My first day of class at William Jewell College in 1996, the professor announced that Moses and that whole 10 Commandments business never actually happened, and then assigned us to read 60 pages in a three-ring binder-of-all-binders textbook that he and another religion professor were writing together. My professor smiled, laughed and sent us on our way.
And that pretty much sums up my Jewell experience.
I was shocked at what I didn’t know about the Bible (or rather, what I had spent years asking the church about, but never received any answers for).
I was shocked when I met students from small towns and conservative backgrounds here at Jewell who thought that women couldn’t do the same thing as men, that women didn’t belong in church leadership.
I was shocked that I couldn’t have a good Christian boy in my dorm room past 10pm on weeknights, and I was shocked when that same good Christian boy (and many others after him) sent all my romantic ideals sprawling after breaking my heart.
But I was kind of naïve back then. Perhaps I still am.
I started calling God “She” at some point during my junior year at Jewell I think. I did it mostly to prove a point to my male classmates, to make them feel as estranged by the gospel as I sometimes felt. And sometimes when I would read whole passages of scripture out loud, I substituted all the “he’s” with “she’s,” but mostly that was just to drive my point home. If Jesus could be hyperbolic (remember that whole if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off story?) then so could I.
Once I got to seminary I actually got called out once by a professor for some over the top feminist comment I wrote in one of my papers. “I think you’re citing this source just to be dramatic,” he wrote in the margin. Perhaps I thought, as I flipped through my paper, noting that he gave me an “A” anyway.
I was kind of dogmatic back then. Perhaps I still am.
The world we live in is a startling place. If one thing isn’t surprising you, it’s surprising someone else. And what seems status quo to someone else is shocking the socks off you. Cause we’re all at different places on our journey and the curious part about journey is we don’t even end up at the same destination. My grandfather was baptized by immersion in my parents’ Baptist church when he was 89 years old despite the fact that he grew up in the Methodist church and continued to attend the Methodist church after his Baptist baptism. My second cousin is a UU (pronounced youyou), a Unitarian Universalist despite the fact that for years she taught on a religion faculty and called herself a Christian. A woman I went to seminary with dropped out halfway through our time there, converted to Judaism, and then married a rabbi. Albert Camus, arguably one of the greatest existential thinkers and nihilists of modern time is said to have converted to Christianity on his deathbed.
The funny thing about the journey is that we don’t all end up at the same place.
I wrote a friend once, “Do you think it’s possible to believe in Jesus but not believe in God?”
“Well,” she responded, “Most people who abandon one tend to believe in God but let go of the Jesus stuff. But you’re not most people and that’s what I love about you.”
Why am I telling you all this? Why tell the stories of those who have left the faith, confused the faith, added to the faith, subtracted from the faith? Shouldn’t Jewell have hired me to come give you clarity, insight, hope, maybe even a little God-breathed Holy Spirit?
I was asked to speak tonight about the head and the heart. How do we reconcile intellectual Christianity with emotional Christianity? Are they compatible? If so, how do we balance the two? How do they influence and inform each other?
While I enjoy speaking from a specific text and equally enjoy speaking on a given subject as both give me time to wrestle with my thoughts juxtapose them with academia, ask how that relates to my personal experiences and then wonder at the role that beauty plays in it all, this subject of “the head and the heart” really threw me for a loop.
And then I remembered something another religion professor said to me my second year at Jewell. “Christianity should be like a three-legged stool,” he said, “the Bible, your experience, and Christian tradition” (or what I would call, community) “should all three inform your faith.”
A three-legged stool.
And if we apply this head and heart thing to the stool analogy, then the head or academia would be Scripture: our stories, our laws, our literature. And the heart would of course be our experiences. And if that’s the case, then the two elements of our faith that we’re talking about tonight are insufficient in and of themselves. Using this metaphor, our stool would only have two legs.
So I turned to the text.
The Jewish shema, or Deuteronomic code, found in Deuteronomy 6 is a prayer and admonition that sums of the Torah and its teachings, sums up the law. If anyone asks a Jewish person to give a testimony of their faith in 10 seconds, this would be a possible starting place. “The LORD our God, the LORD is one,” it reads. “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
If you’ve never read Deuteronomy 6:4-9, it will at least sound familiar to you because it’s the latter half of this that Jesus cites when he is cornered by the Pharisees and others who ask, what is the greatest commandment of all. Each of the synoptic gospels records a similar response.
In Matthew, Jesus states, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (22:37). And in Mark he says, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (12:30). And in Luke 10:27 we read, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”
As Luke 10 demonstrates, Jesus and the man talking to him, add, “Love your neighbor as yourself” to the “love your God with your heart and mind” part of the Deuteronomic code. Matthew and Mark do the same: “‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” writes Matthew (22:39). And Mark says, “‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (12:31).
In John we don’t get quite the same stories in quite the same fashion. In John, Jesus doesn’t reference the Shema, he simply tells his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).
So in reflecting on these texts, I wonder if this whole head and heart conversation is missing something… what if it’s missing our hands? What if the question of intellect and emotion isn’t leaving out part of the equation? What if the best Christianity is practiced when it’s a combination of our heads, our hearts and our hands?
There were Jewish scholars like Nicodemus who snuck out at night to have theological conversations with Jesus. There were broken-hearted women who came to him seeking acceptance and love. There were sick, bleeding and ostracized people who needed a little dirt and spit rubbed into their wounds. And to each Jesus gave his mind, his heart and his hands.
And perhaps, so should we.
Some of us make great medical missionaries, we build houses with the best of them, we can teach sewing and farming and other sustainable economic options. We know how to use our hands.
And there are some of us who can go into the rich, white, suburban classrooms where the teenagers have everything their hearts’ desire (clothes, cars, collagen, cocaine, all the best colleges calling on the phone) and offer those teenagers hope, that indeed, despite all their stuff, stuff that will eventually expire, there is grace, that indeed, there is a God who loves them apart from it all, loves them as they are with or without the purse, with or without their ability to perform.
And there are some of us who can look at the night sky and name all the stars and constellations and clusters, and give a name to the Wonder who created them.
The hands, the heart, and the head. Some of us are better at one over another, but truthfully, we need all three to survive. And it’s all three that Jesus asks us to engage.
Love the Lord your God will all your heart and mind, and love your neighbor. Love God with everything that you are, and take care of the people around you.
Your heart, your head and your hands. I don’t know where you’ll end up if you engage all three. I can’t quite even tell you where my faith will lead me. All I can do is remind you to be gentle with one another, for you never know where your neighbor is in the head, heart, and hands journey. And be gentle with yourself too. The world is a scary, shocking place, and if you haven’t discovered that the world will hurt you, you will soon enough, and you will discover that you do your fair share of hurting others too. But with a balance of our heads, our hearts, and our hands, we stand a better chance of being the whole and healthy people God longs for us to be…
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and for heaven’s sake, love your neighbor as yourself.
Deo Fisus Labora.
Rev. Ann Pittman
William Jewell College "Mosaic"
October 27, 2011