April 27, 2014

Feel It, Don't Think It!

Jesus told us that we're to love God with all our hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And, after two thousand years, we still know less about love than we do outer space.

We imagine that "loving God" is demonstrated by how closely we follow the Bible to the letter. At least the parts of it that help us to feel better than other people who are different than ourselves. We've turned love into a rational, emotionless, thought exercise. I remember a well-known preacher at a singles ministry declaring that love was " a decision to know and meet the needs of another." Sorry, Dave, but while that may or may not be a loving action, it is still not love.

Love is an emotion. It's not a simple decision to 'do' anything or agree with certain opinions. It's a feeling.

In the 20th Century church, we had a lot of problems with feelings, and that spectre hangs over the 21st Century church. And we've gotten cause and effect backwards when it comes to love.

We've convinced ourselves that agreeing with the limited face-value of scripture and doing exactly what it says are going to bring about love in our hearts and lives. It obviously hasn't, else people wouldn't be abandoning church in hordes these days.  We treat people shabbily from our pulpits and in our lives, then tell ourselves the lie, "I love sinners, but hate sin" to comfort ourselves.

We've convinced ourselves that feeling good and happy somehow makes us loving people. What it has mostly done is make us a culture of benevolent narcissists with a self-perpetuating inferiority complex. We secretly think that becoming 'loving' people will make God love us more in some way, and draw Him nearer to us. And that blinds us to seeing Him where He really is right in front of us.

It's great that we do all sorts of things and give generously of our time and money to help people. But, without love as a feeling, we invariably revert to our intellectual narcissism whenever we sense that our certitude or identity is being threatened by something. If you think that's wrong, just look at the thousands of people willing to let children go hungry when World Vision USA threatened to take away one of their scapegoats.

We've let ourselves become such creatures of reason and intellect that we have no idea of how to increase our individual capacities to feel love for more and more people.

A while back, during an online Q&A session, I asked two pastors for Christian practices on cultivating love. Neither one had a cogent answer other than, "love is just something you do and have." I lost a ton of respect for both of them that instant. I guess those of us that don't naturally have the same amount of 'love' that they do are just poor, benighted souls wandering through life.

There is a way to cultivate compassion and love as feelings that will generate actions. Meditative contemplation. The Mahayana Buddhists have known this for centuries. The sad thing is that the conservative church doesn't want anything to do with it. Why not? Because it creates disciples that will put love before obedience to church doctrines and rules. For far too many Christians, what we appear to be is far more important than what we actually are.

Meditative contemplation on love and compassion breaks down barriers and fears, the ones that move us so powerfully to keep ourselves separated in order to remain pure and uncontaminated by sin and the world. The ones that Jesus broke down when He ate with sinners and touched lepers. It makes us feel.

In the NT, where it talks about Jesus being moved with compassion, the Greek word is splanchna, a word used to this day in medicine referring to our internal organs and viscera. Jesus felt compassion physically, in His body, He didn't make an intellectual assessment balancing what would be best for the church and the suffering, He acted on His feelings.

When He commands us to love our neighbors, He wants us to feel love, and abandon our image-based fears and worries. The Pharisees were all about image, remember?

And I'm convinced He wants to feel that love so powerfully that we abandon our intellectual narcissism about worshiping the Bible above extending love and grace to others. But that scares a lot of preachers and demagogues.

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