Relig-ish: Loving, or Right?

At the risk of getting into the kind of theological debate I once ended a thriving career  in order to avoid, let’s talk.

There’s a new book floating around Evangelical circles, Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I have not read this book, but I adore Rob Bell. He’s one of the only preachers I still sometimes listen to via his Nooma series. And he’s among a scant handful of teachers who sometimes still makes me think there might be a place for me in my former profession.

The gist of this book is that maybe it’s not all about theological correctness and saying “the prayer” before you die so you can escape hell and get into heaven. Maybe God is love. Maybe love wins.

As you can imagine, people who are concerned about hell are concerned about this message. They don’t want people to burn for eternity. They want to know what is right and wrong, and they want to you to know it too. Because damn it, the consequences are dire. It’s nice, really, given that world view. They just want to keep you safe.

I do not personally believe in hell. Like the Pastor Carlton Pearson (This American Life :: Heretics),  I believe there is enough fall-out right here on earth for our greed, for our selfishness. We create our own hell in the here and now.

To be fair, this means I must also let go of the traditional concept of heaven – a far more discomforting thought. I believe there is something bigger than us. I believe we go on, in some form, after we leave this corporeal body.  And above all, I believe in love. In fact, Love is my religion.

A long time ago, almost a decade ago now, when my faith began to shift, a wise friend once said to me “I’d rather be loving than right.” At the time we were part of a the team running a church that was “open but not affirming” to the GLBTQ community. Meaning, we’d be nice to gay people but we didn’t really approve of their “life style.”  My friend and I disagreed with this approach, and we were struggling to find the language to explain why we needed to live in opposition to our community’s position. We were tired of the debate around who was right – the conservative theologians or the progressive theologians. We didn’t want to argue within the four walls of the church. We wanted to extend the loving hand of Christ to the world outside. Moreover, we saw so much Christ-like love in our gay friends — oftentimes, more compassion than we saw within our own selves — that the dissonance was deafening. So we decided, “I’d rather be loving that right.” Right ceased to be the standard. Love became our banner.

 I happened to quote that on the Facebook page of one of my favorite Anglican ministers and someone else replied “I’d rather be loving and right.” I get that. You want to be loving. And you want to love right.

But here’s the thing. What is “right” in a global, post-modern context? When we know now how truth changes across cultures. When quantum physics has shown us how much we do not yet know. When absolutism has – for the most part—been abandoned as a relevant philosophy. Is “right” still black and white? How much “right” can we really access? And does it ever change?

What if there is no spoon?

I am not ready to say there is no right or wrong, that there are no absolute Truths. But I know this: my religion – whatever it is, whatever mix it is—has not cornered the market on Truth. No one religion does. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrian, Neo-Pagans, Wiccans….we are all just humans grasping at something far larger than us, using myth and metaphor to describe what our minds cannot fully ascertain nor our language fully hold. Some stuff we get right. Some stuff we mess up. Royally. But if Love is the North on our compass, we cannot go too far wrong.

What if today we focused on being loving rather than being right? What if we took as our truth “It was in love I was created and in love is how I hope I die.” What if you left “right” sitting on the curb and held hands with love instead? Where might it take you. How might you then live?

Spiritual but not religious? Recovering Evangelical? Jill of all faiths? You might be relig-ish. Browse the posts to learn more, or click here to watch a video about our relig-ish community.

kazari March 31, 2011 at 3:14 am

I can’t remember where I first heard this concept, but I remember being told that only Christianity was so concerned with ‘right beliefs’. Judaism, for instance, is much more concerned with ‘right behaviour’.
certainly, a lot of the christian dogma seems at odds with christlike behaviour to me. (but what do i know?)
i’m perpetually in search of a church where the focus is on actions, rather than thoughts, beliefs or attitudes.

Sam March 31, 2011 at 6:06 am

I *love* your take on this. It’s been so interesting to observe the Rob Bell controversy…and for me, it’s only confirmed for me the decisions I’ve made for myself. I have a post to write on it all, too. And I am borrowing the book from a friend this week…in the meantime, I’m rereading “Velvet Elvis”.

stacey March 31, 2011 at 8:12 am

I have not read the book yet, but I want to. I did hear a graduation speach, and the speaker claimed that what he said was based off of Rob Bell’s “love wins” “theology.” But his take on it was that love should win in each of us. I find it so frutrating that the things we tend to argue about in religion are the things that are not truly provable. Or maybe it’s a balance of both. But we will fight tooth and nail and condemn people to hell because they don’t stand with us. *sigh* It’s just so so tiring. Reading this post reminded me of what Jesus said, ‘that they will know us by our love.” Where is the love in the debates??

Tonya March 31, 2011 at 9:29 am

I love you. I am so grateful that I was able to make a step away from religion with you as my with-mate.
Love is definitely more important to me. And being “right” seems like something that only matters to those within the walls of religion. To those outside of it, it just makes religious people seem bitter, over-bearing and often a little crazy. And that isn’t very enticing to the people on the outside looking into religion. I’ve done my time on both sides of the line of religion. The acts of love I received within religion are what make me miss it. The acts of people telling me what is “right” is what drove me away and keeps me away to this day…that and the complex reality of being a pastor’s kid. :)
I think your discussion here is so important, and sign me up for the planning committee for the conference.

Patricia Campbell March 31, 2011 at 10:47 am

so love what you said and how you said it …
especially loved this line:
But if Love is the North on our compass, we cannot go too far wrong. – that so says it all … thank you, Pattie

mb March 31, 2011 at 10:55 am

hi rachelle,
i just found your blog recently and wanted to speak up and say hi. and this post is so right on so i figured it was a good time to say hello. i couldn’t agree more with this. “love is my religion” has become one of my favorite phrases lately, and i am another leaver-of-christianity due to the fact that i wanted to step away from always having to claim to be “in the know” and “right”. i do a lot of creative things to keep my own spiritual life happening, and while i try not to throw out the baby with the bathwater (teachings of christ- helpful and good; religious dogma- don’t need it) i invite lots of different spiritual goodies in, and it’s been sort of a guiding principle for me on that journey that nobody has a corner on the market of truth. i too think that there may be absolute truths, but those are the places where these religions all agree anyway- things um, like, love is a big deal. and stuff. “truth is one. the sages speak of it by many names.” i’m a big fan of joseph campbell and the thing that has stuck with me most about all of his writing that i’ve been able to absorb- as incredibly knowledgeable as he was about world religion, he believed that the more we know, the more we realize we cannot know. i’m butchering that even in paraphrase, but i love your humble approach and it feels consistent with campbell’s, at least to me. :) have a good day!

Erin Wilson March 31, 2011 at 6:20 pm

I’ve read it.
I think you’d like it.

“It was in love I was created and in love is how I hope I die.” I think I should get this tattooed on me somewhere.

LaLa March 31, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Wow!
I love the comment-land over here right now! What a beautiful space you have created by sharing your good words with us Rachelle. Way to be. (and thanks)

Renae C April 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm

I couldn’t resist either. Here is my contribution to the fray:

http://theramblingpoet.blogspot.com/2011/03/love-wins.html

Lisa (msla) April 1, 2011 at 7:04 pm

I’m really appreciating you right now!!

Genevieve April 2, 2011 at 10:30 am

Rachelle,

Thank you, I love hearing what you preach!

Genevieve

Rachelle April 4, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Thank you, all, or the supportive and insightful comments.

When I first wrote this I was very hesitant to post it. In fact, I wrote it in Word as a journal entry instead of typing it directly into Wordpress because I just wasn’t sure I wanted to make it public. Your eager reception has shown me that this topic is one that needs to be sung. Watch for more Relig-ish posts from me! (With your kind support.)

Much Warmth,

Rachelle

Colleen April 5, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Yes! It is wonderful to hear your voice and prospective.

Elissa April 6, 2011 at 5:45 am

Could you just move here? Pretty please with sugar on top? Oh to have someone like you…here…to talk to about all this would be lovely.

You have so many excellent thoughts in this post–all things I’ve wondered. I would rather be loving than right. I think that’s where I am right now. And I’m struggling with the whole absolute truth thing. I’ve met too many gorgeous souls who have done the work and are living truly spiritual lives (away from the Christian faith).

I love that you’re talking about these things, Rachelle. Thank you for this!

So, let’s see…we can get you a ticket when you’re ready…:)

linda c. thomas April 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Rachelle
You are truly refreshing. Great site, good conversation, yep, you’re the perfect host.

Namaste,
Linda

Kate April 12, 2011 at 9:23 am

This gave me the kind of chills I only experience when I encounter something that resounds so completely and truthfully with my innermost self. It’s like truth on the outside connects with my truth on the inside. Brought tears to my eyes (but then again, I’m 8.5 months pregnant, so that might have paved the way for tears, too… :)

This post was just so amazingly beautifully magically truthfully divinely comfortingly resonant. Thank you so much for making my day!

Rachael April 13, 2011 at 6:00 am

If we have not love we have nothing, saved by Grace – we have His love. Thanks for your great post – nice to ‘meet’ another whimsical arty daydreamer! (:

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