fully.  I want the goofy image of God I have stuck in my brain to be put to pasture with the he-goats and she-sheep.