Vanderbilt Divinity School prided itself on educating “Theologians.” They nearly drowned us in the densest, most profound thinkers over centuries. Niebuhr, Tillich, Schleiermacher, Barth; my brain cramps just typing their names.
A typical night reading the next day’s assignment would be looking up every other word, then when I got to the end of the page, saying to myself, “well, I understand what all those words mean, but I still have no clue what he was trying to say.”
I knew then that I was definitely NOT in the class of theologians cum laude. In more than a quarter-century of ordained ministry, that realization has become clearer with each passing year. But the more I have given up on trying to understand the higher points of theology, the more simple, and clear my understanding of faith has become.
One of those impenetrable thinkers described theology and faith as like a circle. You start off in naivete, a simple trusting. As you progress, your thinking becomes more and more complicated, until you come full circle, and arrive back at a second naivete. Very similar to the child-like faith where you started. Maybe I can claim that.
My working theology now consists of four statements. any one of them could fit on a bumper sticker.
- Love God with all that’s in you.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
- Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
- Don’t be a jerk.
How’s that? No Law Library full of ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots’ just simply, what matters is how you treat other people. No agendas other than love. Your love for God shown in the way you treat others.
In the midst of another Advent season, rushing madly toward Christmas, and this theology calms my spirit more than the entire library of incomprehensible theology.
The most fulfillment in life is to be found in treating others as the beloved children of God they are. Yes, even the ones who don’t deserve it; even the ones who might mean me harm; even the ones whose hostility and anger threaten to overflow and cause real damage. Even those.
May you find under your Christmas tree this season something far more satisfying than theology. May you discover, truly feel in your soul how much God loves you. And may you be able to reflect that love to others so well that everyone who sees you will see the Christ in you, and be drawn to God.
Grace and peace,