Monday, November 24, 2008

If Love is the Answer, What's the Question?

There's no wind this morning, and the sun peeks out from behind a white cloud as my breath fogs the air. Down the street, smoke rises from one of the chimneys against the blue sky. Everything is quiet and still. It reminds me of the street I grew up on, with the big maples and evergreens growing side by side, shadowing the road. It is a wonder to think about those times as a child, to think about what life was like then and what it is now. About what I believed then, and what I believe now.

As a kid -- and later as a young adult -- I knew exactly what I believed and why. These days, I'm not as certain. But how can I be sure about things when the evidence of life inevitably points to the contrary, especially when I consider some of the goofy stuff I believed as a child?

Just Trying To Fit In

The coffee warms my hands, and I bring my face close to sip it. A few houses over, a father is playing hockey on the driveway with his dad. I smile, remembering the time with my own dad as a kid.

When I was twelve, my Christmas gift was goalie equipment. Real pads and a real blocker and trapper. My dad set up a net in the basement, and we'd play down there for hours. He'd pretend to pass it, wheeling around in front of me, "Ketchup over to Mustard, back to Ketchup, in the corner to Relish - shoots!" at which point he'd whip the tennis ball at the net. I was never sure why his top line consisted of condiments, but I thought it was pretty funny as a kid. Still do.

"Challenge the shot. C'mon out of the net. Challenge the shot. Yeah!"

The father's voice echoes along the quiet street. When you're a kid, you don't worry about your beliefs too much. You worry about your parents. Your family. Your friends. You don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about what you believe or why you're different. You spend most of your time just trying to fit in. As we get older however, we need an increasing amount of assurances that outline just how different we are from those around us. And yet, for the most part, we lock ourselves into patterns of thought that do the opposite, and prevent us from the life we really want; a life of freedom.

"Don't go down so easily! Stay up, and wait for me to make my move."

I look over in time to see the boy nod to his dad's instructions. Freedom sounds great, and people of faith talk about it enough -- but the truth is that most days I don't feel the freedom to simply "do" as I did when I was young? Instead, I end up with 'reasonable' answers to the questions about what I should and shouldn't do. About what I can and cannot be. In fact, sometimes I think that adulthood is primarily an education in being reasonable.

Stop Being 'Reasonable'

As humans, we are always trying to influence one another. Most of us try to do it with language. Speeches. Pamphlets. Books. Television. And talking. Lots of talking. Somewhere in the midst of this never-ending "war of influences", we are taught to moderate our thinking, to make it reasonable -- aka palatable -- for those around us.

To not do this makes us arrogant and impossible, but to fall into this trap of 'reasonable thinking' costs us in other ways. It becomes a form of self-teaching, so when we see things that we could do to make a difference -- speak to the homeless person, start a charity, volunteer at a kids club, help at a Seniors center -- we "reason" ourselves into a life that is oddly reminiscent of every life around us. And so the uniqueness we all seek is lost in the tangles and squabbles of language, the buttressing of this doctrine and this creed, the "here-to-fores" and "thou shalt nots" that we believe separate us, but in fact, do nothing but reinforce the fact not only are we all sheep, but we're all sleeping in the same pen.

It is one thing to say that you are pursuing your dreams, quite another to pro-actively go for it. It is one thing to say that you are humble, quite another to admit someone with less money and no home is just as important as you. And it is one thing to say you believe we should love everyone, when it is clear that we do not.

Maybe we hold up these religious phrases, like "loving our enemies," simply to make ourselves feel better. Maybe we do it because we know what we're supposed to believe, and because we know that no one expects it from us. We're too "reasonable" for that. And so this outrageous idea of love, this true act of separation, becomes something quite different. And while we pretend to absorb this idea that a Creator who loves us must somehow make us unique, we reject the absurdity of the actual message. Instead of doing "love," we promote it.

Selling "Love," Don Draper style
We talk about it. We write about it. We defend our words and our songs. We defend our ideas about God and our ideas about holidays. Our ideas about prayer times and prayer cloths. We examine gender roles and gender issues, issues about sex and sexuality. We look at diet plans and dietary constraints until we have so shredded and stapled and cut and reordered the "gospel" to fit into our lives that it really isn't good news anymore. We cut down whole forests to promote an endless file on the way to love people "reasonably", and yet we remain haunted by this idea that no matter what we believe, we're no different from the people around us.

Whadda-ya Got?

So what do we believe? And why do we believe it? What does any of it mean, if we are merely the stewards of yet another religious diversion?

To think like a child makes us children, but to act like one is what it means to be free. Perhaps then, the idea is to worry less about the question, and more about the answer. To pursue less the science of influence, and more the struggle of love.

"Nice save, Sammy! Atta-boy!"

"Shoot it again, dad!"

I glance over at my neighbours and smile. There is something quite profound in being what we believe. Putting our creed down on paper may make us feel better, and delineating exactly why our beliefs are different -- better -- may make us feel more secure, but in the end, it takes us farther from the extraordinary life we all seek.

My hope this week is that you will lay down your paper barriers, that you will see through the walls you have constructed to separate yourself from those around you, and find in God the freedom of a life lived, and not simply believed.