Dear Mr. Lough:
Thank you for the careful thought you are putting into your answers when you respond to my questions. As I look back on our email exchange so far, it is easy to see how you are shaping your replies into a progression of thought that is building your case in a logical, systematic fashion. I appreciate that very much.
Here is a summary of what I’ve heard you say up to now. Correct me if I have misconstrued your meaning or if I misunderstand your intent. 1. Change is sometimes necessary but seldom easy. 2. A change in thought or behavior is predicated upon a change in underlying presuppositions. 3. There is a subjective dimension to change, so that we never change until we feel the need to change—emotionally or intuitively. 4. In one important aspect of faith, you have not changed. You still believe in the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, his unique relation to God, the truth and power of his teaching and his life, and his death on the cross.
That said, here is my next question. I believe you are going to speak to the matter of changes in your social consciousness and your political perspective. I look forward to that. For now, however, let’s focus on theological and spiritual concerns. (And even as I write that, I hear you saying that your social sensibilities and your political convictions arise out of your religious beliefs and must be explored as part of that broader context. Still, humor me, if you would.) Is there a relatively simple and succinct principle or theme that serves as the standard by which you evaluate the beliefs that energize your life in the realm of theology, spirituality, and all things metaphysical?
As a matter of fact, there is. Thank you for asking that question. Not everybody would recognize its value in the systematic development of the case I am trying to build here. I’ve thought a great deal about what theme guides and shapes my thinking in terms of my theological and spiritual values. I’ve concluded that it would be hard to do better than the all-too-familiar phrase drawn from In His Steps, a novel written by Charles Sheldon more than a century ago, and reduced to its four initials on wrist bands of countless Christian teens in the past twenty years: WWJD, What Would Jesus Do?
I mean it. It’s really that simple. It seems to me that Jesus summarized the heart of vital spirituality in two basic concepts: 1. Love God. 2. Love one another. If it does not enhance my awareness and encourage my faithfulness in these two areas, it does not rise to the level of priority significance for me. It just doesn’t really matter.
For example, if a belief, concept, or policy condemns another person, it does not reflect what Jesus would do. If my belief in any way embarrasses, humiliates, belittles, or otherwise undermines another person’s sense of self-worth, or if it does not contribute to emotional health and wholeness, it is not what Jesus would do.
Whenever one Christian or one group of Christians is not welcome or does not feel welcome among another group of Christians, then that situation does not exemplify what Jesus would do. If my belief or conviction feeds my prejudices or fosters contempt for an entire group or class of people, it does not reflect the spirit of Jesus. That is not what Jesus would do. And when we hate or hurt or kill in the name of Jesus, our behavior does not represent the spirit of Jesus. Jesus would never do that.
For fourteen years I taught a course called Life of Christ. I’m sure you remember it. I don’t claim to know all there is to know about Jesus’ life and teachings, but I am fairly familiar with the content of the Gospels and the way they depict what MLK might call “the content of his character.” I hold all my convictions lightly these days, and more humbly than I used to. Nevertheless, I have a clear picture of the way I think Jesus would behave were he to live among us in the flesh once again. That perception is the standard by which I determine the relative merit of any belief or concept that vies for my attention these days.
Again, I thank you for this insightful question, Kathryn, and I look forward to more of this exchange which, for me at any rate, is proving both helpful and enjoyable. I hope you find it likewise.