For a person like me who grew up in a religious home, who attended church and read the Bible regularly, whose life was dominated by the admonition to “follow God’s will,” unlearning God is a real challenge.

Yes, unlearning God.

The lectionary text for this Sunday in many Protestant churches is the verse that reads, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” This is a striking metaphor for the kind of mental and spiritual shift Jesus’ followers had to make. They had to unlearn their notions of a Messiah. They assumed that one would come and liberate them according to their ideas of liberation. They had no idea one would come, present an entirely confusing and paradoxical message about service and compassion rather than power and conquest, and then be executed for exposing the inadequacies of the political and religious institutions of the day.

It took Jesus’ entire earthly ministry to help them unlearn, to let go of all their preconceived ideas of a Messiah. Even at the time of his death, they walked away disillusioned. It was only afterwards that they began to relearn; to see more clearly what they had overlooked while Jesus was among them.

child prayingI grew up with many of the typical notions about God that preacher’s kids and young devout Baptists have. God was mostly a super version of my parents, only scarier. God was in control of things and meted out rewards and punishment for good and bad behavior. God saw it all, so I’d better be good.

The joys, traumas, tragedies, and confusion of growing up forced me to revise my childish ideas about God. Later, as I entered the professional ministry, those ideas evolved further. Several years later, as I moved away from the professional ministry and the familiar confines of my Baptist upbringing, the evolution continued and even picked up speed.

It was not God who was changing. I was changing. My ideas about God from childhood and even young adulthood became inadequate for my changing life. My simplistic views about God did not serve my increasingly complex experiences of life. I had (and continue to have) much to unlearn in order to make room for something new.

My intention this week is to write more about the unlearning process.