JUST A MINUTE: LEARNING TO UNLEARN – AUGUST 2018
1 Peter 3:15-16 “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….”
During the past 6 weeks I had the incredible joy and humbling privilege to speak to groups in four different nations ranging from a ‘mission week’ in Cape Town (South Africa); a Pentecostal church in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania); an independent church in Moody, Texas (USA); a Baptist church in Waco, Texas (USA); a Catholic church on the northern tip of the USA, Lake Linden, Michigan; different groups in Indianapolis and a ‘radiothon’ in Windhoek (Namibia). When confronted with such diverse groups of like-minded people, the greatest virtue in the armour of faith is learning to unlearn: unlearning theological prejudice, unlearning cultural partiality and unlearning dogmatic preferences.
My personal journey of faith started mostly by learning new values, new virtues, new doctrines and new teachings. I would suspect this is the same for most people reading this devotion. Nobody ever taught me the skill of first unlearning the old, before learning the new. And, truth be told, transformation happens more by unlearning old things than by learning new things. Spiritual maturity is not only about obtaining new and bigger ‘containers’, but also about emptying old ‘containers’ that have accumulated spiritual ‘clutter’ through many years of conforming to the patterns of the world. The world of suspicion, fear, animosity, bigotry and constant dual-thinking that divides people into “them” and “us”. The biggest limitation to true transformation is not wrong ‘new teachings’ but very often building new convictions on old ‘platforms’.
The sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 is a perfect example. When Jesus calls his followers to be perfect (vs 48), it follows six instructions to first learn to unlearn. Six times the Lord declares “You have heard that it was said” (Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43) and every time He follows it up with, “But I tell you”. Learn to unlearn, forget the original teachings that shaped your thinking and your theology. Don’t live any longer the way the world dictated your thought processes and by what you were taught when you were still part of it (Rom 12:2). Let your way of thinking be completely renewed and be open to be retaught.
Richard Rohr says the following:
“God is not found in the soul by ADDING anything, but by a process of SUBTRACTION. The spiritual life is more about UNLEARNING than it is about LEARNING. It is only when we get out of our own way that the Lord can take over and fill us with greater capacity. But it’s a gruelling process to come to this level of surrender, and few of us go willingly.
But God can change us and the world if we allow the God of peace to touch us, disarm us, heal us, and send us out as instruments of God’s peace. When you can become little enough, naked enough, and honest enough, then you will ironically find that you are more than enough. At this place of poverty and freedom, you have nothing to prove and nothing to protect.”
The challenge therefore, on our journeys of faith, is to open our hearts not only to learn, but also to unlearn, not only to add but also to subtract.
Neale Donald Walsch said the following:
“Yearning for a new way will not produce it. Only ending the old way can do that. You cannot hold onto the old, all the while declaring that you want something new. The old will defy the new; The old will deny the new; The old will decry the new. There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it.”
We have to make room for the new by unlearning the old. We have to be prepared to unlearn the wisdom of the world and the philosophies of this age if we desire to embrace the ‘foolishness’ of loving our enemy, forgiving those who seek to harm us and by praying for our persecutors. 1 Corinthians 1:20b “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” Is it not time to unlearn what we once held as wisdom?
There are many habits that we need to unlearn, but few are so aggressively revealed as those that we so often find on social media. There are four that probably needs more attention than others:
- LEARN TO UNLEARN THE TOXIC PRACTICE OF SOWING SUSPICION
No, not every Trump supporter is a “white supremist” and not every African leader is a “communist”. Far from it. Once we are convicted by the Biblical truth of Genesis 1:27 “That all of man are created in the image of God”, we will start seeking the divine in people and not the divide. I am a firm believer that any post on social media that sows suspicion, even if written under the pretense of prayer, or in the name of truth, whether it be against other races, other political parties, other cultures or other religions, cannot be from God. We learn to unlearn suspicion simply by seeking the image of God and not the traces of evil in every human being.
- LEARN TO UNLEARN THE AGGRESSIVE PRACTICE OF BEING HOSTILE
James 3:18 provides a clear guideline for those who seek communities of righteousness, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Righteousness will never be obtained through hostile attitudes. We live in an angry world. And I am not referring to Islamic State (IS) or North Korea. I’m referring to road rage, Facebook fury and internet intolerance. We learn to unlearn hostility simply by giving a smile and not presenting a fist. Try it next time a taxi driver suddenly pulls in front of you.
We tend to fight darkness instead of lighting a candle. It seems easier to attack than to embrace and so often within Christian circles hostility is seen as a virtue for truth while reconciliation a weakness and compromise. Andrea Botchelli in the movie THE MUSIC OF SILENCE, wrote the following: “Every life is a life of art. If it doesn’t seem so at first maybe one should illuminate the room that it dwells in.”
- LEARN TO UNLEARN THE DAMAGING PRACTICE OF BEING UNKIND
Unkindness hurts, regardless if it is deserved or not. But kindness only comes by unlearning a quarrelsome and resentful spirit. This will be determined by a ‘soldier’ or a ‘scout’ mentality. 2 Timothy 2:24 gives a clear and uncompromising instruction, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.”
The translation of the Indian greeting Namaste is one of infinite depth. It means: the divinity in me …. salutes the divinity in you.
- LEARN TO UNLEARN THE DESTRUCTIVE PRACTICE OF BEING NEGATIVE
The key to positivity is to surround yourselves with positive people. Some quotes in this regard are worth repeating:
- Negativity may knock on your door but that doesn’t mean you have to let it in (Anonymous)
- You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind (Anonymous)
- What we dwell on is who we become (Oprah Winfrey)
- And finally, returning to the subject of unlearning, “Removing negativity from your life leaves room for positivity to grow” (Anonymous)
May we all learn to unlearn before we relearn to learn.