Love Wins, Controversy Sells

This is why I gave up Facebook for Lent. I am suddenly, vividly remembering: It’s ruined enough of my days already. To wit, I woke up sunny and cheerful, had a productive time working on projects… and then made the mistake of checking Facebook.

If you read Love Wins, you HAVE to read this article, a friend posted.

Well, as it happens, I HAVE read Love Wins.

I read it and am in the surreal position of having no passionate feelings about it whatsoever. This would probably lead most evangelicals to check my pulse, but it’s true. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t feel like Bell was “blaspheming God” and setting up a false god (as claimed in the review my friend linked). Nor did I feel that Bell’s theology and source work were squeaky clean, his argument unanswerable, or his conclusion inevitable.

As far as I could tell, both book and review indulged in a few shortcuts, a few trimmings, a few carefully shelved verses, and a fair bit of posturing.

And both made some good points.

But I didn’t write this to discuss Rob Bell. In the first place, I don’t have any of the answers, and in the second place—well, honestly, is there even any need for a second place after admitting that?

I sat down to write this because just reading that lambasting review made my chest hurt and my hands shake. For real. No hyperbole. My adrenal system was pretty much convinced I’d been in a car accident. Just from reading a book review.

I think I’m allergic to pastors, I told Carl last weekend, and even if I was being snarky, I think what I said it basically true. But it’s not just pastors. It’s a lot of people who are absolutely positive that they are right and other people are wrong and the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket because everyone else is failing to see their favorite position as the one and only truth for all time.

Which means I am in the unenviable position of being allergic to myself, because I think at heart most of us fall into that category. We are mostly all obsessed with being right, and our hands are mostly all closed tight.

Not that I enjoy living that way. I don’t.

I admire people with open hands. I aspire to live with open hands.

The problem is that I tend to assume the best way to accomplish this is to remove myself from the stimuli. If I could just stay away from Facebook, I tell myself. Away from Facebook, and blogs, and certain people, and situations, and more people, and… pretty much 90% of everyone I know…

Yeah. I guess that doesn’t work.

At least my problem isn’t a new one. While reading a book last week I ran across this quote from Psalm 39:

I said, “I will guard my ways, that I might not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle… I was dumb and silent… and my sorrow grew worse.”

Intrigued, I looked up the rest of the Psalm to see what insights David gleaned from his experience. Not helpful. He ended up begging God to “look away from me, that I may enjoy life again before I depart and am no more.”

Not exactly the spiritual pick-me-up I was hoping for.

It would be tidy and writerly to bust out a resolution about now, but the truth is I don’t have an answer. The one thing I’m not particularly interested in doing is developing thicker skin, or whatever it is you’re supposed to develop in order to see throwing rocks as “enlightening” ways of “engaging” another person’s “ideas.”

It’s that tricky balance between believing in Absolute Truth while honoring the lower-case truth of each person’s experience. Or, as Thomas Merton would have it:

[God] is the I Am before whom with our own most personal and inalienable voice we echo “I am.”

In which case, I suspect the journey might begin with seeing the imago Dei in each person. But how does THAT work? Especially when my heart is having a minor attack every time someone starts yelling at me online about Rob Bell’s blasphemy. Or how God designed men to be in charge. Or how the world is more sinful now than at any time since the Flood.

If you are at all, even remotely, maybe a tiny bit tending towards liberal thinking you will be familiar with the jibe about how liberals will tolerate anything except intolerance.

There’s some truth to that.

It’s good to examine the hypocrisy of one’s favorite hangout from time to time. On the other hand, it’s also good to remember that “tolerance” is sometimes just another word for love.

Love always protects the unprotected, forgives the unforgivable, and hopes in the hopeless. Love sees the wound beneath the anger, the shame behind the arrogance, and the future beyond the present.

That’s what I want to be like. Someday when I’m old and crinkly.

I’m not sure what that means for today exactly. I do feel less upset than I did an hour ago when I read that book review. So that’s good. And I have a nagging suspicion that the only way to truly love your enemies is to have no enemies.

I’m not sure how that works.

I do know that the best story I’ve ever heard about heaven or hell comes from an obscure book by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (he’s repeating a story by Jeremy Taylor, if you want to find the original) that I read shortly after I graduated from college.

[A man] met a grave and stately matron on the way with censer of fire in one hand, and a vessel of water in the other; and observing her to have a melancholy, religious, and phantastic deportment and look, he asked her what those symbols meant, and what she meant to do with her fire and water; she answered, my purpose is with the fire to burn paradise, and with my water to quench the flames of hell, that men may serve God purely for the love of God.

That story has always come back to me whenever anyone brings up heaven or hell and wants to be dogmatic about theology and original Greek. There’s something beautiful, surprising, and powerful about it. It has always filled a certain lack, a certain insecurity in my own heart.

Which is, as I said, neither here nor there since I’m not writing this to take sides in the controversy. The only side I could work up any enthusiasm for is the side against controversy in general.

I would like to be for peace. I would like to be for interactions that do not cause physical reactions of distress. Those seem like good goals.

I always think it’s good to know where you’re trying to go when you start a long trip.

And it will be a long one.


6 thoughts on “Love Wins, Controversy Sells

  1. I like the fire and water story. It was really good. I’ve written some posts regarding “Love Wins”(advocate). It is in fact very controversial and present lately.

    Liberal….I resent that insinuendo. I won’t tolerate it.

    Seriously I have a blog called SpiritualThemes at I try to find real answers for God, Values & Community. It may be a useless endeavor. I’ve often gravitated to those things that people warned me about. It is hard to look at things objectively when so many people usually have opinions and want you to have theirs. Because of that I want you to Keep Blogging and Keep Writing, you’ve given another good viewpoint that needs to seen…an objective mind. Thanks.

  2. I’m unfamiliar with Love Wins and I am not on FaceBook, but I enjoyed your post very much!

    “I would like to be for interactions that do not cause physical reactions of distress.” — Me too!

  3. I have similar musings and not many answers, although I’m always willing to take a guess at the mysteries. You can’t lose by pursuing love, joy, and peace…gentleness, goodness, faith, hope, self-control, humility…how can you go wrong?

  4. I truly miss reading your thoughts. I guess we should try and skype again some time. Would love to catch up and hear how you and C. are doing! Many greetings!

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