Saturday, December 20, 2014

What is a Proper Theology?

I sometimes think there is an unwritten agreement for church membership.  We are to put our brains out of gear at the beginning of Advent. We are to sing and listen to selected readings from scripture, but no theological inquiry is allowed until the decorations are safely packed away.  It is during Advent and Christmas, the most celebrated season of the year, that we seem to substitute a theology about Jesus for the theology of Jesus.  We talk more about who he was than what he said and did. This leaves me wondering, What is a proper theology?

I used to think theology was something stored away in my books. Week by week, I would take one off the shelf and look for something fresh and interesting. I would dust it off and preach it to my congregation. I knew I was successful when people filed out after church saying, “Thank you Reverend, That was fresh and interesting.”

I know better now.  Theology is not in my books. Theology is in you, whoever you are.  It is known in how you live and how you relate to your fellow human beings.  You don’t learn theology in church, you discover it as you live in the world.

I used to think “church” was something we did up front in the sanctuary.  I know better now.  You don’t come to church, you bring church with you when you come.

I think it was John Calvin who said something like, theology is the spectacles though which we see God.  Maybe so. But I don’t believe that any more.  Theology is the spectacles through which we see the world as God intends it to be.

My fear is that what I learned in seminary was a fixed theology. I studied until I got it right, went out as a young pastor and dished “it” out one spoonful at a time until my sharper church members also got it right. I invited the world to come and get it. I had it and the world needed it.

I now believe such thinking is short sighted.  Theology is not something we have, or get or even something we believe. It is something we do.  It is something learned by following the teachings of Jesus and if we don’t do our theology, it makes little  difference what we believe.  

If we want the world to take us seriously, then we must show Jesus to be relevant and that we are faithful.  Jesus teaches such things as “love you enemies, turn the other cheek, go the second mile, feed the hungry, defend the weak and set at liberty those who are oppressed.”  When the world sees us doing these kinds of things, we might then claim a proper theology.

Now, what does all this have to do with a blog dedicated to justice and peace for the Palestinians? Just this. We go to church week after week  while our brothers and sisters in Palestine are persecuted, and we hear very little, if anything, about it.

Our theologians tell us that we must present “both sides” in the name of fairness. I confess;  when families are driven out of their homes in the middle of the night, I cannot see another side.  When  children are deliberately frightened by soldiers with guns and clubs until they cannot sleep, I cannot see another side. When people are denied access to a doctor or hospital at checkpoints, I cannot see another side. When water is confiscated and shipped out of Palestine and into Israel, when settlers are allowed to shoot holes into rooftop cisterns, I cannot see another side.

What I can see is that until the church speaks up, in a loud and clear voice to defend the oppressed and humiliated, we have no theology worth sharing.

“But the church is doing so many things right,” I am told.  This is true.  However, if all parts of my body function just right and only one tiny clot forms on my brain,  I am not 99% healthy, I am 100% sick.  If the church does everything else just right, but fails to defend the weak and oppressed, we are not almost healthy, we are totally sick.

So, what is a proper theology? Jesus got it right.  “Love God and neighbor.“ And who is my neighbor? The one who needs my help.  He said nothing about taking someone else’s home so he might come again (Christian Zionists) or that Yahweh might fulfill a promise to one set of chosen people, (Jewish Zionists) over any other people.

A proper theology is not just saluting the “General", and admiring his medals, It is following the General’s orders. It means looking at our world through the spectacles of God’s love. If the church doesn’t speak up, somebody else will and as soon as that happens, the church will become irrelevant.

                                                                                                Thomas Are
                                                                                                December 20, 2014