Weightless Love

While looking through Facebook memories, I recently came across an old heated argument. The comments were filled with hate. In fact, the phrase “I HATE YOU!” was strewn throughout.

Of course, the proper Christian response to hate is love, or the Christian platitude “I love you in Jesus.” Like clockwork, that love-phrase was said each time a hateful comment appeared.

“I love you.”

Such simple words. It’s a paradox, really: deep meaning imbedded in a simple phrase. 

I believe we’ve been fooled by this simplicity. We declare love to strangers without thought or concern for love’s profundity.

Making matters worse is our social media context. It’s easier than ever to say “I love you” or “I hate you.” We don’t need to see people’s faces or know their voices, yet we love and hate them–people we barely know or don’t know at all.

Looking through this old status, I asked myself: is there something deeper and unspoken going on?

Are our empty love declarations infused with subconscious, personal agendas? Now, when I say “agendas” I’m not referring to sinister, conscious agendas to harm people. Religious agendas–in particular– are often altruistic, in their own way. A person may sincerely believe that those who fail to believe in Jesus are on their way to damnation, making it a Christian’s responsibility to spread the faith. But how much evangelism is infused with personal agendas of acknowledgement? We want our Christian friends to affirm our Christianity–to see that we respond to hateful Facebook comments with online love declarations. But we don’t love these people. We love ourselves and we want our friends to love us. We want acceptance in our own communities, to be called “brother” or “sister,” especially by top tier Christians. 

I say this because that was me; I was the one responding with empty Christian platitudes to the hateful Facebook comments.

In fact, much of my Christianity and my Christian acts/words were pleas for affirmation among my fellow Christians. Self doubt was my struggle. And if it was my struggle, chances are it’s the struggle of many others. We think we’re being loving to our neighbour, but we’re really being loving to ourselves, at the cost of empty words.

As I recall, I never contacted those Facebook people again. They were left with the impression that Christians carelessly declare love for social media strangers. And I left feeling affirmed.

Now, not everyone is like I was. Some people truly mean it when they say they love strangers. But love costs; it costs more than finger taps on a keyboard. According to Jesus, the greatest form of love is laying down your life for someone–to die for them. Is that the length you’re willing to go when you declare love to someone you’ve never met? Or are you throwing words around to feel accepted by your community?

Love is expressed by the way we live. And how we live shows the real weight of what we say. The weight of my love for those people on Facebook was that of a feather.

So count the cost before you speak, because love is never cheap.

A Humble Theology

The other day I had an interesting conversation with an anti-religious person and an atheist–both were curious about my studies in theology. I approached the discussion cautiously, not assuming possession of solid theological truth. After all, I am but a man and can only form ideas and theories of what God is.

At one point, the conversation was interrupted by another friend’s stance on predestination. The two gentlemen–the anti-religious person and the atheist–quickly turned from sincerely curious to sternly objectional.

This is not the first time I’ve seen this. Conversations between religious and non-religious people often turn to debates over doctrinal issues, straying from the humbling mystery that is God.

In the past, I debated over doctrine, like my friend–defending my tradition’s theology. I would argue and argue until I turned blue with rage, failing to understand why anyone could disagree with what was clearly absolute truth. But then, humility hit me in the face. 

It was in academia that I learned theological humility. Theology taught me that theologizing is ultimately vaporous. But it’s not vaporous in a useless sense; it’s vaporous because finite creatures cannot understand an infinite being. 

Now, this doesn’t mean theology should not be done; trying to understand things is normal–it’s what we do. But we must recognize that theology is formed and maintained by faith. We have faith that our traditions are correct, but our claims are based more on faith than on fact.

When we approach someone and claim objective truth concerning spiritual matters, we appear arrogant. It’s as though we, being as human as anyone else, have figured life out. But faith balances this, providing recognition that we’re as finite as anyone else.

Most of us want to know why we’re here and what this life is, no matter our tradition. But in our brightest wisdom we can only form ideas about God, flawed ideas from flawed creatures. 

I’ve often heard inter-religious dialogue compared to blind people figuring out an elephant by their hands. Though they touch the same elephant, each touches a different part. It goes without saying that God is far more complex than an elephant. 

This is why the key to healthy theology is humility, and not arrogance. In my tradition–Christianity–we hope with faith for Christ’s return, and we’re called to share this hope with the world. But we were never told to do so arrogantly. Nobody wants a religion of arrogance.

Humility in theology opens conversation, while religious arrogance closes doors. Though a person knocks and knocks, the door is shut.

God is God and we are not. God is paradoxically knowable and unknowable, within our reach and far beyond our grasp. We are but grains of sand trying to comprehend the ocean. And God laughs–with childlike laughter. How can the creature understand the maker of heaven and earth? We’re more than severely limited. 

By all means, discuss God and think on him. But in your conversations with unbelievers and those of other traditions, theologize with humility. 

“Lord, who is my neighbour?”

It was a cold, Sunday night in late February. My wife and I exited an evening service at church to snow-covered steps, in an ongoing snowstorm.

“Wow! That fell fast!” I exclaimed

“Yeah, must be 20 centimetres,” said my wife–Esther–as we carefully made our way down the steps, towards the small parking lot attached to church.

Our car sat covered in snow, above it and around it. I opened the car door and reached for the snow removal stick to wipe snow off the car. My wife entered our 2001 Toyota Corolla to heat it up.

While wiping the snow away in the minus 15 cold, I thought back to a prayer request during church for the Arab refuges crossing the Canadian border from the States. I couldn’t imagine crossing the border in mid winter, especially in a snowstorm.

When finished, I joined my wife in the car. She wanted to drive but decided to complete a few work calls before leaving. So, I sat there as time passed.

A while later, she started the engine and lightly pressed the gas.

“Brrrrslssshhhhhhh,” came the sound of the wheels, spinning in place on the ice.

She tried again.

“Brshhhhhhhhh….”

No luck. We were kept in place by a thick blanket of ice hidden beneath growing layers of snow.

“I’ll go push,” I said, exiting the car.

Behind the vehicle, I placed my hands on both ends of the back and steadied my feet.

“Okay, go!” I shouted. 

My wife pressed the gas, as I pushed and pushed with all my strength. The car moved only a few feet before once again spinning in place on the ice covered ground.

We kept trying, but made no progress. Even with our metal tracks for the wheels, it wouldn’t move. 

We tried for 30 minutes, but my cold and wet feet forced me back inside the car.

By then, it was late–passed 11pm–and the temperature wasn’t getting warmer. I suggested we take the bus and come back tomorrow with help. But my wife’s persistence kept us trying. She wasn’t willing to give up just yet. Besides, even if she wanted to take the bus, she had too much work equipment to transport. 

We were really stuck.

As I warmed my feet, my wife called emergency services. The first service told her they couldn’t help, unless we renewed our account with them. There was no way we could afford the renewal fee, not with our student budget.

My wife then tried our insurance company. The lady on the other end informed us that our insurance plan doesn’t cover roadside assistance. The lady did–at least– provide phone numbers for nearby towing companies. But of course, these would cost money.

Thankfully, the first towing company we called was not too expensive. We called them at 11:50.

“We close in 10 minutes; we won’t be able to add your car to our towing list.” said the receptionist. “My truck is already out there getting another car.”

“Okay… well, could you direct us to another service or something else?” 

“Sorry Ma’am, I can’t help you. We’re closing.”

We were left in the -15 snowstorm.

I sighed, deciding to go back outside and try breaking the ice with our metal wheel tracks. It would take a while, but at least we’d be making progress.

Grabbing a metal track, I began smashing the ice and praying to God, asking what I might learn from this situation. My first thought–as if in reply to my prayer– was patience. I’m learning patience.

Lost in thought while breaking the ice, I didn’t notice someone approach me from behind.

“Can I help you sir?” came a middle-eastern accent.

I turned around to see a tall Arab man, who sincerely wanted to help.

“Sure,” I replied, motioning to the back of the car. “Thank you. Thank you so much!” I said as we positioned ourselves behind the car.

When we signaled my wife, she pressed the gas and we pushed. But–again–the car barely budged.

The man turned to me: “I can get more people.”

“Okay, thank you! That’s awesome!” 

 I didn’t wait long before he returned with two other men.

Once behind the car, we counted: “1… 2… 3… go!” My wife pressed the gas. This time, with the force of four men, we moved the car halfway across the parking lot. After a couple more tries, including a push through a 3 foot snow mound, we safely removed the car from the ice infested parking lot.

I gathered the tire tracks, as my wife offered the men a 20$ bill, but they refused. We insisted and insisted, but still they refused. 

“I just saw you from my kitchen,” the first man said, pointing to a nearby apartment complex, “and I knew you needed help. You don’t have to pay me for that.”

Instead, he gave me the shovel they had used to clear out the snow. “Take it in case you get stuck again.” 

Deeply touched, I smiled at them and asked, “Do you know the good samaritan from Jesus’ parable?”

They nodded.

“That’s you guys tonight,”

We all smiled.

“May God bless you for this.”

“God bless you too,” they said. “Be safe on your way home.”

Entering the car, I thought again about the refuges crossing the Canadian border, as a tear trickled down my cheek.

“What’s wrong?” my wife asked.

“The Samaritans… in the Bible. They were rejected by the Jews, seen as outcasts. We treat Muslims the same… worse even. Yet it was Muslims who helped us tonight.”

Tears welled in both our eyes, as we thanked God for the good Samaritans–our neighbours.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man…? The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Learning to Listen: Fundamentalism, Politics, and Opening the Mind

I recently began my fourth year of university. Throughout this journey, I have gained many vital skills that will last me my whole life. But of all the skills and knowledge that I have thus far gained, it is the ability to listen that I cherish most. Continue reading “Learning to Listen: Fundamentalism, Politics, and Opening the Mind”

Christmas is Pagan!

Evil Origins

Yes, it’s true. Christmas has pagan origins. But it’s not the only common thing in our modern, western culture with pagan origins. In fact, vitamins and medicine are deeply rooted in paganism. Actually, dare I say, if it wasn’t for the pagans, our progress in modern medicine would not be where it is today. But does that make medicine bad, or (to up it a notch) evil? Is it bad to have pagan origins or even pagan connections? Continue reading “Christmas is Pagan!”