Words Give You Away
Words give you away. A week or so ago I posted something on Facebook to encourage people who fear that God has been removed from our schools. That post got more likes and shares and “thank you’s” than anything else I’ve ever put on Facebook. When one of my friends shared it to his Facebook wall, he got a reaction I could never have anticipated.
A guy started quibbling with the theology, “Is David saying that all of these people worried about God not being in schools do not believe in God’s omnipresence?” Stupidly, I took the bait, and quite the lively and completely pointless back-and-forth ensued, though we both remained very courteous. His point was that I’m missing what people truly intend when they complain that God has been taken out of schools. What people actually mean, he said, is not that God has been removed, but that God is no longer openly acknowledged. My friendly opponent argued that I was quibbling over a “Freudian slip,” that people don’t actually mean it like it sounds. But it’s not a Freudian slip. Freudian slips are accidental. They do not keep “slipping” out of people’s mouths the same way over and over and over again.
My response was, and is, that people nearly always say pretty much what they believe. In fact, your words actually belie what you really believe. Words give you away. If you say, “God is no longer in our schools,” you don’t mean only that “while God is certainly present in a theological sense, he is no longer openly acknowledged.” You in fact mean that the lack of acknowledgement of God’s presence in schools makes you feel that God is no longer there at all.
Freudian slips are not the issue. If you deeply and truly believe in the loving grace and presence of God in every school everywhere, it simply will not occur to you to say, “God has been removed from the schools.” If you do say this, then you do not truly believe God is everywhere in any meaningful sense. Even if you can make finely tuned theological arguments about God’s omnipresence and insist that you believe them, you don’t. Words give you away.
Christians all over the country regularly ask God to help them live what they believe. But they’re missing the actual reason they’re not already living it, which is either that they do not actually believe it, or whatever they believe is messed up and their lives reflect the mess. You will live what you most deeply believe, count on that. You are doing that right at this moment. Words give you away. Listen to yourself. When you pray, do you ask God to “be with” so and so? Don’t you believe God is already with that person? When church starts, does the pastor invite God into the service? Isn’t God already there? Do you REALLY believe that? It’s not God who needs an invitation — we human beings need an invitation to join God where God already is. Don’t you think that confusion manifests itself in your life? Count on it. Our words give us away. If you’re listening to yourself and others, you will find a thousand ways a week that words reveal we believe something other than what we claim to believe.
Watch evangelical Christian behavior — who they love and hate, who they exclude, who they can justify looking down on, what they think about hell and salvation, how they act in regard to Jesus’ clear teachings on loving enemies, on non-violence, on love for the poor. You will see what Christians actually believe. That is why theology is increasingly distasteful to me. Though it has its (very small) place, as I get older I have less and less room for abstractions in my life.
The Apostle James wrote,
James 1:27 (NIV) 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Christian religion too often begins with theological abstractions about God, sin, heaven, hell, faith, etc., but real religion is something you do. It is a way of living in the world before it is anything else at all. To whatever extent it is not this, it is just a set of abstractions and theories. That is why we can argue endlessly about it. We cannot argue with the kind of action James wrote about. I want to increasingly live my life in ways that can’t be argued with, because I want my life to increasingly be about what I do and how I live. When discussing Martin Luther King, Jr. — a Christian pastor — no one ever says, “He held these heretical universalist views.” His faith was embodied in how he lived in obedience to Christ, and no one questions particulars of his beliefs.
The moment I say something like this, someone always comes along and says, “Yes, but you must be careful about belief,” and “You gotta have a balance,” etc., etc, and we are instantly back into abstractions and arguments. I’m not going to relate to God that way any more. Words give you away. Me too.